The Coptic Period in Egypt refers to the centuries between the time of the Pharaohs and the Muslim rulers (roughly the 3rd through 7th centuries C.E.). Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.E. bringing new technologies to Egypt including tapestry weaving, new types of looms, better breeds of sheep, and classical iconography. There was not only a shift in leadership in this period, but also a shift in religion. Egypt was converted to Christianity in the first century A.C.E. All of these developments influenced the imagery woven into their textiles.
Based on the iconography of the Bates College Coptic collection, scholars have suggested that they are among the large numbers of artifacts excavated by Albert Gayet (1856-1916). Gayet began excavating at the Coptic necropolis in Antinoé (modern day Antinopolis) beginning in 1896. He brought his discoveries to France where he sold them to collectors. The Bates College Coptic textile collection was acquired by Hartley through Dikran Kelekian, a well known collector and dealer. Kelekian and his son Charles sold batches of Coptic textiles to museums, colleges, and artists around the US, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wheaton College. (The Wheaton College collection of Coptic textiles was conserved by Museum Textile Services in 2006.) Many of Kelekian's Coptic textiles were reassembled with adhesive and sandwiched between small pieces of glass taped at the edges before being sold.
Thanks to the foresight of Marsden Hartley, these twenty-three textiles are cherished by the Bates College Museum of Art, who is proud to continue exhibiting them in their newly conserved state.