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August 25, 2014


Pair of shoes

In the A&V (Albert and Victoria) Museum in London, one can find this beautiful pair of shoes in the Medieval and Renaissance, room 8, case 14. It dates from ca. 300-500 AD and was made in Akhmim, Egypt. One can admire the beautiful workmanship of the Copts of that period. The Museum has this to say about it this exceptionally well preserved pair of shoes:

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.

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’.


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