July 26, 2012

V&A Conservation of an 8th-century Egyptian Tunic

"Conservation of an 8th-century Egyptian tunic"

Such a contrast between the flat piece on the table in the video–so simple apart from the ornamentation–and the reproduction piece, how the tunic drapes when worn and fits the forearm snugly.

This post is rather long and even more finicking than the last one, sorry.

Burnham's Cut My Cote shows a similar piece from the 4th century along with a diagram that lays out how the cloth is woven on a warp-weighted loom from one sleeve cuff down to the other, then turned sideways to wear.  This is why the Victoria & Albert museum conservator, Elizabeth-Anne Haldane, indicates in the video that there was a selvage originally at the back hem.  Not that woven cloth can't have three or four selvages, but in this tunic let's say two.  The (weft-wise a.k.a. hem to hem) width dimension (252 cm / 99 inches) in Cut My Cote would make the loom wider than I can find in a quick read of the beam dimensions of much later Northern European looms listed by Hoffmann in The Warp-weighted Loom; these run around 200 cm.

Burnham discusses the underarm holes and the tuck that appear in the video.  Haldane says the tuck indicates the height of the original wearer.  Burnham calls the tuck a way to adjust a one-size-fits-all tunic.  You see how the hem curves when the man lets his arms hang down.  Burnham writes that the hem hangs straight when the tuck is sewn in a curve.

I suppose the sides of the V&A's replica tunic are sewn together.  Burnham's diagram shows that the side seams don't have to be sewn due to the unwoven warp threads in the corners which are "later cut to make short side fringes."

Burnham calls this style "a seamless robe," a phrase that might interest Christians because of these verses in the Bible:
Then the soldiers, when they crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece.  So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: "They divided my outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots."
-John 19:23, 24 NASB
There is a footnote in the NASB that says translated literally the tunic was woven "from the upper part through the whole."  The NIV's translation is "woven in one piece from top to bottom" which might lead you to think in terms of clothing construction, from neck seam to bottom hem.  However, consider how a warp-weighted loom is used, that weavers construct cloth on it working from the top beam downward, so:
"Greneveving - Ratnogoddin del. 4.flv"

(The video shows a blanket being woven, not a tunic.  A blanket is woven across the whole width.  For a tunic, the sleeve portion is woven and the right and left sides are left unwoven until the body section is reached.)

Using a different method, double weave, you could construct a seamless tunic from the neck to the bottom hem.  It's possible to wear a long unshaped piece of cloth without seams (also woven on a warp-weighted loom), as with the chiton.  So I'm not saying that the tunic above is the sort of garment Jesus wore for sure.

Some, who find significance correlating aspects of Jesus' life with parts of the Old Testament, make something of how Jesus had a seamless robe and the high priest Aaron wore a seamless robe to minister in the tabernacle in Moses' time.  They also make something of how Jewish law forbids a high priest to tear his clothes (Leviticus 21:10).  The relevant passages in Exodus don't specify a seamless robe exactly that I can find:
You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.  There shall be an opening at its top [footnote states "at its top" could also read "for his head"] in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn.
-Exodus 28:31, 32 NASB
Then he made the robe of the ephod of woven work, all of blue; and the opening of the robe was at the top in the center, as the opening of a coat of mail, with a binding all around its opening, so that it would not be torn.
-Exodus 39: 22, 23 NASB
Italicized words are ones added by the translators for clarity, not translated word for word; therefore you can skip the phrase "at the top."  You see in the video that the opening for the head is in the centre of the flat cloth.  It's not merely in the centre in terms of bilateral symmetry (at the top centre of the tunic's width when worn); it has quadrilateral symmetry.  The V&A tunic makes it clear how an opening for the head could be in the middle of a robe.

Exodus may not say it but historian Josephus says the Jewish high priest wore a seamless robe in the tabernacle:
The high priest is indeed adorned with the same garments that we have described, without abating one; only over this he puts on a vestment of a blue colour.  This also is a long robe, reaching to his feet, [in our language it is called Meeir,] and is tied round with a girdle, embroidered with the same colours and flowers as the former, with a mixture of gold interwoven.  To the bottom of which garment are hung fringes in colour like pomegranates....Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back.  A border also was sewed to it, lest the aperture should look too indecently: it was also parted where the hands were to come out.
–Josephus: Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960) p. 74
Similarly Josephus states that later in Solomon's temple the high priest wore "a blue garment, round, without seam, with fringe-work and reaching to the feet." (p. 556)

The V&A tunic and Burhnam's diagram have no sewing on the shoulders, only under the forearm.

I guess what I'm saying is that a reader gains more from a text when he or she learns about the text's contextual material culture, or at least older material culture than ours that contained holdover technology.  Your eyes don't glaze over anymore when you read archaic weaving instructions once someone lays out a really old tunic and talks you through it.

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