Fragment of a slit-tapestry, supposedly from El Azam, Egypt; Islamic period but likely much older;
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
In 1988 RK called the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and spoke with Linda Wooley, who was one of the ‘keepers of textiles’, as they call the curators in England.
Prior to calling, and the reason for our call, was our discovery, in a small old catalog of the museum’s collection, of the slit-tapestry illustrated above.
We asked her if she could show it to us, gave her the inventory number and, after some checking, Wooley said she had never seen or heard of the piece but would be glad to try and find it.
Several months later, she called and said she had located it and we could come by to see it.
We couldn’t wait because the picture we had seen in that old guide to the textile collections, authored by Kendrick circa 1930, struck as nothing short of fantastic.
We made an appointment with Wooley and when we arrived she had it sitting on a table in the textile study room.
The textile was pressed between two panes of filthy glass, which were, even worse, broken in a few places and held together with scotch tape that must have been at least several decades old, as it was flaking and brittle.
We looked at it carefully and asked Wooley if we could remove it from the broken glass and inspect it more closely.
She said that was not possible but that she would take care of removing it and we could come back in a few days to see it again.
We thanked her and several days later returned to find it, once again, pressed between two panes of glass but this time the glass was clean, not broken and the edges were sealed with fresh tape.
RK was a bit surprised because we thought we would get to inspect it, and when we asked if we could, Wooley again said no that would not be possible.
OK, we said, do you think we could get a sample of the material to see if it was silk, wool or cotton and perhaps do a simple spectrographic dye test?
Once more Wooley said no but she would see if that would be possible, so we thank her again and left.
About a month later we called Wooley and asked if she had a sample for us.
She was very polite but again said no.
We then said we were interested in publishing it in our forthcoming kelim book and would really want to inspect it again before doing so.
She then got a bit huffy and said she was going to publish it with an analysis and we could wait until then to find out what we needed to know.
Frankly, RK was immensely pissed-off, as before we called her she didn’t even know the piece was in the museum, nor did she have any interest in it whatsoever.
This was not the first time RK got checkmated by some museum curator who was not honest enough to act in a professional and correct manner.
Regardless, we have never seen anything Wooley, or anyone else, has written about the piece and though we tried several more times to see it again we have not been successful.
Anyway, God works in strange ways and several years later RK was fortunate to find and purchase a far smaller, and we believe not nearly as early, fragment in London.
detail, slit-tapestry fragment, origin unknown
RK does not have a color picture of the V&A’s piece but it is a similar ‘copper’ color to ours.
RK believes these two fragments, which have no other analogues we can find, are incredibly old, even older than the next illustration.
The iconography, especially on the museum’s piece, is very complex, mystical and unique with certain similarities to iconography displayed on Anatolian kelim.
The fact it is slit-tapestry (kelim) makes it all the more comparable.
The acknowledged earliest example of slit-tapestry is this example from Egypt, which is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
This slit-tapestry can be accurately dated into the period between 1453-1405 BC. It bears the cartouche of the Egyptian king Amenhopt II (1450-1415 BC) and was recovered from the tomb of Thoutmosis IV (1415-1405), his successor. Two other much smaller fragments are also known and one, which has the Ka-name of Thoutmosis III (1504-1450 BC), predates it by a generation.
Here is a color detail showing the cartouche.
A large hieroglyphic inscription provides the ka-name of Amenhotp II. His prenomen is contained within the cartouche and on either side are crowned uraei. On the left the uraeus wears the red crown of lower Egypt and on the right the white crown (outlined in red) of upper Egypt. Above the cartouche are given the titles of king.
When RK was in Egypt in 1990 we hoped to examine this and the other fragments but found it was not possible but we did get to make the picture above. Our picture is in color but for clarity we have shown it here in black and white, the detail in color is from the Carter/Newberry book mentioned below.
These fragments were discovered by the famous team of English Egyptologists Carter and Newberry, and we looked for many years to find a copy of their book detailing the excavation of the tomb of Thoutmosis, where slip-tapestry pieces were discovered. In 2007 we were finally successful to find and purchase a copy.
It is interesting in the book this weaving is described as a “portion of a robe” but this is not the case.
There is border and selvedge on both sides and when we took the pictures, even though it was under glass and mounted on the wall in the Cairo museum, we could distinctly see the selvedge finish.
RK believes this is not part of something; it is a complete piece, missing some of the top and bottom but nonetheless complete.
We postulated in our Cult Kelim publication, and the abridged version on the Weaving Art Museum website, this was an apron and we are pretty sure the staining visible in the black and white photo, which is red, is blood.
Was this used for ritual sacrifice?
RK has illustrated these two slit-tapestry pieces to first demonstrate the antiquity of slit-tapestry (kelim) weaving and second to place Anatolian slit-tapestry weaving into this most ancient perspective.
RK has no doubt a few of the Archaic period kelim are Middle Age, 600 years or maybe older.
The iconography these archetype Anatolian kelim exhibit is also one with salient and important historic precedent and connection.
This silk texile has iconography relatable to Anatolian kelim. Another related silk, from a church in Huy, France has an inscription on the back in Sogdian, the language of a people who lived in the region of Bhokara (Western Asia).
Influence from Sasanian, pre-Islamic, art is present – and the spotted animals, the gabled medallion perimeter, the kotchak (double-hooked) skeletal figure(effigy) evidence a relationship with archetype Anatolian kelim; Victoria and Albert Museum; circa 700AD
Seen alone the Archaic period art of Anatolian kelim is impressive, evocative and mysterious.
However, when it is placed within the far larger parameter of eastern Mediterranean and western Asian history some of that mystery becomes elucidated.
RK hopes this examination will both stimulate others to appreciate what certain unknown and unheralded Anatolian kelim weavers created but more significantly might it motivate others to further research and discover the answers to the many questions kelim, like the 11 archetype RK has identified, present.