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Location: On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, Nov 14, 2023 - Mar 3, 2024
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Created in Egypt's hot and dry desert climate, this tapestry features a border of lush greenery and fruits, while flowers peek out from around the throne of the Virgin. Imagine encountering this artistic oasis in a Coptic church during the dry heat of the day.
This tapestry glorifying the Virgin Mary is among the rarest objects in the museum’s collection. In a composition borrowed from imperial Byzantine art, Mary is shown seated on a jeweled throne with the Christ child and flanked by archangels Michael and Gabriel. Above, Christ appears in a radiant light supported by two angels. Portraits of the apostles, identified in Greek, appear in the surrounding wreath symbolizing eternal life. This portable sacred textile was presumably displayed at the front of a public or private place of worship. This unique tapestry is one of the earliest Christian icons to survive. Woven icons were among the miraculous works shown to pilgrims in Jerusalem according to Abbot Adomnan of Iona (about 624–704) who described a linen cloth "said to have been woven by Saint Mary, and is for this reason preserved in a church and venerated by the whole population. Pictures of the twelve apostles are woven into it, and there is also a portrait of the Lord." The abbot’s description of the woven icon suggests it must have been similar to the tapestry displayed here. The delicate effects of shading in the facial features, garments, and vegetation were achieved by weaving the panel sideways with at least 20 colors, just as medieval tapestry weavers did centuries later in Europe. The high cost of dyes caused this majestic icon to be far costlier than painted images.
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