Exhibition of 16th – 19th Century Gold Jewelry from Bulgaria Extended by National Museum of History in Sofia till October 2018

The “paftas" were richly decorated female belt buckles which were a major decoration of the folk costumes of Bulgarian women during the Ottoman period. Photo: National Museum of History

Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia has announced it is extending its exhibition (more photos here) showcasing gold jewels and the goldsmiths’ art from the Bulgarian lands from the 15th until the 19th century.

The exhibition is entitled “Goldsmithery in the Bulgarian Lands, 16th – 19th Century", and was originally scheduled to be on display from May 5 until June 1, 2018.

It can now be viewed at the Museum’s main building in Sofia’s Boyana Quarter until October 1, 2018.

“Because of the great interest the impressive exhibition on “Goldsmithery in the Bulgarian Lands, 16th – 19th Century" is extended till October 1, 2018," the Museum has said.

The period in question is the time when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, after the Ottoman Turks conquered the remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.

This period in Bulgarian history is more specifically known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396/1422 – 1878/1912).

The exhibition features over 500 gold jewelry items from the private collection of Antinio Vasilev, a collector.

It is described by the National Museum of History in Sofia as “the largest and most impressive private ethnographic collection" collected by Vasilev “with proficiency and patience for nearly 30 years."

“The displayed unique exhibits allow for tracking the development of the goldsmiths’ jewelry art in the Bulgarian lands in the period from the 16th until the 19th century," the Museum says.

“The sophisticated artifacts demonstrate the high artistic achievements of the Bulgarian master goldsmiths in the processing of precious metals," it adds.

The various types of gold jewelry displayed in the exhibition include, as follows,

The so called “paftas" – richly female belt buckles which were a major decoration of the folk costumes of Bulgarian women during the Ottoman period – the exhibition features buckles with nacre (mother of pearl) engraved with religious Christian images using filigree techniques, glass enamel, and wrought decoration;

Head adornments including the very rare nail-shaped adornments worn as amulets above the years as protection against evil spells and curses;

Earrings “of high artistic value" known as “arpalii" – from the Turkish word for barley – because they consist of “grains" arranged around a circle in the middle made with filigree techniques;

“Tepelaks" – from the Turkish word for “hill" – adornments of gold or silver consisting of round metal slabs sewn to the top of white or red cotton hats, with coins or lamellas attached to its edges, which were also believed to protect women from diseases and “negative energy";

Various types of rings including “a unique artifact in the shape of a nail – a rare decorative version of the medieval rings protecting the left hand from the arrow shot from the bow";

A wide range of other types of amulets, magical items supposed to provide protection against evil forces – those include small boxes worn on the chest featuring images of Christian saints and an adornment known as “kuna" which is specific to the region of the town of Kotel in Eastern Bulgaria;

Table crosses with decorated with filigree techniques and miniature wood-carving;

A necklace and special buckles for young women still be married made entirely of “pure gold".

An official poster for the “Goldsmithery in the Bulgarian Lands, 16th – 19th Century" exhibition at Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: National Museum of History

“The presented collection of samples of the goldsmith’s art is an important part of the heritage of the Bulgarian gold jewelry art which developed in the Bulgarians lands in the 16th – 20th century," the National Museum of History in Sofia says with respect to its new exhibition of late medieval and early Modern Era gold jewerly from across Bulgaria.

“The skillful gathering of the collection gives an idea of the main emphases in the arts during the period of the Ottoman rule, through the Bulgarian National Revival period (18th – 19th century) to the modern day," it elaborates.

“The notable exhibits directly connected with female beauty also reflect the traditional beliefs and religious ideas of the Bulgarians," the Museum concludes.

Collector Antonio Vasilev, the owner of the over 500 jewels exhibited in the “Goldsmithery in the Bulgarian Lands, 16th – 19th Century" exhibition, began collecting the artifacts back in 1992 – 1993.

He has ended up with the largest private collection of historical gold jewelry artifacts from Bulgaria’s historical territory.

“The basis of the collection are the paftas (female buckles) because they were an obligatory attribute for any wedding. Every groom was obliged to present them to his wife. The paftas and the rings used to be the obligatory belongings need for any Bulgarian woman’s wedding," Vasilev has told BNT.

It is noted that many of the exhibited female gold jewels and other adornments from the 16th – 19th century were deliberate made in a way so they would make noise, thus chasing away the evil forces. Their gloss had a similar quality of protecting the owner from the sight of “evil eyes".

Experts are quoted as saying that the“Goldsmithery in the Bulgarian Lands, 16th – 19th Century" exhibition is also impressive because, in addition to their historical value, the artifacts’ quality is exquisite.

“[The exhibition] also speaks of the talent of the Bulgarian nation. Those [goldsmiths] were not famous artists and creators, they were anonymous craftsmen. That is, we find ourselves in the focal point of a culture of an everyday life with true aesthetic glamor. It is impressive that in the centuries [of the Ottoman Yoke] that we tend to think of as dark, that the people lived in huts, the Bulgarians actually managed to cultivate such taster, and to create such jewels," says Prof. Valeri Stefanov, Chairman of Union of Collectors in Bulgaria.


Also check out these stories about Bulgarian gold and silver treasures from the Late Middle Ages or the Ottoman period:

17th Century Silver Treasure Hidden during Bulgarian Catholics’ Uprising against Ottoman Empire Discovered in Northwest Bulgaria

Archaeologists Make Last Discoveries As They Excavate in Full Medieval Monastery at Urvich Fortress near Bulgaria’s Sofia

Nikopol Treasure (‘First’ & ‘Second’ Nikopol Treasures)

Large Medieval Gold Treasure Found by Accident by Police, Seized from Treasure Hunters in Bulgaria’s Kazanlak

Also check out these stories about current exhibitions in Bulgaria concerning roughly the same time period and some of the same topics:

New Exhibition Showcases Bulgaria’s 15th-19th Century Religious Culture and Folklore Art at National Museum of History in Sofia

‘Seven Tales about Faith’ Exhibition Shows Unseen Orthodox Christian Treasures in Archaeology Museum in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv


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