”Coptic textiles” is a term generally used for a class of decorated textiles from the 4th to 13th centuries discovered in Egypt, often in a good state of preservation due to the hot, dry climate of that country. The Copts—an Arabic corruption of the Greek ‘Aigyptos’—belonged to the Monophysite church, and were renowned as gifted artisans and weavers.
Because of the increasing demand for antique textiles in the 18th century, the antique dealers cut out decorated areas of cloth to create items that could be sold individually, thereby increasing their revenues. Only a few textiles have been found in archaeological excavations, which is another reason why researchers have difficulty in dating them.
The abundance of classic motifs suggests that these textiles were originally made for the elite Greek population of Egypt whose education and upbringing had been in the classic mode. Originally, the textiles were embellished in a classic-naturalistic style which was superseded by more abstract designs and oriental patterns over time.
Most of the textiles were made of linen or wool. The linen thread underwent a bleaching process before being woven into white cloth, while the embellishments were usually applied with dyed woolen thread. Clothing in that period consisted mainly of tunics with short or long sleeves. Other textiles were mainly decorative, including carpets, curtains, shrouds, cushion covers, tablecloths and napkins, or for ceremonial use in synagogues, churches, and mosques.
The textiles were decorated with designs deriving from Graeco-Roman art, including mythological creatures, human figures, animals, vegetation, geometric motifs, as well as Christian saints, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, crosses and oriental symbols. This particular example appears to show both clothed and nude figures as well as animals enclosed in medallions and framed in lotus blossoms, dating from between the 4th to the 6th centuries. The print is in triptych form on a single sheet of paper with reverse images in black on white followed by a two-layer print in black and color.