Four Belts (MMA 2011.584.9, MMA 2005.443.3, MMA 2007.497.3, and MMA 2008.579.7)
In addition to their visual and formal appeal, Turkmen and Central Asian belts serve to illustrate two important aspects of Turkmen ornament. The first is the interrelationship of crafts practiced within a small tribal context, where a single craftsman or a group of craftsmen in the same workshop produced work whose style was remarkably unified. This was a significant feature during some of the greatest periods of Islamic art: for instance, products made in the royal workshops of the fifteenth-century Timurid rulers of Herat, such as illuminated
manuscripts, stamped leather and lacquer-painted book bindings, and woodwork, all featured the same highly developed arabesque designs.
The second feature, which does not appear to be widespread in the Islamic world, is the interchangeability of techniques and decorative styles used for ornaments for both sexes. Whether this is a recent phenomenon or a traditional feature of Turkmen culture is not clear. As a general rule, women wore heavily ornamented loose shifts and coats that did not call for belts, although a massive belt, called a tegbent, appears to have been worn by women of high social status.
No. 2011.584.9 is a sumptuous example of this type, featuring a clasp decorated with strikingly modern-looking geometric motifs in fire gilding and carnelians in a distinctive tripartite configuration. The sides are ornamented with a double row of appliqués, and various forms of pendants hang from the bottom of the belt. Previously published belts of similar design have been assigned to the Saryk tribe. Leather horse trappings with comparable pendants illustrate how related techniques were used for these ornaments and for women’s silver belts.
Another belt of connecting floral plaques (no. 2007.497.3) may have been used by a woman or a man. Some Turkmen ornaments were multipurpose and considered appropriate for either sex. For example, a similar belt sewn onto a fabric backing that was wrapped around the
wearer’s body and over the right hip and shoulder has been described as a man’s belt. The clasp on the man’s belt is simpler, however, and not floral, as it is in no. 2007.497.3. The overall impression of delicacy and elegance in the latter belt suggests it was recently reconfigured for a woman.
The most elaborate men’s belts were produced in urban ateliers. They were very wide and made of luxurious fabrics such as velvet or silk, embroidered in gold thread, and fitted with roundels or ornamental plaques and buckles set with precious stones or decorated in niello. These belts matched the sumptuousness of the dazzling silk ikat coats with which they were worn by wealthy city dwellers. Somewhat less elaborate tribal versions using more modest materials were just as striking. Such is the case with a wide leather belt (no. 2005.443.3) studded with rows of small gilded appliqués and two large roundels in fire gilding and carnelians in typical Teke style. Another Teke example (no. 2008.579.7) consists of pointed leaf-shaped and fire-gilded plaques, similar to those in no. 2005.443.3 but of much larger scale, mounted on brown leather. Comparable work can again be seen on horse trappings. Although the leather here is not original and the belt may have had more elements, the result is a splendid work of art.
Layla S. Diba in [Diba 2011]
4. Thackston, Wheeler. A Century of Princes: Sources on Timurid History and Art. Cambridge, Mass., 1989, pp. 323–27.
5. Firouz, Iran Ala. Silver Ornaments of the Turkoman. Tehran, 1978, figs. 61–66; Kalter, Johannes. The Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. New York, 1983, pp. 14–15.
6. Rudolph, Hermann. Der Turkmenenschmuck: Sammlung Kurt Gull. Exh. cat., Museum Rietberg Zürich; Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin. Stuttgart, 1984, p. 258, fig. J9; Kalter 1983 (note 5), p. 97, fig. 80, bottom left.
7. Rudolph 1984 (note 6), p. 261, fig. J12.