Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College Receives Major Gift of Coptic Textiles from the Rose Choron Collection

QUEENS, NY, March 8, 2017 –The estate of Rose Choron (1917–2014) has given the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College a major collection of 85 Coptic textiles from Egypt, most dating from the third to the seventh centuries CE. Acquired in Switzerland and New York over several decades, the collection represents a major expansion of the museum’s holdings both in textiles and in the arts of Late Antiquity.

Today the term Coptic denotes Christian Egyptians, but originally the word “Copt,” which derives from Greek and Arabic, meant “Egyptian.” Textiles in the Choron collection represent a period in Egypt from the 3rd to 7th century CE, a time when many ethnicities such as Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks co-existed, along with numerous belief systems including pagan and Christianity. The textiles’ motifs encompass this range of belief and ethnicity, with floral designs of vines, trees, and flowers; fauna including tigers, peacocks, dolphin, and horses; treatment of mythological subjects and figures including Eros, Bacchus, Dionysos, Ariadne and Leda; and narrative depictions of Bacchic worshippers, dancers, horsemen and swordsmen, executions and lion hunts; as well as geometric patterns. The textiles’ brilliantly preserved hues of blues, purples, reds and other rich colors would influence later styles of Islamic art and design.

A Coptic Textile Band of Parrots and Flowers

In her book, Family Stories: Travels Beyond the Shtetl, Rose Choron describes a life of many journeys. Born in Kharkov (now Kharkiv, Ukraine) to Zachar Josefowitz and his wife, Frieda (the daughter of the eminent Lithuanian Rabbi Eliahu Dov Shur), Rose moved with her family to the safety of the United States in 1939. During the war years, she studied painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Boston and earned an MA in Russian history from Radcliffe in 1945. Later she studied psychology at Columbia University and then at the Institut für Angewandte Psychologie in Zurich.

It was during her studies in Zurich that Rose Choron began her Coptic textile collection, quite by accident, when a boldly-patterned piece of textile in a shop window caught her eye. Neither she nor the dealer knew its attribution at the time, but she bought it—for the equivalent of a few dollars—because she enjoyed its whimsy. A year later she showed it to art historian Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University, who immediately identified it as part of a fourth-century Coptic tunic. Knowledge of the background of this textile piece led her on a decades-long quest for these fragments from Late-Antique Egypt, and she eventually assembled a collection numbering over 100 pieces. Choron wrote:

What engages me most in these textiles is their unbelievable variety in style and character, which may be graceful, sophisticated, carefully crafted in one piece, and utter naive, grotesque, almost crude in another. I find them, each in its own way, most charming and appealing. They are my playful Klees and my Picassos.

Although the original function of these weavings was to adorn garments and indoor soft furnishings, they delighted twentieth-century eyes, as Choron’s quotation indicates, with their bold and expressive designs that seem at times to foreshadow Matisse or Picasso.

A Coptic Textile Assembled Roundel with Half-Nude Woman and Lion Hunt

In 1999, the collection was exhibited at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, with an exhibition catalogue by Eunice Dauterman Maguire entitled Weavings from Roman, Byzantine and Islamic Egypt: The Rich Life and the Dance. The collection subsequently traveled to the Harvard University Art Museums and to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

“Having this extraordinary collection of textiles housed only steps away from our classrooms will make for unparalleled opportunities to teach the arts of Late Antiquity from original objects,” says Professor Warren T. Woodfin, the Kallinkeion Assistant Professor of Byzantine Studies at Queens College.Their number and variety should make these pieces fertile ground for student research, whether into the textiles’ subject matter, weaving techniques, style, or even the history of collecting.”

Additional information on the museum’s collections, exhibitions and programs is available at www.gtmuseum.org. The Godwin-Ternbach Museum is located in 405 Klapper Hall at Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, Queens. For driving and public transportation directions, visit: http://www.qc.cuny.edu/directions. Google maps: http://bit.ly/1K4I93I

The Godwin-Ternbach Museum, a part of Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, presents contemporary and historical exhibitions and programs that provide exciting educational opportunities and aesthetic experiences to the Queens College community and residents of Queens, Manhattan and Long Island. As the only collection of art and artifacts in the borough, housing over 6,000 objects that date from ancient to modern times, the museum introduces visitors to works they might not otherwise encounter. Lectures, symposia, gallery talks, workshops, films, concerts, and tours as well as digital displays, catalogues, and an active website, complement and interpret the art on view, to serve the needs and interests of local communities. All exhibitions and programs are free. www.gtmuseum.org

For more about Queens college, visit http://www.qc.cuny.edu/Pages/home.aspx

Maria Matteo
Office of Communications
Assistant Director, News Services