Late Antique Textile Fragments

This online exhibition covers the Late Antique textile fragments donated to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art by the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation in 2015.

Established in 1965, the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation manages and organizes the extensive collection of the late Arthur M. Sackler. By loaning and donating art to various museums, the foundation makes the collection accessible to the public. The foundation has made several loans and donations to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, specifically helping to greatly expand its Asian art collection.

The textiles donated to the HFMA and featured in this exhibition are all fragments from larger works that have otherwise been lost. Textile fragments like these are not uncommon, generally having been taken from illicit grave excavations in Egypt and other parts of North Africa. Features of these textiles with interesting designs were frequently cut off and sold individually. The rest of the textile had no market value, so it was generally discarded. Over the last few decades, laws concerning the importing of antiquities, including textile fragments from North Africa, have changed in an attempt to curb these practices. However, fragments with a provenance placing them in the U.S. before these laws were enacted can still be legally bought and donated. All the textile fragments in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art collection were brought to the U.S. before these laws were enacted and can legally be owned and exhibited. 

This process of removing textile fragments from their archaeological context greatly complicates viewing these fragments. Having been removed from completed works, determining how these fragments were used becomes difficult if not impossible. Although some patterns or designs may offer clues as to what sort of garment or furnishing a fragment could have been cut from, many are very ambiguous. This problem is made worse by a lack of archaeological context. Excavations can provide contextual clues about the date and physical origin of a piece, but having come from illicit excavations, these textile fragments can not be effectively dated without radiocarbon dating and their original location may never be determined.