Monday 8 June 2009

Motifs on Samplers - Early Mermaids

The siren's song has a strong lure and an ancient history. Here we are face to face with what looks like a mermaid. She is exotic, she is bewitching, she has a tail and she has a mirror in her hand. We can be forgiven for our mistake. This is an early Coptic weaving from the 5th century portraying a Nereid or sea nymph. Nereids are friendly to sailors and travel the seas on the back of great fish. Here the head of the fish is lost and only the tail remains, looking as though it belongs to the Nereid. Coptic is another word for Egyptian and relates to that period in Egyptian history between the Pharoahs and later Muslim rule. Many such weavings have survived thousands of years. A famous cache was found by the French at Antinoe between 1899-1900 and went on display at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. It was decided after the exhibition to separate the find and the pieces were scattered to the winds throughout Europe. When I look at them I see a twinkle in the eyes of Matisse and Picasso - whose works sometimes recall the sensuous naivety of these Nilotic masterpieces. Compare this mermaid to three found in The Goodhart Samplers.

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