Belts and buckles : who wore them and why?
Belts with metal buckles have been very popular items in the female dress style in the Balkans sincethe XVIII th century and their popularity was believed to came as Ottoman influence in the area. Even the word used to name the metal buckles comes from Turkish and it is the same in all the South –East European countries :”pafta”. The museums of some monasteries and particularly a remote little church have put, however , this popular item into a new light.
The female clothing style gave to the waist a lot of importance. According to ethnographers , in several cultures the abdomen and waist area are very sensitive, especially for women. As a result these were marked by wearing all types of belts. Apparently worn in order to show the beauty and delicacy of the silhouette or to hold the outfit properly, these belts had actually a much more important function: to protect these areas against evil and disease. The beads, coins, keys or buckles added to these items had the role of sending back the evil look and help fertility or protect against miscarriages. Even the spectacular metal buckles could have this role. According to Prof .Adina Nanu , Art historian at Bucharest Art Academy, and PhD Ioana Duicu,researcher,the pregnant women used to wear bigger buckles, in order to protect the baby1.
But buckles were also a way of marking the social status or even to make a statement about their owner. The ordinary people could have had alloy buckles with simple models , such as the one presented in Figure 1, whereas wealthier women could have worn silver or gold buckles, decorated with pearls, carnelian, coral , mother-of-pearl pieces or even enameled (see Figure 2 and 3).
But when it came to statements, Pafta buckles could tell much more about their owners. Their mother -of-pearl parts could have been decorated with different patterns, such as flowers, birds, humans. During the XVIII th century and the beginning of the XIX th century a very often seen pattern was the symbol of the Byzantine Eagle or different religious scenes ,such as the Nativity, the Baptism, Saints Constantine and Elena (celebrated by the Orthodox Church) or Saint Nicholas1. These buckles were a way of stating one’s identity, origin or strength of belief in a time were the Ottomans were very powerful in the area. The Figure 4 shows a very fine XVIII th century silver pafta belt containing two mother-of-pearl parts which represent Saint Catherine. We see a female Saint wearing a crown, standing next to the Cross, holding a spear in one hand , with palm tree branches around her, elements that appear in Saint Catherine’s Hagiography.
Surprisingly, exactly the same pattern is to be found on a different pafta belt treasured by a remote little church in the Carpathians (see Figure 5).
The “Annunciation” church in Poiana Largului, Neamţ county preserves a belt with a silver and mother-of pearl buckle belonging to Prince Petru Rareş. In 1538 this Prince, betrayed by his nobles to the Turks he crossed the river Bistriţa and was sheltered in a monks’ skete in the mountains.He dressed as a monk ,lived as a monk for a short while and was helped to reach another skete from where he could cross the Carpathians in order to reach a Ciceu fortress in Transylvania.
It is said that the Prince had left his belt at the skete in his rush. I suppose, though , that the Prince had offered his belt, which was precious, to the skete, as many princes would have done at that time. Petru Rareş was a believer , as was his father Stefan cel Mare, who had made precious gifts to the monasteries Dionyssos and Zografu from Greece. And just as his father had done ,Petru Rareş founded several monasteries during his second reign, after regaining his throne. For this reason I believe that he had offered his belt to the skete. Later the skete was deserted and its timbers were taken downhill where they were used to build a new church for the community.
The Prince’s belt and buckle, together with other treasures from the old skete were taken to this church, where they can be seen today. The existence of this XV-XVIth century belt which belonged to a man shows, however , that this type of fastening, believed to be a model for women, very popular in the XVIII th century could have also be worn by men and that this fashion is probably older than we previously understood. What is also surprising is that the pattern representing the saint stayed the same for two hundred years. We can see the similarity of the two buckles shown above although we have no evidence that they were produced in the same workshop or region. I haven’t also found an icon representing Saint Catherine that could show the saint in the same position, so we have no evidence for the moment that this pattern had been inspired by a famous representation. I believe that actually these findings should be studied by specialists as it could bring new elements in what we knew before about the pafta buckles.
Credits for photos:Figures 1,2 : www.cimec.ro
Figure 3: http://blog.noviodunum.ro/?p=2981
Figure 4: http://www.hellodambovita.ro/articol/2/Istorie+%C5%9Fi+civiliza%C5%A3ie
Figure 5: http://www.doxologia.ro/viata-bisericii/reportaj/bisericuta-ocrotitoare-vaii-largului
Povesti de Calatorie – Podoabele din metal și rolul lor în timp
Liliana Condraticova: “The Art of Metal during the Second Half of the XIXth century” article in http://www.palatulculturii.ro/images/upload/file/reviste%20for%20web/Cercetari%20Istorice%20XXXIII%20Iasi%202014.pdf