Discover original film, theatre and choreographic costumes preserved in the Art Palace of Georgia

Costume collection in the State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography is one the precious not only in Georgia but in the Caucasus region. It can be divided in three parts: theatrical, cinematographic and choreographic costumes. Although chronologically the collection, does not embrace a vast period of time and can mainly be dated by 19th-20th centuries, its artistic and national value is enormous. Almost 100 costumes and accessories reflect different stages of Georgian cinema, theatrical and choreographic staging.

More than 300 unique works reflect well the ethnography of the Caucasian people, their history, and their political system. Notably, the Caucasian costumes, and especially Georgian costumes, represent the political situation and ideology of the country.

One of the exceptional costumes of the Art Palace is linked back to the 12th century to one of the most prominent queens of Georgia. Tamar the Great (1184-1213) reigned as Queen regnant of Georgia from presiding over the apex of the Georgian Golden Age. She was known for her beauty and also for the richness and refinement of her costumes. 

Tamar takes a special place in the Georgian consciousness. She personified royal power, wisdom and female delicacy. It is notable that she was considered to be the king of the United Kingdom of Georgia in 12th-13th centuries and was the first woman king in Georgia’s history.

Over the centuries, Queen Tamar has emerged as a dominant figure in the Georgian historical pantheon. The construction of her reign as a "Golden Age" began in the reign itself and Tamar became the focus of the era. It is said, that to write the internationally recognized epic poem ‘The Knight in the Panther's Skin’, the prominent medieval poet Shota Rustaveli was inspired by the love of Queen Tamar.

Tamar’s visual image was preserved only by four frescoes in different monasteries: the earliest portrait, guarded in the Vardzia Monastery (cave monastery site in southern Georgia), shows still youthful, unmarried girl, standing beside her formidable father.
In the 1930s, Georgian theatre painter Soliko Virsaladze (1908-1989) made a precise restoration of the costume of the monarch on the basis of the Vardzia fresco, and after not an easy adventure, at present, this exact costume is preserved in the Art Palace of Georgia.

The ceremonial dress of Queen Tamar represents a unique piece of art. It contains 3621 pearls, 154 gilded and 158 silver belts.
One of the most notable aspects is that the dress represents on the one hand the power of the country and on the other hand its political orientation. In the 12th century, after cementing the national unity, Queen Tamar began an active foreign policy, which was why the 10th-13th-century Georgian royal apparel was manly of Byzantine origin. Researchers believe, that political circumstances and cultural ties was due to condition Byzantine influence. Royal garments consisted of "kuartis" – Beason (apparel) and diadems.

Georgian Kings' Bisson differs slightly from the Byzantine one, it was relatively wide and short, did not have the belt and specified colour. According to preserved frescoes, Queen Tamar used to wear violet apparel which was decorated with strips of pearls and luxurious metals and stones on its collar and wrists. It is considerable, that the collar of the costume was called – ‘Maniac’ and it was used only with royal family members’ apparels. ‘Maniac’ firstly appeared in Egypt and Arabia and afterwards in Byzantine. The collar of Tamar’s dress is very much like of that of Egyptian pharaohs ‘maniac’.

Tamar’s triple face: the virgin girl, the wise and careful mother and the blessed, powerful Queen, finds its realization in the most beautiful costumes and choreography of ‘Samaya’. The Georgian national dance, usually performed by three women, was based on the grace and characteristics of attire, typical to the national portrait of Queen Tamar, preserved in the Georgian monumental medieval painting.

The whole choreography is subordinated to the idea of the unity of three principles. In the movements, we can feel royal moderation and calm power. This is one momentary, illusory flash of that mythical, just and powerful Georgia to which all Georgians are connected by a veil of nostalgia. In addition, the trinity idea in the dance represents King Tamar as a young princess, a wise mother and the powerful king. All these three images are united in one harmonious picture. Moreover, the simple but soft and graceful movements create an atmosphere of beauty, glory and power that surrounded the King’s reign.

Beginning the guide with cinema costumes, it is worthwhile to know that most of the apparels, preserved in the museum, were created long before the filmmaking and they presumably belonged to the representatives of either Georgian royal families or noble ancestors.

In 1921, after the Bolshevik annexation, a considerable number of suits were confiscated from their owners and given to the Tbilisi Movie Studio as property. That was why precious apparels were used in many significant national/historical movies.

The dress of Keto from the movie ‘Keto and Kote’ represents a distinctive artwork of Georgian national film treasure. It is assumed to be a symbol of sophisticated and exquisite costume of Georgian 20th-century movie world. It represents the direction of Georgian fashion of 20th century and shows how, by that time, the European influence brought new tendencies and element from the West.

A precious costume decorated with Ok’romkedi (braid of gold and silk threads) was used in the movie “George Saakadze” (1942) as a historical costume of Queen Tekle. Precious velvet is decorated with more than three thousand tiny metal details. The exhibit greatly reflects old Georgian traditions of Ok’romkedi embroidery (rich ornament, artistic symbolism, narrative composition, manner of execution). 

In the 19th-century Russian Empire, similar dresses were made for madams; however, in preserved photos, two famous Georgian women Mary Shervashidze and Agraphina Japaridze wore such kind of dresses at the beginning of the 20th century. By time, the appearance of the dress has been changed. The lower end (train), about two meters long, was shortened during the shooting of the movie ‘George Saakadze’.

In Georgia, masters generally embroidered on velvet, satin and other precious textiles. Ok’romkedi embroidery was exported abroad and sold at a high price in the Ottoman Empire and Iran. Ok’romkedi was very much in demand for its quality.

Main motives of Ok’romkedi embroidery were plant ornaments such as vine leaves, grapes, wheat, etc.

Costume of a Georgian Prince – a precious piece of art. The title is conditional, however, such costumes were worn by Georgian Princes and Noblemen in the 17th-18th cc. The costume is made of silver brocade.

History of the belt is very interesting and it begins from the Bronze Age. In 6th-7th cc., belts were often made of leather and fabric with a strap on it. The Georgian Prince’s costume also has a unique belt decorated with 14 precious stones and 635 pearls. The belt ends with a big buckle made of silver and is decorated with colored glass.

The breast and sleeves are decorated with unique 18th-century ornaments.

Costume of Bashi-Achuki from the movie 'Bashi-Achuki'  –This costume also was used in a prominent Georgian national movie ‘Bashi-Achuki’ and it belonged to the protagonist and major character of the film – Bashi-Achuki. The apparel consists of three parts: inner dress (kaba), pelerine and fastening accessory. The fabric of costume is velvet and its overlay is made by hand. As for the fastening accessory, it is made of pure silver adorned with semi-precious carnelian stones.

Coming from unknown source, this pelerine was used in mid-20th century in one of the most heroic Georgian movie 'Bashi-Achuki' as a costume of one of the characters: Prince Cholokashvili. The style of the pelerine unites Georgian and Persian traditions alike. An interesting technique was used while creating the attire – with specific golden and black dye, master painted on wool by hand and while looking at costume now, it makes an impression that there are embedded textiles in it.

Detail of Ottoman Nobelman's pelerine from Georgian historical movie 'Mamluk'

Presented red costume is an interpretation of the old Osman ‘Subun’. It was worn by character Mahmud (Otar Koberidze) in the Georgian historical movie ‘Mamluk’ (1958). The Osman costume ‘Subun’, was created in Istanbul’s Beyazit district. This richly adorned, velvet man's cloak, which actually reminds more of a jacket, stands out with the generous number of ornaments. According to the tradition established in the 16th century, the Subun was embroidered, with fringes decorating the sleeves.

This costume performed in broadcloth, repeats the main elements of Subun, although it stands out with higher skill of adornment and thus reminds more of a festive cloak worn by Turkish soldiers (Askers). It seems that the costume designer Revaz Mirzashvili took as a sample the typical clothing and adornment of the guards who served with the last Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918).

The embroidery presented on the back, is performed with gold and represents an interpretation of sun-disc and the tree of life. This adornment was typically used on Subuns, worn mostly by military men and Mamluks. The more noble and prominent a person was, the richer was his Subun.

The costume is sewed with precious Russian brocade. Supposedly, it belonged to a representative of Georgian royal or noble families, as well as the costume of King Luarsab. In 1921, this precious piece of art was given to the Film Studio of Tbilisi. 

18th-century `Vercxlmkedi` is used for the decoration of the costume’s breast.

1048 pearls are pinned among the embroidery.

The Georgian lady’s dress – kaba can be characterized by two main styles: Sakhlavtaviani (Laced in the front) and Gujastiani – a dress which included a square cut on the chest. Kaba's necessary items were: a chest piece, long, open sleeves, cuffs and a girdle.The Georgian dress was tight on the waist and wide and flowing on the bottom. It consisted upper and lower parts which joined each other at the back. The neckline was slightly cut out. Until the 1870’s the upper part was mainly gujastiani (fastened with hooks at the front).

Later, the sakhlavtaviani style of dress widely spread which was made with an open cut and was laced in the front. The cut-out upper part of the dress was filled with valuable embroidered pieces of fabric.

19th-century Georgia found itself under European influence which was reflected in the manner in which people dressed. Old traditional clothing was still worn, but people were beginning to wear European style clothing as well. European clothing was cheaper and more practical, so it did not take long for it to become popular. Fashion trends from London and Paris were spreading fast in Tbilisi. 

It was an interesting coexistence of both European and Georgian styles. Yet, with the beginning of the Communist era, in the 20th century, the national style and many other traditions were called outdated, that was why wearing style of the Georgian society changed thoroughly.

The apparel represents a unique piece of art. While creating the attire, masters used precious Persian brocade. The bib of it is taken from another costume and is presumably dated to the 18th c. The collar of the costume is also old and is adorned with black, rosy, white and golden pearls. The apparel contains 1692 pearls altogether and, notably, on the sleeves of the costume, there are attached so-called Andalusian pearls which spread in Georgia from the 8th c.

The costume consists of two parts: the inner golden cloth is called Kaba (dress). This is a Persian term, used in Georgia from the 13th century. A kaba (dress) used to be sewed from different fabrics and almost all of them were adorned with precious metals.

The dress of the costume is decorated with a bib and 13 grams of gilded silver pendants. It also contains 14 gilded silver buckles. The name of the costume is conditional as in 1942, it was used while filmmaking of ‘George Saakadze’ as a costume of the character of King Luarsab.

The costume is a reflection of Georgian kings' apparels and it is made of velvet and brocade. It represents an exact replica of a 14th-15th century Georgian national costume. It is taken from the fresco of Safar Monaster dated to the 14th century.

In the 14th-15th centuries, Georgian men’s kaba (dress) is tailored to emphasize the waist line. Sometimes dresses were cut below the knee and sometimes they were relatively short, above the knee.

The upper part is fitted on the body, while the hem falls down freely.

At first glance, the hems of the costume are bell-shaped.

While adorning a woman's dress, age and social factors were taken into consideration which determined the quality of the material, colour coordination and ornamentation.

Younger women and girls chose lighter coloured fabrics while older women preferred to wear darker colours.

The oldest costume that is preserved in the museum belonged to one of the prominent theatres and it can be dated back to the mid-19th century. Elisabeth Cherkezishvili's bib is one of the magnificent patterns of theatre apparels. The red satin corset is adorned with gilded button-like long buckles. The Melchior belt stands out with virtuously and high artistic quality, and is adorned mostly with north-Caucasian ornaments.

The corset used to be worn by Georgian and other Caucasian women underneath their dresses.This corset belonged to Elisabeth Cherkezishvili and it seems that it was a part of clothing made for a rich woman.

The costume is known as ‘kulaja’ - an upper garment for men. It is narrower at the waistline, gathered and worn on top of the akhalukhi. The sleeves reach the elbows. It was fastened on the chest piece with buttons and hooks. In winter, it had a fur lining and a silk and satin lining for other seasons. It was made of valuable fabric (mostly velvet) and coloured (dark red, green, blue) silk fabric.
In 1882, the apparel was used in George Eristoff’s play ‘Samshoblo’ (Motherland).

For decades, audiences around the world have been mesmerized by the elegant athleticism, energy, skill and originality of the Georgian National dance. Considerably, alongside with the development of national dance traditions, ballet direction was also evolving in Georgia. In the Art Palace, there are preserved national as well as ballet costumes which magnificently reflect spirit of 19th-20th centuries’ choreography in Georgia. 

The costume of the toreador was created in Milano, especially for the famous Georgian Opera Singer, barytone Sandro Inashvili. Using the same principles and technique as the real clothing for a matador, it was created for the theatre production ‘Carmen’. The festive costume of a matador is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of the world fashion. It is called ‘traje de luces’ – the costume of fire.

Until the 18th century, this kind of outfit was made of suede, then sewn and embroidered with gold and silver threads, and adorned with shiny plates.

In the collection of the Art palace, there is another Toreador costume. The garment shows Georgian ethnographic diverse history as Georgian, Persian and Ottoman art traditions are united in one apparel.

The costume presented here belonged to Elene Gvaramadze who was a famous Georgian ballet dancer, teacher and doctor of arts. From 1930 to 1948, she was a soloist of the State Opera House of Georgia and performed many brilliant opera and ballet roles.

Costume of Prince Désiré from the ballet ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, created by prominent Georgian theatre artist Soliko Virsaladze for famous Georgian ballet-dancer Nikoloz Tsiskaridze.

In 1997, wearing this costume the dancer performed on the stage of Bolshoi Theatre (Moscow). Nika Tsiskaridze gifted it to the museum in 2015.

Costume of Natalia Volchenko for the opera 'Queen of Spades'

Costume for Georgian National Dance 'Davluri'
The apparel belonged to the world famous Georgian National Ballet Sukhishvili.

It represents the spirit of an elegant city dance performed by couples of men and women.

Costume for the play "Don Juan"

Costume for the Georgian National Chorus, early 20th c.

Besides theatre, film and choreographical costumes, Art Palace also preserves medieval Georgian national costumes. National clothing in Georgia was formed by the influence of nature and way of life in this country. Every region had its own characteristics of outfits. The most original of the costumes of Georgian highland population is the Khevsurian Talavari, made of home-woven toil. 

Seamstresses and tailors strived to make clothing practical and beautiful which symbolised the spiritual world and surrounding nature. The Khevsurian costumes expressed cultural tastes of this ethnic group. This exact shirt perfectly reflects a special ancient pattern. On both sides, they had cuts, about a span long, which was designed for horse-riding as the cuts made it easier to ride a horse.

Credits: Story

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography - Art Palace

George Kalandia
Irakli Zambakhidze
Mary Kharaishvili
Anna Bakuridze
Irina Moistsrapishvili

Credits: All media
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