Monday, May 18, 2015

Conference on Medieval Esztergom

18th century painting of the Porta Speciosa
of Esztergom cathedral 

There will be a conference on May 28th 2015, at Esztergom, dedicated to medieval history and art of the city, which was Hungary's first capital. Titled "Metropolis Hungariae," the conference will feature a number of internationally known Hungarian scholars, who will speak about recent archaeological research in the town and new art historical work. The focus of the conference will be the Árpád period, perhaps the most important period in the town's history. Art historical lectures will primarily discuss the architecture and sculpture of the medieval cathedral of the town.

The conference presents a good opportunity for visiting Esztergom, where the permanent exhibition in the former royal palace has been reinstalled and the restoration of the palace chapel has been fully completed (I already reported on this last year).

The full program can be seen below.





Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Books on Medieval Visegrád

Visegrád in 1595, print by Joris Hoefnagel 
Visegrád was one of the most important towns of medieval Hungary, serving as a royal residence for much of the 14th century. The town is ruled by a majestic castle on top of a hill overlooking the Danube, while a monumental 13th century keep guards the road under the hill, by the river. Even more famous is the large royal palace, expanded and embellished by King Matthias Corvinus. However, until recent times, relatively little information has been available on Visegrád in English. One should mention the volume edited by László Gerevich, titled Towns in Medieval Hungary (1990), where Gerevich himself briefly considered Visegrád in the framework of a general study. The other book to be mentioned – titled Medium Regni – dealt with Hungarian royal centres in the middle of the Kingdom, and here Gergely Buzás provided an overview of Visegrád, focusing on the royal residences. the history and topography of the settlement itself. In 1995, an English-language volume - titled Medieval Visegrád - was published about the royal palace and the Franciscan monastery standing next to it, and the royal palace was also featured in a number of exhibition catalogues and study collections. In addition, a book is available on the Hercules fountain attributed to Giovanni Dalmata.

Visegrád, aerial view of the Upper Castle 

Archaeolingua publishers in Budapest started a new series about medieval Visegrád, of which so far two volumes have been published. The books provide up to date information about this important royal centre. The first volume in the series was dedicated to the most important monument in town, the medieval royal palace and the neighbouring Franciscan monastery. While a lot has been published on the royal palace in Hungarian, this volume is the first extensive treatment of the subject in English. You can read a review of the book by Pál Lővei in Hungarian Archaeology (2014 Spring). The second volume is dedicated to the town itself, which has always been overshadowed by the royal residences located there. Yet, for extended periods during the 14th century, Visegrád served as the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary, and thus is worthy of our attention. The neglect of previous decades has been redressed by extensive archaeological research during recent years and now by this very important publication. The book relies on the results of new excavations and the research of one of the authors, Orsolya Mészáros. She is joined by a number of well-known experts of medieval archaeology and history: including the two other editors of the volume, Gergely Buzás and József Laszlovszky. Both have dedicated a considerable number of publications to Visegrád before, and Buzás has worked at the King Matthias Museum of Visegrád for a long time, serving as its director since 2011. The fourth author is Katalin Szende, a noted historian working on late medieval Hungarian towns.

Virtual reconstruction of the Royal Palace in the late 15th century, via
From their analysis presented in this volume, the special character of Visegrád emerges. Although regarded in the Late Middle Ages as one of the most important towns of the kingdom, the settlement in fact was not significant when the court was away. It had no (or only regional) economic significance, no ecclesiastical institutions of national significance, no serious fortifications (apart from the fortifications of the royal residences). The presence of artisanal guilds cannot be demonstrated and only a very small number of the town’s citizens are known to have studied at foreign universities. Even when the court was at Visegrád during several decades in the 14th century, Visegrád was not regarded as the capital of Hungary – that role was reserved for Buda. The main reason of its emergence during the 14th century was that high-ranking nobles and court officials owned houses there, which also served as their offices. No wonder then, that when the court left in the early 15th century, Buda (and Pest on the opposite side of the Danube) far surpassed Visegrád in importance. Although Visegrád retained its privileges until the end of the Middle Ages, during the 15th century it was only a small settlement next to an important royal residence, the royal palace.

Visegrád, Upper and Lower castle, with the town below


These books provide a welcome addition to the growing library of books on medieval Hungary available in English. It is to be hoped that the series will continue: the Árpád Period settlement of Visegrád – with the bailiff’s castle, the archdeaconal church as well as the 11th century monastery of St. Andrew – and the Upper and Lower Castle certainly provide ample material for future volumes in the series, and I hope we can see these soon.  

I wrote a more extensive review of the second volume, dedicated to the town, which can be read in English or in Hungarian in the Spring 2015 issue of Hungarian Archaeology.

Series title: 
Medieval Visegrád. Archaeology, Art History and History of a Medieval Royal Centre


The Medieval Royal Palace at Visegrád. Edited by Gergely Buzás and József Laszlovszky. Budapest, Archaeolingua, 2013.










The Medieval Royal Town at Visegrád – Royal Centre, Urban Settlement, Churches. Edited by Gergely Buzás, József Laszlovszky and Orsolya Mészáros. Budapest, Archaeolingua, 2014.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Exhibition about the Matthias Church

A major new exhibition about the building and the history of the Church of Our Lady (Matthias Church) of Buda Castle opened at the Budapest History Museum. The Church is a major historic monument of Budapest, part of the Unesco World Heritage site of Buda Castle. Established after the Mongol invasion of 1241-42, the church became the most important ecclesiastical institution of Buda, and finally served as a coronation church in 1867 at the coronation of Franz Joseph I. Soon after that, it was completely remodeled by Frigyes Schulek in Neo-Gothic style, with the addition of it landmark spire. 

During the Middle Ages, the Church of Our Lady served the purpose of a parish church for the town's German citizens. It was built and rebuilt in many stages. A royal charter from 1255 refers to the church as yet to be completed, while another document from 1269 calls it newly erected. The original, 13th century building was turned into a hall-church and rebuilt overall in the first half of the 15th century, at the time of King Sigismund. Its southern tower was built at the time of King Matthias. During the Turkish occupation of Buda it was converted into a mosque. During the 18th century, it was rebuilt in Baroque style, and used by the Jesuits, and later as parish church again. The present building originates from the rebuilding of Frigyes Schulek carried out between 1874-1896. The building was extensively renovated after World War II and most recently between 2004-2014. The current exhibition thus presents not only the history of the building, but also findings of this most recent period of research and renovation.

The church before the reconstruction of the late 19th century, painting by A. Schikedanz

After an introductory part focusing on the church as the site of the 1867 coronation, the exhibition is arranged chronologically. One room is dedicated to the two major phases of the medieval building. At the time of the rebuilding by Schulek, a large number of details of the medieval church fabric - including the portals - came to light. These finds provided a starting point for Schulek, who aimed to return the church to its "ideal," 13th century state. This meant for example the dismantling of the late gothic lateral sanctuaries of the church, to rebuild the side apses along their 13th century lines. Many late gothic elements were preserved and restored, however, including the monumental southern portal of the church or the chapel of the Garai family situated alongside the northern apse. The southern tower was rebuilt according to how Schulek imagined it should have looked like at the time of King Matthias in the 15th century.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Unfinished Florentine Bible of King Matthias digitized

Firenze, BML, Plut. 15.15
Once more I would like to report about the digitization of some very important volumes originally destined for the famed library of King Matthias Corvinus, the Bibliotheca Corviniana. This time I discovered that the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana added the digital version of Matthias' Florentine Bible to their database. Other Corvinian manuscripts in Florence have been available online for some time. Many of these volumes remained unfinished when Matthias died suddenly in the spring of 1490. Most of them entered the library of Lorenzo il Magnifico, among circumstances analysed in detail by the studies of Angela Dillon Bussi,

The most lavish commission of King Matthias was a three-volume Bible - perhaps the largest book-project ever started for him. The books and their miniatures were most recently analysed by Dániel Pócs, who states that the model for these commissions are to be found at Central Italian courts: he cites the two-volume Bible of Borso d'Este (Modena, Biblioteca Estense) and the two volume Bible made in Florence for Federigo da Montefeltro (Vatican Libraries). 

The Florentine books remained unfinished. The first volume, containing the books of Moses, was started by the workshop of Attavante degli Attavanti - only parts of the ornamental title page were executed (see left). The second Old Testament volume remains fully without decoration - but spaces were left our for miniatures. The third volume contains the Psalters as well as the New Testament (it is generally referred to as the Florentine Psalter of King Matthias), and it was to be illuminated by Gherardo and Monte di Giovanni. This process got further ahead than in the case of the other volumes - the magnificient double title page of the volume was finished. However, the coat of arms of Matthias are missing from the bottom of the page, indicating that work stopped as soon as news about the death of the ruler reached Florence. In any case, this double page is one of the absolute highlights of Italian Renaissance illumination.

Firenze, BML, Plut. 15.17
Firenze, BML, Plut. 15.17

I have also noticed that several Corvinian manuscripts have been incorporated into the World Digital Library, maintained by the Library of Congress. In particular, several volumes from the Laurenziana in Florence and the Bavarian State Library in Munich have been added to this database. The interface of the WDL is very simple and user-friendly, and photos of individual pages can be downloaded. The dataset of Corvinian manuscripts also includes another gem, which I failed to notice before: the Encyclopedia medica or Historia plantarum of the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome. This is one of three manuscripts known from the Bibliotheca Corviniana which were previously owned by King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia. The manuscript got to Buda via the brother of Wenceslas, King Sigismund. 

All of the above manuscripts have been added to my checklist of digitised manuscripts from the Bibliotheca Corviniana. The total number of digitised Corvinas now reached almost 120. Previous blog posts about the Bibliotheca Corviniana can be reached on this link.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Research about the Jagiellonians

Bernhard Strigel: Saint Ladislas of Hungary interceding
with the Virgin  for Vladislas II, King of Hungary. 

As the online journal Obeliscus reports, an international conference takes place in Debrecen these days (April 10-11, 2015), dedicated to the Jagiellonians. Titled The Jagiellonians in Europe: Dynastic Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, this international conference and roundtable is dedicated mainly to historical questions. The full program is available on the website of Debrecen University.  The material of the conference will be published soon.

Then coming up next week, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna will host a conference to commemorate the First Congress of Vienna of 1515. This meeting of the Habsburg emperor, Maximilian I, and the Jagiellonian brothers, Vladislas II, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia, and Sigismund I, King of Poland, was a turning point in the history of central Europe, due to the Habsburg-Jagiellonian mutual succession treaty made there. The meeting and the treaty ultimately led to almost 400 years of Habsburg rule in Hungary, after the death of King Louis II at the battle of Mohács in 1526. The program of the international conference can be consulted on the website of the KHM. The Museum will also launch an online database commemorating the Congress (more info on this later).


A few years after the huge exhibition held at three venues and dedicated to the art and culture of the Jagiellonians, these events indicate continued interest in the Jagellonian dynasty. This is also shown by a major new research project dedicated to the dynasty, which commenced last year. Based at the History Faculty, University of Oxford, the five-year project is supported by the European Union. On the Oxford Jagiellonians research project, see the information provided by Medieval Histories, or visit the website of the project.


Hungarian Treasure on view at the Metropolitan Museum

Chalice, 1462, Inv. 2010.109.6
As reported earlier on this blog, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently purchased the best objects from the collection of the late Nicholas M. Salgo. The collection includes two late medieval chalices, likely made in Hungary, as well as a large amount of goldsmith works from the 16-18th centuries, and originating from Hungary as well as from the Principality of Transylvania. From April 6th until late October 2015, the collection is on view in the decorative arts galleries of the Metropolitan Museum (just in front of the Robert Lehman Wing).


This is the information from the website of the Museum

"Nicolas M. Salgo (1914–2005), a Hungarian native and former United States ambassador to Budapest, was fascinated by the art of the goldsmith in Hungarian culture and formed his own "treasury" by collecting pieces that are individual and unique. This exhibition will celebrate the gift to the Metropolitan Museum of the major part of the silver collection assembled by this focused collector over three decades.

This large collection of silver—about 120 pieces, most dating from the fifteenth to the late eighteenth century—comprises a variety of types with especially refined appearance and high levels of craftsmanship, representing Hungarian silver at its best. The earliest works in the Salgo Collection are two rare medieval chalices ornamented with colorful filigree enamel. The intriguing shapes, inventive decoration, and historical importance of the objects—products of once-prosperous local aristocratic dynasties—make this ensemble exceptional. As a result of this generous gift, the Metropolitan Museum is now the only museum outside Hungary to possess such an array of sumptuous goldsmiths' work from the region."

The collection database of the Metropolitan Museum includes more detailed information on all the objects, as well as a large selection of photographs. You can get to this material via these links: link1 and link2.

Hexagonal dish, 1696, Inv. 2010.110.42

Let me end this post with a personal note. My family on my father's side originates from the town of Brassó in Transylvania (known as Kronstadt in German, now Brasov in Romania). It is recorded that some of my ancestors were goldsmiths - as commemorated for example in a poem by my great-grandfather, Lajos Áprily (Jékely) (you can read it here in Hungarian). Well, the Salgó collection includes a very nice beaker from the early 17th century, made by Jeremias Jekel, goldsmith in Brassó, who died in 1676 - and was thus maybe a distant ancestor of my family. 

Beaker, c. 1600, Inv. 2010.110.32

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Collected studies of András Péter published

Last December marked the 70th anniversary of the death of art historian András Péter. He was a noted scholar of Italian Trecento painting, as well as of Hungarian medieval art. Born in 1903, he studied in Budapest and defended his doctorate in 1925. The subject of his dissertation was the representation of Hungarian holy kings in medieval art. Later he published a series of important articles on key figures of Italian Trecento painting, especially on Sienese masters such as the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini. Material for these studies was collected during his research trips to Italy, most notably through a grant at the Hungarian Historical Institute in Rome (1926-27). In 1930, he published a ground-breaking survey of the history of Hungarian art. In 1935, he became a tutor at the art history department of Tibor Gerevich at Budapest University (named after Péter Pázmány at the time, and now known as Eötvös Loránd University).

His monograph on Italian Trecento painting, however, remained unfinished, and was published posthumously in 1983. Now a new volume has appeared, which contains the collected studies of András Péter. Edited by Mária Prokopp and Károly Tóth, the book republishes his writings in chronological order, starting with his dissertation, which was previously only available in manuscript form. Several of these studies were published in international journals, and are considered important contributions to this day. 

Below are some of his studies which can be consulted online:

Pietro és Ambrogio Lorenzetti egy elpusztult freskó-ciklusa = Ein verlorener Freskenzyklus der Brüder Lorenzetti. In: Az Országos Magyar Szépművészeti Múzeum Évkönyvei = Jahrbücher des Museums der Bildenden Künste in Budapest VI. 1929-1930. (1931). 52-81. 256-260.

Quand Simone Martini est-il venu en Avignon? In: Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 81 (1939), 153-174. 

Giotto and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. In: The Burlington Magazine, LXXVI (1940), No. 442. 3-8. (via JSTOR)

His full bibliography can also be consulted online, as compiled by the Library of the Museum of Fine Arts.

András Péter (1903-1944)
András Péter's career was cut short by the Holocaust. He stayed in Budapest even during the German occupation of Hungary and during the rule of the Arrow Cross. He was arrested by the Arrow Cross, and killed on December 9th, 1944. Sadly, he was not the only important art historian who fell victim to the Holocaust in Hungary. We should mention first of all his friend, György Gombosi, another noted scholar of Italian early renaissance art, who died in Auschwitz in early 1945. Others include József Bíró, an eminent historian of art in Transylvania, who was shot into the Danube together with his elderly father at the beginning of 1945 (see here his monograph on palaces in Transylvania); and art critic Artúr Elek, who committed suicide after Germany occupied Hungary in 1944. A friend of Ernst Gombrich, József Bodonyi, who had studied with Julius von Schlosser in Vienna and wrote his dissertation on the origin of gold background in Late Antique painting, also died in 1944 after returning to Hungary. A generation of (mostly Jewish) Hungarian art historians had already emigrated from Hungary after 1919 including Johannes Wilde, Frederick Antal, Arnold Hauser and Charles de Tolnay. We should also mention Jenő Lányi, who only spent his childhood in Hungary, as he studied in Vienna and Munich. A scholar of Jacopo della Quercia and Donatello, he finally emigrated to London in 1938, and died as a casualty of a German torpedo attack in 1940 on his way to the US.