From cradle to grave: fabrics in the lives of women in Medieval Cairo

Cortese, Delia ORCID logoORCID: (2014) From cradle to grave: fabrics in the lives of women in Medieval Cairo. In: Cairo Under Wraps Exhibition, 18 Nov 2014, Toronto, Canada. . [Conference or Workshop Item]


Stepping beyond the association to clothes that typically springs to mind when talking about women and textiles, in this lecture Dr. Delia Cortese (Middlesex University, London UK) charters the varied ways in which social interaction with textiles and their production informed the fabric of life of women in medieval Cairo. The Fāṭimids, the dynasty that ruled over Egypt from 969 to 1171, famously intensified and perfected the production of textiles, the ṭirāz style in particular. During their reign Egypt became the most important centre for the export of this precious commodity across the Mediterranean and beyond. This 'industrial revolution' had a life-changing impact on most men and women, be they of royal lineage or common folks. Women became not just consumers of textiles, but also producers, traders and investors. As ladies-in-waiting in charge of the wardrobe of the royal household, they acquired prestige and visibility. Women belonging to the upper echelon of society could display publicly their status and authority through what they wore but also through the fabrics they gave as gifts. In furnishing their houses with silks or wools women from all strands of life could assert their styles and aspirations. In death, lavish shrouds or simple wraps served as the ultimate mark of respect to accompany women in their final journey. Extant material evidence dating to the time under discussion provides us with a colourful visual 'catalogue' of styles that were popular among women of medieval Egypt. The variety of patterns and uses of the textiles shown in artefacts ranging from ivories to pottery places their wearers at the centre of a rich, cosmopolitan cultural universe that was to remain unrivalled for some 250 years.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Research Areas: A. > Perspectives in Religion group
Item ID: 14000
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Delia Cortese
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2014 14:47
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:32

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