Magical Threads / by Jeannine Cook

The law of delicious coincidences is again in force for me... coincidences of artistry that span many centuries and in a totally unexpected way.

Caixa Forum Palma has a most interesting and rather unusual exhibition at present - Another Egypt. Coptic collections from the Louvre. It is a nicely displayed selection of Coptic art, with one section showing artifacts mainly from two very early Coptic Christian churches, with selections of carved stonework capitals and friezes, lights and other religious items. Since Christianity arrived in Egypt very early on, probably about AD 33 via Mark the Evangelist, there was a slow increase in Coptic adherents, until Alexandria became an important centre of Christianity. Influences from Greek, Roman, Pharonic and Byzantine civilisations melded with the natural world familiar to the Egyptians along the banks of the Nile; the resultant Coptic culture produced elegantly simple, yet sophisticated designs of pomegrantes, palms, vines... in the stone carvings. Woods used for carved doors and other church furnishings were those of the desert - tamarisk and fig, unusual woods to see carved.

This is a photo courtesy of the Lessing Photo archive of  the Louvre's pieces of  the North Portal of the Coptic Baouit Chapel.  The lintel is carved in acacia, tamarisk and fig wood.
The second section was the source of my delicious coincidences... amongst a wide selection of artifacts that the Copts used in their daily life, including examples of the Greek alphabet being introduced to enrich the written word, was a wonderful collection of textiles from the 4th and 5th centuries AD.  Both secular and religious pieces were displayed,  with a marvellous melding of cultures again and all of a freshness, delicacy and brilliance of colour that astonished.  Linen and wool, used with great finesse, and all of a quality that belie their great age.
A 4th century Coptic wall hanging depicting Artemis and Aktaion, in the British Museum (image courtesy of the Lessing Photo Archive)
These wonderful works of fabric art were still vivid in my mind's eye when, a couple of days later, I walked into a gem of an exhibition at Espai H.C., the Lluc Fluxa elegant gallery in Palma de Mallorca.  Thread by Thread  is a selection of embroidered works of art done by Mallorcan ladies for the Palma establishment, Casa Bonet, that sold embroidered goods from 1862 to 2007.  The work ranges from the most elaborate and exquisite of ladies' hankerchiefs to tablecloths, via marvellous pieces that won prizes in international competitions all over Europe. White silhouettes on black of Greek inspiration, figures that could have almost come from the Coptic fabrics, were created one thread at a time of the finest silk thread.  Even a link to the Copts came with written pieces of poetry or enthusiastic and lyrical testimonials that were then so exactly reproduced in embroidery that it was virtually impossible to tell which was on paper and which was on fabric.  This is art in its most wonderful form, art created with a silk-threaded needle and frame on sheer fabric.

A marvel of handwork created by Mallorcan embroiderers in the Casa Bonet collection (image courtesy of Diario de Mallorca newspaper)

Between the Coptic and Mallorcan textile artists, it was hard to choose which I preferred.  I just delighted in the juxtaposition and coincidence of seeing wondrous creativity in an artform I seldom see.