Inspired by originals
[b]Manufacture of Slutsk sashes revamped in Belarus[/b]The Head of the Museum of Ancient Belarusian Culture at the National Academy of Sciences, Boris Lazuko, has been long eager to copy Slutsk sashes, so that they might be sold to tourists. Of course, it would be an overwhelming task for one person. 300 years ago, Armenian father and son Madzharsky began to weave sashes so beautiful that they were worn by the wealthiest of nobles from across half of Europe.
The Head of the Museum of Ancient Belarusian Culture at the National Academy of Sciences, Boris Lazuko, has been long eager to copy Slutsk sashes, so that they might be sold to tourists. Of course, it would be an overwhelming task for one person.
300 years ago, Armenian father and son Madzharsky began to weave sashes so beautiful that they were worn by the wealthiest of nobles from across half of Europe. The sash belts symbolised power and status, but their popularity had waned by the 19th century, leading to the closure of workshops and the loss of many craft secrets. At the instruction of the President of Belarus, craftsmen are once more endeavouring to discover the art of embroidering the intricate accessories. The ‘new’ Slutsk sashes could soon become Belarus’ most popular souvenir.
A masterpiece for all time
In the 18th century, Belarusian masters would weave 300 sashes with gold and silver thread annually, under the guidance of the Madzharskys. Each sash could use 15-20 grams of gold and were woven by men, rather than women, due to the skill and time required.
Alexander Lokotko, Director of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Arts, Ethnography and Folklore, tells us that it’s impossible to recreate a Slutsk sash to resemble an exact original but notes, “We could soon be able to effectively copy a Slutsk sash if we have the right equipment. We need to agree on the weaving techniques and on the materials used in their production, so that our copies appear authentic. Much research is required before we undertake mass production.”
At the instruction of the Belarusian President, historians are joining forces with art experts, technologists, designers and weavers to work comprehensively on the task.
Treasure from under the earth
In total, five ‘complete’ Slutsk sashes are held by Belarusian museums: one each at Minsk’s Regional Local History Museum in Molodechno, at the Museum of Ancient Belarusian Culture, and at the Maxim Bogdanovich Literary Museum and two at the National Museum of History and Culture. Five more ‘Slutsk type’ sashes exist but were not sewn in Belarus, and 30 fragments of the ‘Slutsk type’, as historians call them, also exist.
Many sashes are, of course, in poor condition, as Yelena Karpenko, the Head of the National Art Museum’s Department for Ancient Belarusian Art, explains. She tells us, “They were found in Catholic church attics. As fabric spoils quickly, it’s difficult to restore.”
The Maxim Bogdanovich Literary Museum’s sash has been restored after having been buried; in fact, the fabric retains much of its original bright colour. Sadly, the two held by the National History Museum rarely go on display, as time has been less kind. The one in Molodechno — brought from Moscow in the 1970s for temporary storage and then remaining permanently — is in much better condition.
Four Slutsk sashes usually kept at the National Art Museum of Lithuania are currently on show at the National Art Museum of Belarus. Several years ago, it also hosted an exhibition of Slutsk sashes from the Moscow State Historical Museum.
Recently, a ‘Slutsk type’ sash was added to the collection at Nesvizh Palace, as Marina Voitovich, the Head of the Nesvizh National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve’s Department for the Registration and Storage of Funds, tells us. She notes, “It was made at Pashalis Jakubovich’s workshop, which existed near Warsaw in the late 18th century, copying Belarusian masterpieces. Slutsk sashes were sewn not only in Slutsk but in French Lyon, Moscow and Poland.”
Each sash is currently valued at several thousand US Dollars, being rare and incorporating silver and silk thread. They were worn around the waist or on the hips. The collection of Slutsk sashes in Nesvizh — the Cultural Capital of Belarus this year — is to be expanded, with a special exhibition hall housing these rare treasures.
Slutsk is located 105km south of Minsk and was first mentioned in 1116. In 1612, the Radziwill Dukes constructed a major fortress there, reinforced by earth mounds and bastions. Its theatre, founded by the Radziwills in 1751 in Slutsk, existed for nine years. Meanwhile, a Calvinist school has existed since 1617. By the 19th century, the old town had fallen into ruin; the central area developed by the Radziwills (palace and workshops) fell into disrepair, the earth mounds became weed covered and its bastions were dismantled.The partially preserved earth mounds in the town park are part of Slutsk’s historical and cultural heritage, as is 18th century St. Michael’s Church, the Barbara Chapel, a monument to St. Sophia Slutskaya and the Noble Assembly building (housing a history museum). St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and St. Francis’ Monastery are also treasures deserving attention.
By Viktar Novak