Silk with Griffins

Date: first half 13th century

Culture: Central Asian, Sicilian, or North African

Medium: Silk, silver-gilt metal on parchment over cotton

Dimensions: 69 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. (175.9 x 97.2 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Woven

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1984

Accession Number: 1984.344


The silk is a complete loom width and represents addorsed and regardant griffins enclosed in interlocking roundels, with stylized floral motifs filling the interstices. A band along its top edge loosely imitates an Arabic inscription. Such large and rich silks have been preserved almost exclusively in the great church treasuries of Europe and are associated with popes, emperors, and sainted bishops. Related pieces of this size were used chiefly for vestments and as funeral palls. A silk with a very similar design, but no gold, was excavated from a tomb at Bremen Cathedral.

The design, palette, use of gold, and inscription reflect a taste for fine textiles that extended outward from the Mediterranean basin. It is testament to the dialogue among centers of textile production and use, exemplified in an inventory of the cathedral of Lugo in northern Spain, which includes a cope produced in Baghdad.