The Transylvanian aristocratic sets of costume accessories

77720 / C554-C601 / 86165 - 86193 / 82620
Medieval Period
17th century
silver, gilt silver, velvet, enamel, precious and semi-precious stone
forging, engraving, filigree

    The Transylvanian aristocratic sets of costume accessories 

    Texts: Cristina Anton Manea / Photos: Marius Amarie

    Sets of aristocratic costume accessories: panache, sword belts, caftan chains, buttons, spurs. Inv. no.: 72720 (it belonged to Prince Gabriel Bathory), C 554 - C 601 (it belonged to Prince Gabriel Bathory), 86165 - 86193, 82620. Materials: silver, gilt silver, velvet, enamel, precious and semi-precious stones. Technique: forging, engraving, filigree; dating 17th century.

    Among the 17th century pieces exhibited in the Historical Treasure of the National History Museum of Romania there are also two Transylvanian aristocratic sets of costume accessories, to which are added other two, currently in storage. Two other sets of this kind are found at the Museum in Targu Mures, so that at the present day in the country are known six complete sets. These sets consist of a panache, cloak buckles, a sword belt with slings and studs or buttons, richly chiseled and adorned with semi-precious stones. Such complete sets or only components were worn by Transylvanian nobles and also by boyars in the Romanian principalities during the mentioned period. Each piece from such a set had a different evolution but complete sets are only recorded beginning with the 17th century and were used until the first decade of the 18th century. We shall begin the presentation of these accessories with the panache1, a feathered medallion fastened on fur caps by means of a clasp attached to the reverse of the cap. The panache seems to be a synthesis between the tufts of feathers attached to helmets2, the medallions worn with berets or hats beginning with the end of the 15th century and the feathered brooches fixed on sultans’ turbans, above the forehead. While at the beginning of the 16th century, helmets were still being adorned with metallic feathers  that swung around a chiseled rod fitted with tubes for fixing the feathers, the Western nobility wore berets embellished with medallions and trimmings made of precious metal decorated with stones and pearls, without feathers.

    The items worn in the Romanian Principalities seem to have been a combination of these two jewels, resulting an ornament for which Romanians used an Ottoman word while in Hungarian there were more names, such as: forgo, medaly, tolltok, or boglar. That means that the civil attire took the panache from the military costume at the end of the 15th century and also from the Ottoman costume, at the end of the 16th century, since the sultan and his retinue used to wear on their turbans jewels that were usually adorned with feathers. 

    Neagoe Basarab is considered to be the first to use the word surgiuc (panache in Romanian), when after his son’s death he brought “Theodosie’s crown and panache (surgiuc)” as homage to the icon of Christ Pantocrator, so that their metal could be used to make a binding for the icon3.

    In a 1529 Transylvanian inventory the panache is described as being feather-shaped –“a griffin claw with two gilt silver wings”4. The helmet ornament attributed to Transylvanian prince Stephen Bathory, later king of Poland, which is now kept in Krakow, and two other panaches found at the National Museum of Hungary5 were shaped like this. 

    Later there came into use circular, oval and, very rarely, square medallions, which had on their back-side one or more tubes for fixing feathers vertically. In fact, Stephen Bathory was the first to be depicted wearing a panache on his fur cap ever since 1576: in an engraving he is wearing a frontal piece and in a painting he is wearing another one, of which only the upper part is seen, namely the precious metal triangular part with feathers. At some point, the medallion became extended with three stripes made of the same metal, curved to the side because of how the brooch was fixed to the fur cap, that is above the ear, as it is depicted in several illustrative documents. 

    Three Wallachian pieces from the first category, dating from the first half of the 16th century, have been preserved: two of them were part of a hoard found at Coveiu, Dolj county, and one was discovered in the proximity of Urziceni. A synthesis of these three items is preserved at the Hungarian National Museum: it is oval-shaped and is chiseled with fantastic animals and five square cassettes filled with glass paste6. 

    But it might also be possible that these items, such as the one found in Budapest, are actually horse adornments, in the form of a trimming that was fixed on the horse’s forehead, the more so since none of them have a fastening system on the reverse7.

    Documentary information is available since the end of the 16th century. The list of jewels belonging to Moldavian prince Petru Schiopu, which were stolen from him in 1594, at Bozen, included, among others, four forged golden feathers...a panache (“canaf”) made of heron plumes fixed in gold  adorned with pearls and rubies...a panache made of simple heron feathers fixed in gold adorned with five emeralds, four rubies, and a sapphire... plus a panache mounted with diamonds, that is, five gold feathers8. 

    Zottu Tzigara received as gift from his father-in-law, Petru Schiopul9, a panache made of gold “with balassi, faceted rubies, large and small plaques of polished diamonds, plaques of emeralds and pearls”. In the list of assets belonging to the same ruler are mentioned three other feathered medallions: one of them completely covered in rubies and diamonds and adorned with lapis-lazuli on the clasp, another one made of gold with large rubies and a diamond mounted on the lobes and the clasp and the last one, made of gold with turquoises and rubies10. However, in a contemporary engraving in which he is depicted together with his son, he is not wearing any medallion on the cap, while his portrait from the Galata Monastery cannot be taken into account because it is a 19th century painting. 

    Michael the Brave received from the Sultan, at Brasov, a panache with diamonds11. Furthermore, Michael the Brave was the first ruler depicted in contemporary engravings wearing a fur cap adorned on the right side with a feathered brooch that seems to have a large diamond in the centre; in another engraving he is wearing a round panache embellished with stones, similar to the one he is wearing in the painting by Franz Francken II in which he is depicted together with emperor Rudolf II. However, in the painting “Herodiada and Irod” by the same painter he is wearing a turban decorated with a very complicated piece: an oval medallion surmounted by a feathered rhombus, placed obliquely. His contemporary, Ieremia Movila, was depicted on his funeral veil with a similar panache whose feathers rise vertically from a tube with flared mouth, rather akin in form and decorative motifs to the one worn by Gabriel Bethlen in a contemporary painting12.  But the most strange and unusual item is the one which the same Gabriel Bethlen is wearing in a 1519 engraving: a squared panache, adorned with volutes, in whose centre there seems to be a diamond and whose feathers come out from a single tube and are displayed in the form of a fan13.

    In fact, prince Gabriel Bethlen seems to have had the most and the most manifold pieces of this type, being the only one known to have bought diamonds especially for this kind of adornment14. During the same period, Moldavia’s ruler Gaspar Gratiani (1619-1620) is depicted in contemporary engravings with a medallion embellished with pearls and precious stones, that is clasped to the brim of his fur cap, while a tuft of feathers mounted in a chiseled metallic support rises from the back of the brim. 

    Although princes Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu owned this kind of adornment, their panaches do not appear in contemporary engravings, which led to the conclusion that they used to wear them on the left. Few information exists about these jewels. However, one of those that belonged to Vasile Lupu seems to have been the most richly adorned and valuable jewel of this type, awing the emissary of Transylvanian Prince Ioan Kemeny, who wrote in his diary that it was adorned with five extremely large diamonds, a similar diamond being mounted on Vasile Lupu’s ring15. Conversely, in all votive portraits the Moldavian ruler seems to be depicted wearing the same panache: a rounded medallion with three short vertical tubes, in which feathers are fastened. Vasile Lupu’s son, Ioan, is depicted on the tapestry of the Moldavian Metropolitan wearing a similar item.

    The following rulers – Gheorghe Stefan, Mihnea III or Grigore Ghica – are portrayed wearing the same adornment on their fur caps, and in a portrait from 1664 the latter even had a jewel without feathers16.

    The shape of the panache and its chiseling were decided by jewelers, but general characteristics remained the same: a circular or oval disc from which rose a high pentagon or three thin bands curved to one side. Despite these variations, the basic shape of the panache did not change for nearly half a century, not even in its decorative elements, so that Gheorghe Duca, prince of Moldavia and then of Wallachia, (1665-1666; 1668-1672; 1678-1683, and in Walachia between 1674-1678) is wearing, in the votive portrait from Cetatuia Monastery, an item similar to that of Ieremia Movila or with the one worn by Antonie Ruset in the fresco of the Saint Nicholas church  in Iasi. 

    The rulers of the three Carpathian Danubian countries are depicted wearing such panaches until after the third decade of the 18th century. They were also worn by Constantin Brancoveanu and Nicolae Mavrocordat, often in a modified shape – it arches over the hat’s brim, and the chiseling consists of vegetal decorative motifs, but it holds the same tuft of feathers.

    Under these circumstances we can consider correct the assumption that the panache became a princely/royal symbol no later than the end of the 16th century. It replaced the crown with which Romanian rulers had been depicted in frescos and that they continued to wear symbolically in some frescoes. The assumption turns into certainty thanks to an information from 1653: that year Moldavian ruler Gheorghe Stefan beheaded one of his servants who had stolen a valuable panache from Vasile Lupu’s thesaurus, “saying: if he had stolen something which he deserved, I would have forgiven him. But he stole a jewel due to a Prince”17. “A golden panache with very valuable precious stones, worthy of a king” was fastened to the fur cap worn at his coronation by Wallachian ruler Constantin Serban18. Hrizea from Bogdanie received a similar jewel from the foreign mercenaries who installed him on Wallachia’s throne in 1655, and Gheorghe Stefan gave a panache to Grigore Ghica, probably one from the thesaurus of Vasile Lupu, on the occasion of his enthronement in Moldavia in 165719. Maybe the “unum ornamentum capitis aureum”, a panache with feathers mounted in three diamonds, and another panache with diamonds and three pearls in the upper part, jewels which he sold in Vienna, were also part of that thesaurus20.  

    The fact that in the 1666 Transylvanian statute regarding attire, which forbad non-aristocratic classes from wearing high fur caps – “and no plebeian should dare to make such a cap and more so to wear one” – is not mentioned anything about panaches, seems to strengthen the belief that this item was destined mostly for princes, although, as we shall see, at the end of the century it began to be also worn by some nobles21. 

    In the late 17th century pendant brooches with anthropomorphic representations, especially characters from the Ancient Greek mythology, or with marine or terrestrial, natural or fantastic animals, that were enameled and decorated with stes of colored stones and pearls, were multiplied and lined on necklaces or chains. These brooches became components of aristocratic sets of accessories. A set composed of lined plaques decorated with vegetal motifs, enameled characters and stones, is exhibited in the Historical Thesaurus and circumscribes a round medallion panache on which is illustrated a white swan feeding its cygnets with its own liver, as the legend goes, the scene being enameled in as natural as possible colors. Just as colored and mounted with stones and pearls is the singular panache within the same exhibition, composed of a medallion with circles made of colorful gems, nervures with curved ends and a green gem probably made of glass paste and attached as pandeloque, so that the item would resemble the pendants in vogue during the entire 17th century22. 

    After the occupation of Transylvania by the Habsburgs, Apor Peter nostalgically described the customs and attires of the Transylvanian aristocracy at the end of the 17th century, narrating that the high nobles wore a cap made of two mink furs adorned with a medallion mounted with crane feathers23, while those situated lower in the social hierarchy wore a cap made of marten fur with a “bokreta” or “forgo” from pearls and gems, with two vertical feathers. Elsewhere he wrote that in the summer young people wore panaches made of flowers, and the elders wore hats adorned with black ostrich feathers, fastened in front with a ribbon made of gold thread and pearls24. Such ribbons made of gold thread and used for fastening the feathers’ support have been mentioned since the times of Stefan Bocskai25; then in a 1665 document it is mentioned a “ribbon on which it is fastened a golden medallion with many pearls that are fixed in front of ostrich feathers”26.   

     Ladies also wore panaches, probably since the end of the 16th century, even though evidences of this are scarce and insufficient so we do not know how the “golden hood with feathers” from Zamfira Movila’s dowry in 157527 looked like, and much less could be assumed regarding Maria’s portrait from Galata Monastery, daughter of Petru Schiopu, where she is depicted wearing a male fur cap adorned with a panache28. However the depiction of lady Tudosca on her tomb covering found at the Three Hierarchs Church, the one of Ecaterina, Vasile Lupu’s second wife, on the fresco of the Golia Monastery and the portrait of Anastasia Duca with her daughters in the fresco of the Cetatuia Monastery are further arguments to support the fact that the panache was worn only by noble ladies as a royal symbol. 

    In conclusion, the panache, a synthesis between a military ornament and a civil one, was maintained as long as it embedded the two symbols; when their significations were lost, first the military one, it became a jewel that lost its ornamental value when the attire with which it was worn went out of fashion. 

    The panache’s medallion, due to its shape and adornment system, was the main item in manufacturing the chains for the caftan, dolman or mintean (short male coat with or without sleeves) and for the sword belt – which was a component of aristocratic sets of costumes accessories -, but while the panache was only a decorative item, the caftan chains and the belts were also functional pieces. 

    Caftan chains fastened the gown under the neck, on the chest, but they could also be placed on the shoulder when the coat was worn on the back. The word, caftan chains, is descriptive and it may seem improper, but we could not find another term in any of the Romanian documents studied, mainly because in Wallachia  and Moldavia inventories of  women’s assets were the only ones preserved and hardly no male ones exist. Only in Transylvania I came across the term “mentekőtő”, which, translated, has the same meaning like the Romanian expression that we use.  I believe, though, that an inventory of Stefan Bocskai’s movable goods refers to this kind of jewel which is described as an item that should be worn around the neck, being made of four joined gold chains (?)29 or that of Gheorghe Rakoczi I (from 1643) in which is mentioned a chain with two medallions mounted with 18 diamonds, 18 rubies and 18 pearls30. 

    However, caftan chains appear in illustrative documents and fortunately also physically  - starting with the 15th century and until the early 18th century -  as part of the sets of costume accessories already mentioned at the beginning of the article. They consisted of three medallions similar to that on panaches, joined by bands of rings or shackle-joined plates. Under the central medallion, the unlocking and locking system was pinned using a shackle placed over a stud31. However in certain illustrative documents they seem to be more complex, such as the one worn by Vasile Lupu in a vintage engraving showing that the coat was clasped at the neck with two rows of eight circular medallions, each over-crossed by two medallions for fastening and the one belonging to Gheorghe Duca in a fresco from Cetățuia church, similar but less luxurious. In the case of other Carpathian Hospodars and Voivodes and Princes of Transylvania the coat was clasped at the neck by a single medallion or brooch, however the bent collar covered the buckle system.

    Regarding sword belts, there are slightly more documentation references. They had the same manufacturing pattern as caftan chains, but were longer and clasped on the back-side by means of a hook and ring, on which were attached in the left side two chains of different lengths in order to pin the sword, such as those preserved from Prince Gabriel Bathory and Gabriel Bethlen.

    The belt had a complex history in the entire Europe, both functional and decorative, and in the early 16th century within the Romanian space were still worn those of leather with carved metal moldings, named in documents „silver girdles”, moldings preserved in certain hoards, such as those of Cotul Morii, Jassy County, Orbeasca, Teleorman County or Zăvoaia, Brăila County. But all of these girdles were clasped in front with a buckle kept in some of the mentioned thesauri. The sword belts from the 17th century were fastened from behind with a hook, while those equipped with buckles were considered old-fashioned, as mentioned in a document from the second half of the 16th century32. The system of locking the belt from behind started to be used since the 14th century but rarely and exclusively when the belt was rather decorative and adorned in front with very luxurious buckle clasp.

    Written sources mention a high number of belts, especially in Transylvania where the chattels of men were registered as well33. Usually, these were the works of certain Transylvanian artisans, yet among Prince Ștefan Bocskay’s belts could be found two manufactured in Paris consisting of „short bracelets similar in shape, jointed by little and big rosettes, adorned with coral” and a Spanish one consisting „of thirty-three enamelled gold moldings”34; and again Prince Gabriel Bethlen who had possessed six belts among which a golden one35.

    The inventory of boyar chattels was rather a rare practice and used only on special occasions: when they crossed the mountains to Walachia or Moldavia, where they increased their debts or were refugees in the Holy Roman Empire: Petre Schiopul owned two items adorned with rubies and emeralds36, Mihnea III owned a „golden girdle”37, while among the items alienated by Gheorghe Ștefan  there also was a golden belt with diamonds and rubies38. There is the possibility that these items were part of same collection with the panache mentioned earlier, taken from Vasile Lupu’s goods.

    Belts are illustrated only in some of the portraits, yet extremely rare; an example would be boyar Gheorghe’s votive painting from the Bascov monastery, yet we cannot guarantee its genuineness39. Usually both Hospodars/Princes and Nobles/Boyars were girded themselves especially with Turkish shawls as they were portrayed in most of the votive paintings, while the sword belts were attached only on special occasions, when they needed the weapon.

    The buttons or the golden or gilt silver knots which were part of aristocratic sets of costume accessories started to imitate the system of the panache. Functional buttons, namely those designed for fastening, were a creation of 9th-10th century, however until late the 18th century they were not clasped in a buttonhole because it was considered a pity to perforate the precious and expensive materials of those times: the braiding system was used. Clothes made of fabrics brought from Italy and the Ottoman Empire had true jewels as buttons, made of carved or filigreed precious or semiprecious metal and adorned with colored gems and pearls, while starting with the second half of the 16th century they were enameled in vivid colors40. The archaeological researches have revealed buttons starting from the 14th century, yet the most frequent discoveries are those from the early 16th century, spherical, but for most of the times they were ovoid-shaped and adorned with metallic granules on top and carved vertically with vegetal motifs. Unlike other items present in aristocratic sets of costume accessories the buttons are inventoried and described in all fortune inventories, pinned on clothes or separately, grouped by type and dimensions.

    In 1569, in the fortune of Pătrașco the Good’s41 widow their number reaches 49 pieces, pinned with gemstones and pearls and 93 pieces of silver and gilded silver on the list of boyar Karaman Agha of 159242. Now comparing again with Transylvania, the fortune of Babriel Bethlen seems to be the richest even regarding the buttons: 48 buttons of two types pinned with diamonds, other 8 strapped buttons adorned luxuriously with pearls, 24 each with a diamond, 19 of gold each with one diamond, totaling 124 diamond buttons in 1622, while in 1624 were added two couples of buttons with rubies43. The list could be extended, yet their illustrations is accurate only in one of the Prince’s portrait, while in the paintings of other rulers or Princes they were depicted rather schematic, usually only shaped as a grooved cornel (?), larger or smaller depending on his status: the smaller ones were clasping the coat from underneath, the medium sized ones were fastening the dolman, while the large ones were pinned on the edges of the sleeves clefts precisely as they were mentioned in the inventory of the clothes and silverware of Ban Vasilache seized in Bran in 1641: a dolman adorned with 13 chest buttons and 20 scofium attached on the sleeves, another one with 24 chest golden buttons and 15 on the sleeves, while a third one with 22 buttons of scofium44 and 9 silver gilded on the sleeves45. In the same period the single-colored enameled buttons started to be manufactured, subsequently in more colors, combined with gems and pearls46.

    Besides all the listed items – panache, caftan chains, sword chains, buttons, belonging to the sets of costume accessories of Gabriel Bethlen and Gabriel Bathori stored in the National Museum of Romanian History there is also conserved a pair of spurs which matches them through the decoration on the spiked wheel, which traces its origins in the military uniform and a sword with carved hilt and scabbard and adorned with the same model of gems as on both of the items. The most important thing is that on that on each of the blades was engraved in black enamel the portrait of the Prince along with emblem and his title, making it easier to out the owner.

    Inventorying the four sets in chronological order, the oldest is that of Gabriel Bathori, followed by that of Gabriel Bethlen, then the one with oval medallions and filigreed buttons dating in the 17th century, while the latest would be the enamelled and more complex one. The older two do not have layout gaps, being complete. There is the possibility that Gabriel Bathori’s belt was attached subsequently on velvet, being repaired considering the multiple markings made on it: a dog head, Austro-Hungarian piercer which was used on small silver items and probably on some reparations, between 1870 and 1918 and also the signature of a silversmith CEN found on the belt ring, yet the buttons are signed with WM and MW, depending on the perspective, signature which appears also on the belt from the third  trimming enlisted above. This one was fixed and edited regarding the oval medallions decorations. In the middle existed or it was later added to each one a thin string fretted rosette, characteristic to 17th century, over which it was applied a decoration of thin filigree layers, much thinner than of the buttons’ and relatively different in style, probably manufactured in 19th century. Over them, boxed pearls and red gemstones were attached, probably in the original mounts, even though more rarely because this was not appreciated in an epoch when gems had to be as many and as vivid as possible. However the adjustments and the improvements do not change too much the unity of the collection.

    The most complex is the fourth of the sets, where the panache is equipped with the swan mentioned above, in the central medallion of the caftan chain there is a monarch, probably Saint Stephan, in the left medallion is Saint George slaying the dragon, while in the right one, lost in present days, is probably another Warrior Saint. On the belt is illustrated in a central medallion the Virgin Mary with the child, while on both sides is a Saint or an Archangel in armour, frequently depicted in Orthodox church paintings, while the chain consists of late 17th century mouldings alternating with hussar heads. The three central representations of the items described are Hungarian symbols from around the 13th-14th centuries. All these depictions are related to the rise of nationalism during the early 18th century, when Francis Rakoczi II attempted to free Hungary from Holy Roman Empire authority.

    These noble sets are illustrative for the society of the Danube-Carpathian space, where men were adorned as luxuriously as women, yet with specific masculine items.