This caftan—belonging to the Tang Dynasty—has been attributed to a region called the Caucasus, which sits between the Black and Caspian Seas on the Euro-Asian border. A caftan is a full-length garment typically worn by men throughout the Middle East. The garment is typically made of cotton or silk (Britannica Online). However, this caftan—currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—is made of plain-weave linen silk, and lambskin. Only a small fraction of the lambskin preserved, however, there is enough for MET researchers to speculate the caftan was lined with fur (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) Although the caftan as a whole is relatively well preserved, discolorations, creases, and indications of insect cocoons suggest the garment was stored at a burial site (Kajitani 2001, 85).
As with most caftans, a thick trim of silk outlines the garment. The decorative trim is characterized as “a compound twill weave (samite in modern classification)” and showcases motifs and filigree typical of that seen in Central Asia and Iran during the Tang Dynasty. Rosettes, stylized animals, beaded roundels reflect the intermixing of Sasanian, Sogdian, and Iranian iconography in the Caucuses region (The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The pearled roundel—according to Ronald Ferrier author of The Arts of Persia—“derives immediately from Parthian stucco portrait busts. The circle is a powerful symbol: this is Sasanian royal diadem was circular and many kings for pearl colors and pearl diadems round their crowns, it emphasizes the importance of the enclosed motif and interweaving is a convenient shape for repeats (Ferrier 1989, 153). Inside the larger of the roundels, MET researchers distinguish either a pair of confronting birds or heads of boars both of which are typical iconographic elements depicted in pearled roundels.: “Within the framework of roundels, individual motifs of animals or animal heads include both the fantastic and the real, from single or paired horses, goats, lions, boars, ducks, and a variety of bird species” (Bier 2004).
“The Linen Caftan embellished with elaborate silk borders [is] immediately recognizable as part of a coordinated set of garments made for a horseman" (Kajitani 2001, 85). The two slits on either side of the garment allow for the flexibility needed for horse mounting and riding. If a rider is standing—as in the Horse and the Attendant [link]—the slits reveal the rider’s elaborate leggings often made of a mix of linen and embroidered silk. Traditionally, the caftan is worn so that the left and right front collar creates a double breast fold—“with the proper left front closing toward the right and the right front overlapping it" (Kajitani 2001, 94). The caftan’s broad V shape outline provides ample room for a rider’s upper body. Additionally, tight sleeve openings near the wrist aid in maintaining a rider’s body temperature.
Britannica Online. “Caftan.” (n.d.): Britannica Online, EBSCOhost (accessed April 1, 2016).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Caftan". Accessed April 24, 2016. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/327518
Ferrier, Ronald. 1989. The Arts of Perisa. New Haven: Yale Univ Pr,. ATLA Religion Database, EBSCOhost
Bier, Carol. 2004. "Pattern Power: Textiles and the Transmission of Knowledge". Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings.
Kajitani, Nobuko. 2001. "A Man's Caftan and Leggings from the North Caucasus of the Eighth to Tenth Century: A Conservator's Report": Metropolitan Museum Journal,
ca. 8th century A.D.
Silk, linen, fur
L. 56 in. (142. 2 cm)
Additional Research Metadata
The original linen coat (caftan), preserved in part from the neck to the bottom of the hem, is made of finely woven linen. A decorative strip of large-patterned silk is sewn along the exterior and interior edges of the caftan. A minute fragment of lambskin preserved as the caftan's interior attests to its fur lining. The woven patterns on the silk borders of the caftan include motifs such as the rosettes and stylized animal patterns enclosed within beaded roundels, which were widespread in Iranian and Central Asian textiles of the sixth to ninth century. The colors used in the textile include a now-faded dark blue, yellow, red, and white on a dark brown ground. The decorated silk fabrics are a compound twill weave (samite in modern classification) and the body of the garment is plain-weave linen. Two slits running up the back of the caftan make it particularly suitable as a riding costume.
[sold at the Stuttgarter Kunst-Auktionshaus Dr. Fritz Nagel, Stuttgart, on May 7, 1994, no. 18]; acquired by the Museum in 1996, purchased from Rossi & Rossi Ltd., London.
Added by Soley Esteves
Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 126 (Jul. 1,1995 - Jun. 30, 1996), p. 7.
Harper, Prudence O. 2001, "A Man's Caftan and Leggings from the North Caucasus of the Eight to Tenth Century: Introduction." Metropolitan Museum Journal 36, pp. 83-84.
Kajitani, Nobuko. 2001. "A Man's Caftan and Leggings from the North Caucasus of the Eight to Tenth Century: A Conservator's Report." Metropolitan Museum Journal 36, pp. 85-124.
Knauer, Elfriede R. 2001. "A Man's Caftan and Leggings from the North Caucasus of the Eight to Tenth Century: A Genealogical Study." Metropolitan Museum Journal 36, pp. 125-154.