Kontush belt ("kontusz sash" or the Slutsk sash) was a cloth sash used for girding a kontusz (a robe-like garment). It was one of the most distinctive items of male dress of Polish and Lithuanian nobility (szlachta) from about 17th through the 19th centuries. In an earlier periods, sometimes narrower sashes of fine cloth or silk net were worn, but the wide kontusz sash is specific to the later period.
Like the rest of Polish national dress, the kontusz sash was of eastern origin. It comprised a 3- to 4.5-meter-long strip of fabric covered with varied designs, around 40 cm wide. Luxurious sashes were made with silk and gold. Depending on the sash's width, it might be folded a number of ways so as to reveal various designs on various occasions, the most ornate sashes were considered to have four sides.
Initially such sashes were imported from Persia and Turkey. In the 17th century several sash manufactories were founded at places all over Rzeczpospolita, such as Kobyłka, Lipków, Hrodna, Kraków and Gdańsk. The largest and most notable manufacturies, however, were at Slutsk. Sashes produced there were considered the most desirable and were also the most expensive. Because of the popularity of the pas kontuszowy produced there, it was sometimes called pas słucki (Slutsk sash), regardless of the actual place of origin. Slutsk (city of Slutsk) sashes had two different color patterns on each side. A modern Polish poet and a singer, Jacek Kaczmarski, has sung about those sashes in one of his ballads, Z pasa słuckiego pożytek (The uses of a Slutsk sash).
Slutsk sash is declared to be a cultural heritage of Belarus. Kontush Sash an Attribute of a Nobleman. Kontush Sash (belt) has oriental provenance rooted in Persian and Turkish tradition. Intense contacts between Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Persia and even more with Turkey developed vast trade roots and raised popular interest in oriental art and decoration all over “Eastern” Europe. The Ideology of Sarmathism created in XVIc a wide super-ethnos embracing many Central European nations. Kontush Belt was a visual manifestation of Sarmathian identity. Kontush belt was widely popular in Lithuania and Belarus, in Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Saxony, Moldavia, Besarabia and some parts of Russia. Kontush belts were worn by Nobility, Cossack elders and high municipality officials. The time of prosperity over the period of XVI – XVIIIc created surplus financial resources often channeled into culture, art and decorations. Polish Armenian merchants imported objects of luxury: oriental carpets, weapons decorated with gold and stones, expensive fabrics. Kontush belts especially emphasized the status of the bearer and were unusually expensive. At the certain moment the demand for the Kontush belts became so large that it was necessary to open the local manufacturing on the territory of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The workshops producing Kontush Belts in Slutsk, Grodno, Lvov, Vilnius, Buchach, Kobylki, Kraków, Gdansk, Lipkow were opened mostly by Polish-Lithuanian Armenians. The belts that were made there still had a lot of oriental ornamentation, but had their own distinct character – different from the belts formerly imported from Persia and Turkey. There was a practical part to it as well. Folded in half and wrapped around the body, the belt served as a pocket for money and documents. Most belts are about 30 cm wide and around 3,5m long. As the result of weaving technique – one side of the belt was a negative of the other. This way it was possible for the belt to have two different color schemes (so called two-sided belt). Further division of the belt allowed to make four color compositions (four-sided belt). The price of the belt depended on the materials used (sometimes they added silver and gold thread). The complexity of the design raised the price even more since it required more complicated manufacturing machinery, higher qualifications of the craftsmen and longer production cycle. The four-sided belts were the most expensive. They were meant to be worn on different occasions: bright side – for wedding, dark side for the funeral, green side for the green kontush etc. Very often the belt served as a table decoration – it was placed at the center along the table cloth.
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