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An off-white, rectangular textile fragment with a purple border depicting plants and animals around three sides and a panel at the top showing four human figures dancing between columns.

The rectangular, vertically oriented textile fragment is worked in undyed fibers with a purple design. A purple border runs down the long sides and across the top. It has a scalloped line on either side, a purple stripe, and down the middle a pattern of fish, animals, and plants. At the top, in the otherwise-plain central area, is a purple panel showing four archways in off-white with a human dancer in each.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Tunic Fragment: Four Dancers under Arches
Textile Arts
Work Type
6th century
Creation Place: Africa, Egypt
Byzantine period, Early
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Wool, tapestry woven
Woven, mixed technique
35.5 x 58 cm (14 x 22 13/16 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Charles Bain Hoyt
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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This textile fragment represents the front or back side of a tunic. Monochrome tapestry-woven segments decorate what would have been a garment primarily made of plain woven, undyed fabric. The upper area of this fragment features four abstracted dancers between the columns of an arcade. A lunette sits above each opening; two of the lunettes contain an architectural; design while the other two feature figural busts. The arcade is made up of spiral columns with small Corinthian capitals. From the left, the first and third dancers are male and wear straps across their chests. The second and fourth figures are female and wear tunics and long scarves meant to accentuate their movements in the dance.
The clavi bands surrounding the arcade scene contain fish, animals and plant life. The field is organized into three rows, of repeating motifs. The clavi form a continuous band that runs around the rectangle containing the arcade and dancers. In the upper horizontal portion of this band, the fish, animal, and plant motifs are arranged in two rows instead of the three used elsewhere. All of the fish and animals have the same orientation, as if a ground line runs on the right side of the tunic. This continuous band is edged with finials on most of its sides; at the very top edge of the tunic however there is a purple band with buff medallions containing small birds. A reinforced selvedge at the top marks the neckline of the tunic opening.
Between the clavi bands is an expanse of plain woven undyed linen. A slit between a pair of warps near the arcade has been stitched closed. There are evenly distributed horizontal creases towards the bottom of the piece and a few tears in this area.
Several neatly cut fragments in the upper left corner have been added or restored. In the fragment forming the right angle of the purple band, the warps are running in the wrong direction, clearly indicating this fragment does not belong in its current position. These discontinuous fragments may have been cut from another location on the tunic and added in here to create the appearance of completeness. Staining in the upper left area of the intact textile suggests that this portion had suffered damage in a burial context.
The pattern of fish, animals, and plants arranged in rows that fills the clavi bands on this tunic is similar to the design of Harvard's 1931.35.10, a small fragment.

Publication History

  • Ioli Kalavrezou, Byzantine Women and Their World, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2003), p. 266/fig. 158

Exhibition History

  • Byzantine Women and Their World, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/25/2002 - 04/28/2003
  • 32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/12/2015 - 11/17/2015; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/28/2022 - 05/31/2023

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at