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Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity

  • edited by: Thelma K. Thomas
  • contributors: Jennifer Ball, Edward Bleiberg, Kathrin Colburn, Helen Evans, Christine Kondoleon, Brandie Ratliff, Thelma K. Thomas, Elizabeth Williams
  • 2016
  • Princeton University Press
  • ISBN: 9780691169422

Ideals of character and beauty, and conceptions of self and society, were in flux during Late Antiquity, a period of extensive dramatic cultural upheaval for the Roman world, as the extraordinary growth of Christianity eclipsed paganism. Textiles from Late Antiquity document transformations of cultural traditions and societal values at the most intimate level of the individual body and the home. These textile artifacts are fragile, preserved only in arid conditions, often in fragments, and only rarely intact.

The textiles selected for the exhibition Designing Identity at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World present an aesthetic of vibrant colors, fine materials, technical virtuosity of professional production, and variations on designs that display personal identity in the clothing of men, women, and children, as well as hopes for prosperity and protection in the textile furnishings of households. Prized for their artistry since the earliest discoveries beginning at the turn of the nineteenth century, such textiles were eagerly collected by designers, artists, scholars, museums, and captains of industry. This exhibition catalogue explores the parallel histories of ancient textile production and consumption, and the modern business of collecting Late Antique textiles.

"This is a significant work. Designing Identity presents and discusses choice examples of Late Antique fabrics from American museums and introduces this little-known corpus to a wider public." —Henry Maguire, emeritus professor of the history of art, Johns Hopkins University

Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2016