Craft and Aesthetics in Byzantine and Early Islamic Textiles

Categorized as Topics

Craft and Aesthetics

in Byzantine and Early Islamic Textiles

Elizabeth Dospěl Williams


Textiles counted among the most valuable category of luxury objects circulating in the Sasanian, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods (7th-9th centuries). They played a key role in transmitting visual motifs in a wide geographic zone, and over many centuries. This presentation explores a number of examples of such luxury textiles held in the Dumbarton Oaks Collections and also argues that technology played a major role in shaping their visual aesthetics.


Bühl, Gudrun, Sumru Belger Krody, and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams. Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt. Washington, DC: The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, 2019.

“Essays on Liminal Fabric: Byzantine and Early Islamic Furnishing Textiles,” in Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection, ed. Gudrun Bühl and Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Washington, DC, 2019).

Golombek, Lisa. “The Draped Universe of Islam.” In Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World, edited by Priscilla Parsons Soucek, 25–49. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988.

Mackie, Louise W. Symbols of Power: Luxury Textiles from Islamic Lands, 7th-21st Century. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 2015.

Online Catalogue of the Textiles in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection.

Trilling, James. The Medallion Style: A Study in the Origins of Byzantine Taste. New York: Garland, 1985.  

Textile fragments in this presentation video:

“Hero and Lion” Silk

Fragment of a Hanging with Horses and Lions

Fragment of two-colored silk

Fragment of a Furnishing with Wreathed Roundel


A worksheet for this video is available here.

Also visit the Khamseen Worksheets page here


Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, “Craft and Aesthetics in Byzantine and Early Islamic Textiles,” Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online, published 19 October 2020.

Elizabeth Dospěl Williams is Curator of the Byzantine Collection at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Her exhibitions include Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (in collaboration with the Textile Museum, 2019-20), Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion (2019-20), and Rich in Blessings: Women, Wealth and the Late Antique Household (2023-4). She received her Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, focusing on jewelry, dress practices, and attitudes towards adornment in the Byzantine and early Islamic periods.