The Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Arts

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford hosts a vast collection of textiles and garments from Asia, providing a major source of inspiration for today’s creators and designers. The collection aims not only to display the aesthetic beauty of these items, but also to reveal their function and significance in the society.
The Textiles gallery values the influence that fabrics have had on civilizations and crafts as well as their role in trade. The collection includes garments which travelled the world in merchant ships, as they were often much-coveted precious objects. Today, they are still looked upon around the world as a token of great cultural achievement.
Linen embroidered with red and blue silk, c. 1170-1220, Ayyubid Period (1169-1260), Egypt, presented by Professor Percy Newberry, 1941, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, n° Inv. EA1984.76

One of the most important parts of the collection is dedicated to Egyptian fabrics. Egypt has been renowned worldwide for its production of cotton and textiles since biblical times. In the 1940s, famous Egyptologist Professor Percy Newberry donated to the Ashmolean Museum his collection of over 2000 textiles from Egypt, which he bought there during his travels with his wife Essie, an expert in embroidery. Most fabrics range from the 10th to 19th century: some are embroidered, others are woven and dyed with unique Islamic patterns.
This collection reflects the variety of items produced in Egypt at the time and features skillful techniques coupled with inspiring designs. The latters mostly used geometric patterns, but later on included also Islamic arabesques and calligraphic motifs. Animals also played a key role in decorating these fabrics, since religious beliefs prohibited designers from using human figures as motifs. The textiles feature a wide range of embroideries and stitching techniques, which display the know-how and creativity of Egyptian textile workers. Part of the collection can also be viewed online on the website of the Jameel Centre.
Linen, embroidered with brown, blue, and yellow silk, Mamluk Period (1250-1517), Egypt, presented by Professor Percy Newberry, 1941, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, n° Inv. EA1984.472
In addition, the textile collection includes a few modern items of historical interest. Many British travellers to Asia and the Near East in the 19th century chose to dress, eat and live like the local populations. Therefore, they often wore traditional Arab or Turkish attire, which illustrates their desire and effort to immerse themselves in the local culture and society. The garments of some of these globetrotters, such as Edward Lane, Robert Shaw and T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), are now conserved at the museum, and depict how people traditionally dressed in 19th century Egypt, Arabia or Turkmenistan.
Cover Photo: Band originally decorating a sash or a shawl, linen, embroidered with blue and yellow silk, Mamluk Period (1250-1517), Egypt, presented by Professor Percy Newberry, 1941, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, n° Inv. EA1984.445.a