Coptic textile donation expands QC museum’s collection

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The estate of Rose Choran recently donate to the Queens College Godwin-Ternbach museum 85 Coptic textiles from Egypt that are 1,500 years old.

Along with the textile donations, art books were also donated to the museum. These textiles are expanding the museum’s textile collections.

The textiles will be on display from May 15 to May 20 in the museum. Associate professor of art history at Brooklyn College and Byzantine specialist, Jennifer Ball, will be speaking at the museum during the display.

The term “Coptic” comes from Copts, an ancient Christian group from Egypt. The textiles are from 3rd to 7th century AD when Egyptians, Romans and Greeks co-existed.

The textiles are primarily Pagan and Christian in origin, with influences coming from all over the world. One of the textiles shows a hunting scene showing Persian influence, along with Chinese and Ancient Egyptian influences.

The images on the donated items display vines, trees, flowers and animals such as tigers, dogs, peacocks, parrots, rabbits, ducks, dolphins and horses. The textiles also show weaving patterns and executions of prisoners.

There is also a textile of a leaping hare, and another of a lion hunt with nude women.

Greek and Roman mythological subjects such as Eros, Bacchus, Dionysus, Ariadne and Leda are shown in these ancient works, along with the people who worshipped Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture, wine and fertility.

“Within these textiles you can find the visual interpretations of the cultures interacting,” said Elizabeth Hoy, the collections curator at the museum. “They show how much is going on cross culturally during this time period.”

“These textiles are a way to track cultural influences,” Hoy added.

The items in the collection were made with all natural dyes, using animal and plant pigments. There are lot of red, brown, orange and purple colors. The purple pigment was made from sea-snails.

These textiles have also been in other college museum exhibits such as the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Harvard University Art Museum.

Hoy said she hopes these materials can be used for fashion and textile courses at Queens College.

“I am really happy to expand our collection and expose students to the work we have,” said Brita Helgasen, museum manager.

Rose Choran is the author of the novel “Family Stories: Travels Beyond The Shtetl,” where she describes many of her life journeys. She started her coptic collection as a hobby, purchasing a piece of textile from a store for only a few dollars. Later identifying the piece as a fourth-century Coptic tunic with the help of an art historian, she went on a quest for more of these historical Egyptian pieces, collecting over a hundred pieces.

“Having this extraordinary collection of textiles housed only steps away from our classrooms will make for unparalleled opportunities to teach the arts of Late Antiquity from original objects,” Professor Warren T. Woodfin, the Kallinkeion Assistant Professor of Byzantine Studies at Queens College, said in a statement.

“Their number and variety should make these pieces fertile ground for student research, whether into the textiles’ subject matter, weaving techniques, style, or even the history of collecting.”

Photos courtesy of Maria Matteo

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