Zvezdana Dode, Stavropol State University, Russia
Co-sponsored by the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California, Inc. (TMA/SC).
Textiles are a very important historical resource. Textiles are also an important art-historical source for ornamental patterns of other kinds of decorative arts. Very costly and beautiful imported silks were a source of inspiration for local artists who copied the foreign textile images onto items of their own art tradition. The style and contents of the ornament on Mongol-period textiles is very close, or even identical, to decor found on artifacts made from other materials. Of special interest here is the close similarity between pictures from medieval Zirikhgeran (now Kubachi in Dagestan, North Caucasus) and textiles from archaeological contexts in the North Caucasus and neighboring areas. In general, it is impossible to determine where a particular silk garment found in a specific grave came from, or how its owner acquired it. He or she may have bought it, received it as tribute or gift, or acquired it as booty. In one case, however, we are in a position to tell with almost complete certainty that it is the case of a richly embroidered silk garment from a medieval nomad burial in the Caspian steppe in Kalmykia. It was looted during one of the raids on a Christian church somewhere in Eastern Europe.
In this paper, Dr. Dode will present her identification of the Mongol garment found at Guva-2, and make a few observations on the origin of the Christian embroidery on it. Apparently, the seamstresses attempted to destroy sacred symbols foreign to them, which in turn demonstrates the magical connotation the Mongols found in this embroidery. Cutting up the embroidery may have been meant as an act of profaning alien sacred symbols or, in other words, it was an act of ritual violence. Thus, neutralizing the sacred textile before it was reused may have been important for the individual spiritual security of the new owner. In a wider context the discovery provides us with an example and understanding of the reasons for the destruction of Orthodox sacred symbols that the Mongols felt threatened by.
Zvezdana Dode is Professor of Archaeology and Art History at Stavropol State University and senior researcher at the Southern Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She is author of over 70 articles on textiles and costumes of the northern Caucasus, as well as Kubachi Reliefs: A Fresh look at Ancient Stones (2010), The Rich Golden Horde Graves in the Interfluves of Don and Sal Rivers (2006), and The Medieval Costume of the Peoples of the Northern Caucasus (2001), all in Russian.
Textile Museum Associates of Southern California, Inc. (TMA/SC) is a non-profit organization founded in 1985. TMA/SC presents monthly educational programs, discussions, field trips, and special events focused on handmade textiles, weavings, Oriental carpets and costumes from around the world.
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