Praying Couple Curtain from 5th-6th Century Christianity

The following is a photo of a linen and wool screen curtain (velum) that comes from a monastery at Antinoë (Antinopolis), Egypt, and dates from the 5th-6th century.  It is likely an artifact of the early Coptic Christians.  It depicts a praying couple beneath an apse in a church or temple, with a Coptic inscription written in Greek script underneath.  The apse of a church building is near the east end, where the altar is located.  There are columns on the left and right, perhaps symbolizing Boaz and Jachin, pillars that flanked the entrance in the porch of Solomon’s Temple, and have come to symbolize the temple ever since.  The figures are dressed in liturgical clothing, including what appears to be a mitre, a veil, and robes, and in the traditional early Christian attitude of prayer with uplifted hands.  Size: 1.05 x 0.86 m.  It is located at the Benaki Museum, Athens. (Thanks Chad!)

Praying Couple Curtain, 5th-6th century Antinoë, Egypt

Praying Couple Curtain, 5th-6th century Antinoë, Egypt

3 Comments

  1. M Skinner
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, what do you make of the two objects on either side of the arch? Trees perhaps?

  2. Mike Martin
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    What a fantastic find. Thanks for sharing this.

    There are two identical images /symbols, one at the top right and one at the top left. I’m just guessing here but my first impression is that they are menorah or tree of life symbols? Where are the Greek scholar when you need them? I’d love to know what is written above thier heads. Also there is a decoration between the two people’s heads and an idential one left of the man. Again, just thinking out loud here but I wonder if it is like the Egyptian’s use of stacked lines (i.e. like a ladder) to represent generations or ancestors?

  3. M Skinner
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I agree Mike, I would like someone more familiar with these symbols to comment.
    Here is what I see-
    The keystone of the arch looks like the “all seeing eye” to me. Keeps the whole thing from falling down, watches over the praying couple. My wife looked and saw an angel.
    The image is fairly symetrical with the exception of the decoration you noticed and a few other things-
    The space between the couple seems to represent a shape. At first I saw a fish with the tail down. Then I saw a vessel with a tall pointed lid going up the couples forearms to the hands. (my wife says maybe it is part a curtain behind them) Then again, maybe just the way it is…
    At the top of the columns are “curls” which come down from the column top. The male has one coming down next to his cap meeting his finger tips. Where is the curl by the female head? Maybe there wasnt room for it because of the veil the female is wearing. Hmmm.

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