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Collection The Mediterranean region in Late Antiquity was the cradle of both Christian and Islamic culture

At the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in other words from the 3rd to 6th century CE, the art of the Mediterranean region was shaped by the co-existence and cross-fertilization of several different cultures and religions. The techniques, forms and iconographic traditions they developed reflect this heritage. The Abegg-Stiftung’s very rich collection of textiles from Late Antiquity is representative of this abundance. Most impressive of all are undoubtedly the monumental wall hangings showing figures from Graeco-Roman mythology and scenes from the Old Testament.

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Dionysos hanging

This monumental tapestry originally served as a wall hanging in a Roman private home or cult building. The programme shows Dionysos, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy, and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments. The cult of Dionysos was widespread in Late Antiquity. It promised its adherents life after death and was an articulation of the desire for a life of happiness and superfluity.
Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, inv. no. 3100a

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Artemis hanging

The centrepiece of this monumental hanging is Artemis, goddess of hunting. Armed with bow and arrow, she is shown here in her temple striding ahead in resolute haste. To the left of her are some of the great hunters of Greek mythology: Actaeon, Narcissus, Meleager and Adonis, while to the right are scenes of hunters fighting wild beasts. The images were produced by resist dyeing, a method which entailed painting the motifs onto a light linen cloth in a paste made of resin and wax. The cloth was then immersed in a vat of dye so that when the paste was later removed, the figures and ornaments showed up as much paler than the dyed ground.
Egypt, 4th–6th century, resist-dyed linen, h. 194 cm, w. c. 600 cm, inv. no. 1397

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Ointment jar

This small, thin-walled jar is cylindrical in shape with a flat foot, narrow neck and fine, angled handles. It was ground out of a block of transparent rock crystal and is fitted with a gold cap and a finely braided gold chain to allow it to be hung up. A costly vessel, it may well have belonged to a wealthy Roman lady originally and was probably made to hold fragrant ointments and essences.
Eastern Mediterranean, 1st half of the 1st century, rock crystal, gold, h. 8.4 cm, inv. no. 9.45.81

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Nile silk

This silk shows the triumphal procession of the Nile, whose annual flooding was cause for great celebration in Egypt. The Nile is personified as a portly, bearded river god, seated in a chariot pulled by little boys. Heading the procession are dolphins, crocodiles and water fowl interspersed with Erotes busy fishing, rowing and riding on hippopotamuses.
Egypt or the eastern Mediterranean, early 4th century, silk (samite), h. 82 cm, w. 111 cm, inv. no. 2187

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Tunic with Erotes

Linen and wool were the two most important fibres for making textiles in Late Antiquity. Silk was a luxury that had to be imported from China right up to the 6th century. These tunic fragments are among the few silk robes from Late Antiquity to have survived. The silk is patterned with medallions containing little Erotes holding baskets of fruit, animals or musical instruments.
Egypt or the eastern Mediterranean, 1st half of the 4th century, silk (samite), h. 154.5 cm, w. 100.5 cm, inv. no. 3945

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Old Testament hanging

This wall hanging is one of only a few surviving examples of painting on textiles in Late Antiquity. The linen cloth was first dyed dark blue and then painted in white, yellow, red and brown. The dark blue ground was used to mix new colours and for the shading effects needed to model the figures’ bodies and lend them plasticity. The paintings in three registers show scenes from the Old Testament. The sequence begins with the ensoulment of Adam and Eve in Paradise and ends with the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to safety. It is one of the earliest Old Testament picture cycles to have survived.
Egypt, 2nd half of the 4th century, linen fabric, tempera painting, h. 146 cm, w. 436 cm, inv. no. 4185

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Lamp

This beaker-like vessel probably served as an altar lamp. It was filled first with water and then with oil and then fitted with a dock attached to a float. The inscription round the circumference names a Roman official by the name of Sergius as the donor. He had the lamp made in honour of a vow for himself and his family. Offerings of this kind were given to the church as a token of thanks for having been saved from adversity.
Syria (Antioch), 574–578, silver gilt, embossed, niello, h. 14.5 cm, inv. no. 8.114.64

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Winged horse hanging

This wall hanging is patterned with circular medallions containing winged horses, each with rigorously geometrical coat markings and fluttering white ribbons attached to the neck and fetlocks. Both the pattern itself and the individual motifs were derived from existing silks, especially those made in Persia in Late Antiquity. The Sasanid Dynasty that came to power in the 3rd century presided over the ascendancy of a great empire, whose arts and culture made waves throughout the Orient.
Egypt or the eastern Mediterranean, 4th–6th century, wool tapestry, h. 250 cm, w. 158 cm, inv. no. 2191