An Archaeology of the Iron Curtain: Material and Metaphor

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The joined upper part of the pair make the textile into what we may call soft architecture, the textile equivalent of a lintel displaying a message in woven imagery that stayed in place, unlike the patterning with discrete images that covers the vertical length of the two halves designed to be parted or gathered back. Like sculptural relief on a stone or wooden lintel, this horizontal tapestry work would do more than visually enrich the entrance with its rhythms and color.

Its subjects and composition would qualify the nature of the space where the curtains were destined to hang. Where the curtains meet, as we have seen, they unite the two halves of the medallion with its jeweled cross, which in the image the Victories hold steady in their suspended flight though one of these halves is now damaged beyond legibility, fig. Emblazoned in open space, each Victory supports one half of the wreath that encircles the cross, which floats against a ground of heavenly blue. This motif raises the question of who owned these curtains.

The inscription on the title page of the Vienna Dioscorides manuscript, an early sixth-century book made for a high-ranking person, the princess Anicia Juliana, is similarly set against a sky-blue ground inside a laurel wreath or crown. We do not know whether she personally or her household used this book. See L. Littlewood, H. Maguire, and J. Wolschke-Buhlman Washington, DC, , —90, fig. If these curtains were made for a church, as C. See C. Horster, D. Nicolaou, and S. Forsyth and K. Weitzmann, with I. Kuban Istanbul, , , —99, no. Whoever assembled the curtains, by the evidence of this juxtaposition, was humorously sensitive to the imagery.

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The addition of the cord would have protected the two facing inner edges and the seam when the curtains were drawn apart. We can only speculate about whether the visible use of these textiles as curtains would have ended with the life or official duties of the person named on them, since nothing is known of the burial from which they came, as most large textiles from Byzantine Egypt survive because they were reused to wrap the dead.

Structurally, the upper fringe of these two curtains cannot be the original limit of the cloth, since the length of a textile would not plausibly hang suspended from a fringe; these are integral warp fringes, not sewn on separately. After the pair had ceased to be used as curtains, the fold seems to have been eliminated as unnecessary, allowing the fringe to extend at the top.

The modification could have happened recently, or in antiquity when the curtains were chosen for use in the burial of a deceased person. But fringes are not an uncommon feature at the lower ends of curtains, where they do hang logically downward. The fringed lower edge of a curtain may have been more than decorative, if the swaying fringe served the pragmatic function of discouraging flying insects, like the old-fashioned strings of knots or beads still occasionally found in the open doorways of Mediterranean shops without air conditioning.

More certainly, there is evidence that fringe was perceived as a sign of elegance and dignity on garments as well as on furnishings. Textile fringes on garments are recorded in various media as a detail signifying high status on earth as well as in the court of heaven.

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In a sixth-century ivory diptych now in Berlin, the mantle of Mary and the chlamys of the archangel holding an orb are fringed fig. Cormack and M. Vassilaki, eds. In fifth-century Egypt, the powerful abbot Shenoute insisted to the nuns making his clothing that he must wear fringe as well as color; he likewise objected to the design of a cloak that allowed tassels to interfere with the fringe.

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Shenoute was not isolated by his Theban desert location, or by his position as abbot of the White Monastery at Atripe, Sohag, adhering to the Pachomian rule. In he traveled to represent the orthodox faction at the Council of Ephesus. His comments may therefore reflect established orthodoxy in dress, and carry the weight of his reputation, which extended far beyond the community of about four thousand male and female monastics he ruled for at least eighty years.

Chalice with Scenes of the Adoration of the Cross, late 6th—early 7th century; glass; Panel honoring the cross between curtains, 5th or 6th century; marble opus sectile. Hagia Sophia west wall of nave, centered over the main door , Istanbul, Turkey. Artwork in the public domain; photograph by Bob Atchison.


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Makers of images often took pains to show fringe on curtains whether the setting was sacred or secular. Fringes edge the curtains that appear, for instance, on a glass chalice at Dumbarton Oaks fig. For the Dumbarton Oaks chalice BZ. Israeli and D.

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Mevorah, Cradle of Christianity Jerusalem, , The two similar empress ivories are in the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna Antikensammlung, X39 and the Bargello Museum in Florence. For the Vienna ivory, see H. Both panels are illustrated in W. In each case the fringe is clearly indicated on the lower ends of the curtains, which are looped around the columns at shoulder level, whether the empress stands as in the Florence panel , or sits as in the Vienna panel. In the dome mosaic of the Rotunda at Thessalonike, individual curtains dripping long red fringe, probably indicating red warp, have been drawn open to the terraced courtyard fountains of a heavenly palace fig.

See the fourth or west panel, featuring Romanos and Eukarpion, and in the northwest panel the green curtains with golden fringe, illustrated in C.

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Bakirtzis, E. Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou, and C. On fountains in palace architecture, see H. Jeffreys and F. Haarer Aldershot, UK, , A double line representing blue weft threads another known feature at the top or bottom of actual textiles , instead of a figured tapestry band or border, defines the uppermost and bottom zones of the curtain.

End borders are among the details of curtains depicted in many mosaics. In her analysis of the mosaics in the Samaritan synagogues at El-Khirbe and Khirbet Samara, Sabine Schrenk interpreted these borders of short vertical lines in a row not as the bands of empty warps found at the ends of many actual textiles, but as embroidery; it now seems possible that they may represent fringe along the folded top end of the curtain. Many mosaics also indicate whether the curtain was fixed or sliding at the top.

The mosaics at El-Khirbe feature a single fixed curtain in a relatively narrow doorway. A fragment in the Katoen Natie collection in Antwerp retains an open-weave or empty warp band along with a feature that the top of the British Museum curtains lacks. Antwerp, Katoen Natie, C. Especially if it separates the top of the textile from the length below, it looks like an intrinsic weakness in the design, the absence of weft making the loose warp vulnerable to the stress of gravity just below the points of suspension. On the Antwerp textile, above this open-weave band, the warp is tight, reinforced with a heavy-gauge or double weft, creating a densely woven, sturdily structured zone, corded along its upper edge, to support the suspension loops.

Below the upper fringe on the British Museum curtains, a structural reinforcement of self-striping remains where several grouped linen wefts, spaced to form narrow bands of varying thickness, provide a ribbed structure to strengthen the width of the textile across the top.


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These narrow bands of ribbing are visible in relief to the naked eye, while in recent photographs they appear as striations slightly darker than the field of plain weave. For self-striping, also called self-bands or self-banding, see E. A2, A Self-striping is more clearly illustrated, with good technical descriptions, in F.

Calament and M. Durand, eds. In our hypothetical reconstruction, the London curtains would have had a fold at the upper edge, above the hanging fringe seen at the top in the most recent photographs. At present, the tops of the curtains, carefully reinforced with a new backing strip, offer no evidence of how many loops were provided for hanging.

But the horizontal and unmoving register across the top of the joined curtains indicates the likely employment of a shared central point of suspension. Such a scenario corresponds with the evidence provided by surviving sets of hooks on the outer lintels of monumental early Byzantine doorways. The hooks are evenly spaced and set in odd rather than even numbers.

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This fixed center would have stabilized the textile even when the lower ends of a joined curtain pair were pulled away from one another to the sides of the door frame, or whatever opening the curtains filled. Bronze doorway into the nave, with curtain hooks, mid-6th century. Hagia Sophia inner narthex , Istanbul, Turkey. The finger-shaped bronze hooks on the exteriors of the Hagia Sophia narthex and exonarthex doors conform to the pattern of odd numbers of suspension points, so that, whatever design features distinguished the curtains that once hung there, we can imagine them configured as pairs joined together at the top and hanging from the west or outer face of the lintel, in front of the valves of each door figs.

For views of the Hagia Sophia narthex and exonarthex doors including some of their fittings, see C.

An Archaeology of the Iron Curtain : Material and Metaphor

For finger-hooks as objects, see E. Maguire, H. Maguire, and M. For the curtains depicted in the dome mosaic of the Rotunda at Thessalonike, see Bakirtzis, Kourkoutidou-Nikolaidou, and Mavropoulou-Tsioumi, Mosaics of Thessaloniki , 64—65 for a drawing of the whole dome program , and 61, fig.

The close-up view of the standing Therinos ibid. In some cases of tied-back curtains, this one-point support may have been supplemented by lateral ties attached to the curtain itself. Not many surviving works of art depict joined pairs of curtains, so we cannot rely on artistic sources to determine a full range of locations where such curtains would have been displayed and used.

This scene, and another of the Tabernacle courtyard fol. Detail of curtain hooks above bronze doorway into nave, mid-6th century. Plain or figured, joined curtain pairs were too versatile to be restricted to architectural use for the regulation of light, of visibility, or of access Such curtains were made for both indoor and outdoor use, as their presence implied by the odd numbers of hooks on the outside of exterior doorways indicates. They would also have been useful outdoors, in the woods or fields, or even in a garden, to give shade and to define space.

An engraving on a large fourth-century silver and niello plate or tray found in Cesena, south of Ravenna, depicts a pair of curtains functioning as a sun-shading canopy; they are shown pulled forward like a divided awning with draped ends supported on trees. This looped and gathered textile frames a group of five hunters dining on the ground. Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana: K. Weitzmann, ed. Smith, D. Brown, and C. Jacobi London, , In both scenes large textiles are tied to trees for the benefit of the diners, setting them apart from the servers.

The curtained canopy depicted on the Cesena plate produces a flattering frame. Other furnishing textiles are recorded in the outdoor feast scenes on these silver plates.