Ancient and Ethnographic Costume and Textiles

Textiles and clothing have been items of value—and important markers of identity—since earliest times, featuring patterns that have carried through eight thousand years or more, intact and full of meaning. This seminar will explore the history of ancient costume and textiles from their first manifestations in the Near East through the rich clothing and adornment of the Roman Empire—as well as the survival of ancient types and designs in remote areas of the world that still utilize traditional technologies. These enclaves of traditional arts, crafts, and customs are fascinating in and of themselves, and also provide clues to the ways ancient peoples dressed and regarded adornment. Since textiles are organic, not many have survived from antiquity outside Egypt, where fine linen cloth is extant in quantity. Examples have been found elsewhere, however, from Anatolia to Siberia, as well as in the bogs of northern Europe, and depictions in art provide an understanding of the types and styles of clothing in use. Carbonized fragments from the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük reveal the kinds of materials and weave structures employed for the earliest textiles, and figurines of the period are the first indication of the “genealogical patterns” that form the basis for much of the design and pattern that would persist for millennia. Loom weights and tools excavated at numerous sites indicate the widespread presence of weaving, where the wooden looms no longer exist. Students will choose from these and other topics for a research paper and presentation. The class will visit the Antonio Ratti Textile Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see examples of ancient textiles; we will learn about the conservation of textiles and see a weaving demonstration at the Textile Arts Center. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 or non-Western requirement.