RECONTEXT: Reconstructing the history of Egyptian textiles from the 1st Millennium AD at the National Museum of Denmark
The overall aim of the project is to establish a history of the Egyptian textiles collection at the National Museum of Denmark (NMD): reconstructing the way the objects are acquired, their provenance as well as their original look and shape.
The NMD holds 108 fragments of textiles from Roman, Byzantine and Early Medieval Arab Egypt. The highlights of the collection are fragments identified as parts of tunics of various kinds. This collection has not been systematically studied, and since it has not been published, it remains inaccessible to the academic world as well as the general public.
The NMD acquired the first Egyptian textiles from the art market of the late 19th and early 20th century. Most of the European museums and collections acquired their Egyptian textiles in the same way. Many textiles were divided and sent to different museums either by the collectors themselves or by the museum staff. Frequently, the most legible, visually appealing part of an ornament has been cut, leaving behind a puzzle with few clues as to the cloth's original overall appearance. The fabrics were purchased by the NMD from an Austrian antique dealer, Theodor Graf and from a Swiss archaeologist and collector, Robert Forrer.
Eventually in the 1930s, 15 pieces were transferred from the University College London (UCL) to Copenhagen by Margrethe Hald. The London textiles most likely belong to the collection of Egyptian antiquities sold to the UCL by an English Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie. M. Hald also studied some textiles from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and it seems that these textiles were brought to Denmark in the 1930s and were never returned.
This research will lead to the identification of fabric fragments scattered around museums in Europe and connected with the NMD collection. It will also reconstruct primary objects that were divided, e.g. one fragment of a wool taqueté textile is preserved in Copenhagen and another part of the same fabric is in Gdańsk. The visual and archive identifications will be confirmed by preliminary analysis of fibers and techniques. RECONTEXT will also attempt to establish the exact provenance of these textiles and study the conditions of all transfers and purchases. The research will be conducted in museums and collections as well as in archives left by dealer-archaeologists and collectors.
The project will offer a crucial contribution to the research field of tracing the history of Danish and European collections of Egyptian textiles. To make this “hidden” treasure available to Danish and international audiences, the history of the collection and digital reconstructions of scattered fabric fragments will be presented on the NMD website as an online exhibition. To secure the scientific impact, the studies carried out within the framework of the project will be systematically presented to an academic international audience.
|Dr. Anne Haslund Hansen||Curator and Senior Researcher||The National Museum of Denmark|
RECONTEXT is funded by Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond and Beckett-Fonden.
Conducted in close collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark.
This one-year project was launched on 1 May 2021.
PI: Maria Mossakowska-Gaubert, Post-doc. Research Fellow at CTR.