The interior textile collection

The interior textile collection contains almost 10,000 items and represents all the ethnographic areas of the country. This big number is due to the fact that they could be found in any household, either having an utilitarian function or being decorative elements. The first items were collected by Al. Tzigara-Samurcaş (1577 objects) and later on, under the supervision of Tancred Bănăţeanu, around 3,400 items were acquired, during intensive field work. Thus in 1991, there were around 5,000 items, and the number of the pieces in the textile collection increased to around 10,000, due to the numerous acquisitions and donations.


The bed-sheet (lepedeu) is laid on the mattress, with the visible edges under the bedspread which covers it. The pieces of daily usage are usually made of rough hemp, with no decoration, while those displayed in the “clear room” or on feasts are made of better hemp or even of a mixture of cotton and hemp. In Banat and especially in Transylvania, the bed-sheet has also a decorative function, being used as much for the guests’ bed as for the culme (the stick on which beautiful clothes and fabrics are displayed).


The pillow-slip acquires decorative functions in making up the guests’ bed. In the field and hill areas in the south they are used mostly decoratively. A special item is the pillow-end (căpătâiul), which is placed at the head-end of the bed (in the central parts of Transylvania), in two or three overlapping layers (in Maramureş) or on the ruda (culme) fastened on the bed. The pillow-ends are decorated only on one end, or on the entire side, according to the place that pillow has in the pile.


The culme cloth is usually made from a fabric 3-4 meters (120-160 inches) long and it is spread on the pole hung over the bed (in Ardeal and Banat). Its decoration consists of transversal stripes and rows of motifs.


The table cloth is made of 2-3 layers of fabrics. The table cloth for daily use is simple, made of hemp, while the festive one has decorated edges and the central area is generally striped. In the south of Muntenia, the table is placed near the wall, so that there are only three decorated edges. In this area, the dowry chest is also covered with a chest cloth.


The rustic towels make up one of the richest, largest and most unitary Romanian peasant textile category. This is why 60% of the interior textile collection is represented by towels. Widespread in the entire country, they can be found in any house, being used either for practical purposes or as an important element of the interior decoration. They are also part of many social events, especially ceremonies, of which the most important are the weddings and the burials.


Although unitary in what form and ornamental structure are concerned, the towels are remarkable because of the great diversity and richness of motifs of great artistic and decorative value. From time immemorial, towels have been an important part of the young girls’ dowry. The great number of towels mentioned in the dowry lists can be explained by their function during the wedding ceremony, namely as gifts or as distinctive signs for the active participants.


According to the criterion of functionality, we distinguish the following typology: the common rustic towel, the interior decoration towel and the towel specific to the rights of passage ceremonies.


The common rustic towel is decorated just a little, or not at all, and it is much smaller than a towel made especially for interior decoration. It can be found in any household, having multiple functions. A very frequent type is the merindar, which is used to cover the food – merinde. In Banat and the north of Oltenia the towel covers the food but it can also be arranged as a ring on the head of the woman who has to carry the jar or basket with food on her head.


Considering the role it has in the interior decoration and the mode of display, there are two types of towels for decorating the interior: the top towel (or the ruda towel) and the wall towel. The ruda is a stick which is fastened between the walls, over the bed; on it, on the top towel, some warm textiles or clothes are deposited.


The wall tower is very widely spread and it decorates the ceramic dishes, the icons, the paintings, the doors and windows, being displayed on the walls in different sizes and arrangements.


The main geometrical decoration, the techniques which have dertermined its style, the most frequent and characteristic ornaments, related to certain myths, beliefs, ancestral customs and traditions are documents of ethnicity. Rhombuses from the Paleolithic, fir trees from the same epoch, ram horns from the Neolithic, symbols of fecundity and fertility can be considered ethnographic documents of great importance. The scanty ornaments on the Neolithic objects can be found in the same stylistic display, and yet very often, in the present art of interior textiles.


The vegetal motifs participate to a less extent than the geometrical ones to the decoration of towels, which is an obvious fact in the case of the older pieces. The vegetal and floral ornaments become more important at the end of the 19th century.


The tree with two birds facing each other can be found more frequently in the decoration of the towels from Năsăud, Valea Ampoiului and Prahova. The zoomorphic motifs appear more frequently in the decoration of the towels from Transylvania, and the south of the country.


The avimorphic and zoomorphic motifs often constitute the decoration of the towels from Muntenia, like in the case of the piece from Prahova, which features the cock and the goat. The horse, an animal with apotropaic powers – as it is the one who protects the house from evil spirits – is inseparable from man. It appears more frequently in the motif of the rider, on the Muntenian towels. The latter appears either in motion, or accompanied by various characters, like in the case of the towel from Buzău. A piece of great value is the one that features „a Romanian tending the Turk’s horse”, a reflexion of a social status that was one of the worst in our history. It is important to highlight that the representation of some images on the interior textiles is not a copy of nature, but rather its transcription in a „sign code”.


The anthropomorphic representations are not so frequent as other motifs, but still on three of the most important items of the collection the woman is represented holding a flower pot or holding in each hand a fir tree. The characters holding hands are very frequent on Romanian towels and they show the „hora”, a circular traditional dance. In this regard, the most spectacular towels are those from Prahova ethnographic area. The narrative compositions are very hilarious.


The towels are ritually given at birth, they decorate the baptism candle, they are also used in the wedding rituals, decorate the wedding fir tree, and they are given as charity at funerals.

The towels were also used on different annual feasts – Easter, Pentecost – to cover the ritual food baskets.


The kerchief is a piece with a strictly decorative and ritualistic character, related mostly to the wedding ceremonies or the New Year’s Eve masked dances.


The oldest items in the museum collection are made of hemp and flax, embroidered with metal thread or silk. The handkerchiefs are mostly decorated with geometrical crosses, stars or flowers.


A specific place in our collection is represented by the Hungarian, German, Tartar, Turkish, Csango and Guzul fabrics. The Hungarian pieces generally have a compact decoration, monochromatic (either dark blue or red) made of stalks and flowers (especially the tulip). The pomegranate, symbol of abundance, is frequently found on Hungarian embroideries. The specificity of the German pieces is the richness of embroidery, which uses vegetal, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements, generally coloured in blue or red. The tulip, the acanthus flower, the pomegranate, the wreaths and the birds are the specific German vegetal motifs.

On most Hungarian and German fabrics we find inscriptions with the name of the girl or the woman who embroidered the piece or for whose dowry it was prepared, as well as the date. The oldest German and Hungarian items were made in: 1785, 1816, 1892, 1895.


The Turkish-Tartar fabrics are mostly towels, handkerchiefs and interior embroideries. They are coloured in red, green, blue, purple, and tinsel gold. Very often we can find the life tree represented as a flower pot. On a turkish towel the tree of life appears as a central element, depicted as a pot with a bunch of flowers. Sometimes the vegetal motifs are associated with the symbol of Islam, the crescent. There are also Oriental motifs, the sycamore tree, symbol of happiness and eternity often illustrated in an infinite variety of interpretations. One interesting variant of this motif can be found on two towels from Dobrogea, where the sycamore tree is placed towards the edges and is associated with the pomegranate, the symbol of abundance. A characteristic feature for the Turkish and Tartar towels and textiles is the system of raw decoration, of motifs which are not framed by stripes.