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Pair of shoes

Pair of shoes

  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)
    Akhmim, Egypt (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 300-500 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Leather with gilding and embroidery, linen and silk thread.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dudley B. Myers

  • Museum number:

    837&A-1903

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Death for believers in the Christian faith is not an end, but a preparation for a new birth. Early Christians wished to present themselves in their finest clothes at the moment of resurrection of the body. For women that included hair covering and also shoes.

These exceptionally well-preserved leather women's shoes have a high front coming up to a double lobed extension, and finish at the heel with a high tab. The shoes may have been originally purple or red, and were extensively embellished with gold leaf. The disc-shaped leather motif on the vamp encloses eight smaller circles, these decorated further with embroidered stars.

Physical description

Flat shoes of leather, with a high front coming up to a double lobed extension, finishing at the heel with a high tab; on the vamp an additional small disc of leather; constructional sewing in linen. Perhaps originally of purple or red, extensively embellished with gold leaf; the disc-shaped motif on the vamp encloses eight smaller circles, these are further decorated with embroidered stars, the embroidery thread possibly of silk.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)
Akhmim, Egypt (probably, made)

Date

ca. 300-500 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Leather with gilding and embroidery, linen and silk thread.

Dimensions

Length: 26 cm, Width: 8 cm, Height: 7 cm

Object history note

Transferred from the collection of the late Major Myers to Dudley B. Myers and given to the Museum in 1903. Dudley Myers' addresses cited as 6 Middleton St, Calcutta and 'Greyfriars', Ascot. The shoes had been on loan to the museum previously, among some 32 pairs and 6 single shoes from Ancient Egypt and one shoe, two pairs of high boots and one pair of stockings from Bokhara. Other objects of different materials were also given to the museum.
(RP T 13867/03, RP 90256/1901)

Historical significance: The many shoes found in Egypt have so far been little studied, and although this pair is exceptionally well preserved, it cannot at present be precisely dated. There are similarly designed and dated shoes in Amsterdam.

Historical context note

Method of making
These shoes were made by a common Coptic shoemaking technique: turning. The Copts were evidently among the first to make use of this method of assemblage ('turned work') in which the upper and sole are sewn together and then the shoe is turned inside out (or reversed) so that the sewing is protected by being on the inside. There is also a rand round the heel seat with an extra leather thong down the upper heel seam. The red-dyed leather is from North Africa, which was renowned for its fine tanned leather. There are similarly shaped shoes with gold leaf decoration in different patterns in the V&A collection, in various degrees of degradation.

Social context
For Christians, death was not an end, but rather a preparation for a new birth, so they wished to present themselves in their finest clothes at the moment of the resurrection of the body. For women, their burial clothes included hair covering and shoes. Albert Gayet described in detail in 1898 the dressed body and the footwear of a female corpse: 'Red leather shoes with gold leather appliqués edged in blue leather with embossed gilding'.

Descriptive line

A pair of shoes of leather, Egyptian. ca. AD300-500; gilded and embroidered.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Granger-Taylor, Hero. Constantine. York: Yorkshire Museum, 2006.
Frauberger. Fussbekleidungen aus Achmîn, XVII, p. 285.
Not read by this cataloguer.

Exhibition History

(Victoria & Albert Museum Gallery 40 Fashion 13/06/2015-31/01/2016)

Labels and date

Label for the exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

Ancient Luxury
These shoes, perhaps originally purple or red, are embellished with gold leaf. They are decorated with embroidered stars in silk thread, and would have been the extravagant footwear of the period. The fine tanned leather, rich dyes and the near pure gold leaf would have made an emphatic statement about the wearer’s status.

Shoes with gold decoration
About 300–500
Egypt
Leather, silk embroidery and
gold leaf
Given by Dudley B. Myers
V&A: 837&A-1903 [2015-2016]

Materials

Silk; Leather; Linen thread; Gold leaf

Techniques

Gilding; Embroidery; Dyeing; Tanning; Shoe-making

Categories

Footwear; Archaeology; Death; Africa

Collection code

T&F

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