Monday, November 23, 2015

Remains of Bonyhád church covered over

Virtual reconstruction of Bonyhád church 
I wanted to give an update about the situation with the excavation of the medieval church of Bonyhád. Unfortunately, the excavations could not be completed fully. Once the very short-term permit ran out, work on the excavations had to stop on October 7th. More than a month passed until the possibility of continuation was debated - a precious month with good weather, during which a lot of progress could have been made. Starting from mid-November, 2015, the excavated ruins of the medieval church were covered up and filled with concrete, so the new road could be built over them. As a results of this, unfortunately a lot of the questions surrounding the church could not be answered. I talked to the chief archaeologist, Géza Szabó, and he provided some information about the church. He explained to me that it is plain to see - even without a full excavation going down to sufficient depth, that the church had at least two phases of construction. The earlier phase can be dated to the period of King Sigismund, and is probably connected to the men found buried in front of the main altar. He was a strong, well-to-do man. Although no tombstone was found, a coin from the rule of Wladislas I. dates the burial to this period (1440-1444), and places the construction of the church to the Sigismund period. The church was later rebuilt, most likely in the early 16th century - this is the date of the late gothic net vault, the fragments of which were found during the excavations. Unfortunately, earlier phases of construction could not be adequately explored, and the area of the church also could not be excavated.

The excavation site during my visit in late October

Because of the very short period available for archaeological excavation, and the impossibility of examining the site in the future, documentation was of paramount importance. In the following, I would like to illustrate some of the techniques used during the work carried out. The site itself was documented in a 3D photogrammetric survey, recording all details by Interspect Research Group. 3D modelling company Pazirik also scanned the site, and carried out 3D scanning of the architectural fragments, which then served as the basis of a theoretical 3D reconstruction of the early 16th century phase of the building. 
Virtual reconstruction of the church at Bonyhád
Based on a keystone and several vault fragments, the intricate late Gothic net vault of the church was also reconstructed. These reconstructions, and initial results of research were published by The articles published in this collection not only make preliminary results and wonderful illustrations available, but also reveal that there are still several questions surrounding the remains - questions, which largely could have been answered via a thorough and complete archaeological excavation. Current legislation in Hungary unfortunately makes it possible that the construction of a road could proceed, without the completion of this archaeological survey.

The site being covered over (mid-Novermber, 2015)

A középkori templom feltárása Bonyhádon - article (pdf, in Hungarian), Archeologia - Altum Castrum Online Magazin. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Catalogues of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Two new collection catalogues of the Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum) in Budapest have been published recently. The catalogues treat some of the most important medieval and early Renaissance paintings in Hungary: one volume is dedicated to Early Netherlandish paintings, while the other deals with Sienese paintings.

Early Netherlandish Paintings in Budapest

The long-awaited volume by Susan Urbach, titled Early Netherlandish Paintings in Budapest, was published by Harvey Miller/Brepols. The volume includes extensive catalogue entries on 49 works dating from c. 1460 to c. 1540, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. This is the first volume of a series on Flemish paintings in Budapest, and covers about a third of the entire collection from the 15th century through to the 17th. The volume includes the results of a detailed technical analysis carried out on the panels. 

S. Urbach: Early Netherlandish Painting in Budapest. Old Masters' Gallery Catalogues, Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest. Volume I (Distinguished Contributions to the Study of the Arts in the Burgundian Netherlands). With contributions by Ágota Varga and András Fáy. V+271 p., 115 b/w ill. + 174 colour ill., 210 x 297 mm, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-909400-09-2

Below is one of the key works featured in the book (and on the cover): the Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard David. You can find additional paintings in the collection database of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Gerard David: Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1485. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Sienese Paintings in Hungary

The other book is the Corpus of Sienese Paintings in Hungary 1420-1510, written by Dóra Sallay. This also is part of series planned for three volumes: future volumes will cover the periods 1250-1420 and 1510-1650. The catalogue, published by Centro Di of Florence, includes painting not only from the Museum of Fine Arts, but also from the Christian Museum in Esztergom, Hungary's second most important collection of early paintings. The richly illustrated catalogue presents extensive and updated biographies of the artists, and the entries provide significant new findings on questions of attribution, dating and iconography, original context and function, the circumstances of the commission, the reconstruction of now dismembered structures, and various other issues dealing with the relationship between the paintings and the art and culture of their time. The catalogue of paintings is preceded by an essay on the history of their collecting, conservation and previous research.

Dóra Sallay: Corpus of Sienese Paintings in Hungary, 1420-1510. 368 pp. 260 ill. b/n, col. 33. 2015. ISBN: 9788870385106

On the cover of the book, you can see Giovanni di Paolo's St. Ansanus Baptizes the People of Siena, from the Christian Museum in Esztergom. For another illustration, I selected a work from the Museum of Fine Arts: Sassetta's St. Thomas Aquinas in Prayer, which was a predella picture of his Arte della Lana altarpiece, made for the Sienese guild and dedicated to the Eucharist (1423-25).

Sassetta: St. Thomas Aquinas in Prayer, 1423-25.  Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts

Monday, November 09, 2015

In memoriam Terézia Kerny

It is with great sadness that I report on the death of Terézia Kerny. She was one of the most knowledgeable and helpful art historians of her generation. She was a researcher of medieval iconography, patronage, the cult of the saints as well the historiography of art history. Her lifelong passion was the study of the cult and images of Saint Ladislas. Her monograph on the subject, which is accompanied by a detailed catalogue of works dating from the earliest examples to 1630, is quoted widely in the field, despite the fact that it has never been published in its entirety. She kept reworking the material, adding more and more items to the catalogue as new monuments became known, and she published several parts and several versions of the introductory study in a variety of publications. This was characteristic of her: sharing her knowledge at every possible forum. She participated at conferences and book presentations in her field; she wrote short articles, catalogue entries, book reviews and texts for illustrated popular works. A list of her select publications reveals the wide range of subjects she has worked on: she wrote and edited books on Saxon medieval churches in Transylvania, the frescoes of Johannes Aquila and the cult of St. Stephen and St. Emeric. She was also very generous and helpful with her colleagues, providing bibliographical references, copies of documents, photographs as well as her time to those interested.

Terézia Kerny (r) with Zsuzsa Lovag and Péter Varga, restorer, at the conservation survey of the head reliquary
of St. Ladislas (Győr, Dec. 2004)
Kerny Terézia began her work at the Institute of Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1982. She held various positions - working in the Archives, as head of the photo collection and editor of the journal published by the Institute, Ars Hungarica (since 2012). In addition, she was secretary of the Society of Hungarian Archaeologists and Art Historians. All of these positions required a lot of organizational work, dedication and time. I knew Terézia for over twenty years, ever since my one-year position as beginner researcher at the Institute of Art History. We worked together on a number of occasions, particularly in connection with medieval wall painting. Most recently, she convinced me to give a lecture on Flóris Rómer at a conference she had organized. Her lecture at that conference, held just over a month ago, was her last public appearance. An important volume of studies on St. Ladislas, co-edited by her, is expected out shortly. Her chief work, her monumental study of St. Ladislas, will hopefully be published in its entirety in the near future as well. Terézia Kerny passed away on November 6th. She was 58 years old. May she rest in peace.

Detail of the fresco of St. Michael, at Székelyderzs (Dirjiu, RO) 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ostrich egg cup of Christopher Báthory at the Ashmolean Museum - Updated

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has recently called attention to a magnificent ostrich egg cup on Twitter:

The object is part of the Wellby bequest, which entered the Ashmolean collections in 2012, and has recently been put on a new, permanent display. The objects can be browsed on the website of the museum, where the following information is given about the ostrich egg cup:

"Silver gilt cup and cover enclosing an ostrich-egg. The body has embossed and enamelled decoration in red, blue, green and white, three vertical straps, surmounted by masks. The cover has three pierced straps enamelled decoration with crosses and fleur-des-lys. The finial is an ostrich-egg holding up a shield with a crowned coat of arms [...] Made for the prince (waivoda) of Transylvania, a member of the Habsburg family, who ruled as a vassel of the Ottoman Empire. The inside of the egg has silver-gilt meticulously decorated with intersecting curving lines. The egg has been replaced or stripped."

The website also gives the insciption around the coat of arms on top of the lid of the cup:
This inscription enables us to identify the owner of the cup more precisely: it was not made for the Prince of Transylvania - who in 1576 was Stephen Báthory - but for his brother, Cristopher (Krisfóf) Báthory. 

Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland
 (Giulio Ricci, 1586 - Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest)
Christopher Báthory

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The lost medieval church of Bonyhád

It is rare that the excavation of a simple medieval parish church makes national news in Hungary. However, this is precisely what is happening these days with the remains of the medieval church of Bonyhád in southern Transdanubia: largely because there seems to be no time and no way to fully excavate and preserve the ruins. This is because of recent changes in Hungarian heritage laws, which favor construction and development instead of heritage protection.

The remains of the church of Bonyhád were discovered during the construction of a new exit from route 6. Current legislation only gives 30 days for any archaeological investigations in such situations, with a possibility of further extension granted by the Ministry of Culture. This extension has to be given by the Minister himself within 8 days - if he does not grant it, construction can continue without delay. The remains of the church of Bonyhád were discovered in late September. Thanks to the cooperation of a team of Hungarian archaeologists, the excavation was carried out during the last two weeks - but now work is coming to an end, as the construction of the road will commence on Wednesday.
Photo: István Huszti / Index
So let's see what was found: excavations have brought to light the nave of a medieval church (the sanctuary lies under the main road built a long time ago). It seems that the edifice was the medieval parish church of Bonyhád, which in the Middle Ages was located at some distance from the current center of the settlement. The church must have been destroyed in 1542 when the Ottoman Turkish army pushed through this area. The church burnt down, its walls were torn down some time later, and the site was abandoned. The site soon filled up with mud - thus the remains were preserved in good condition. A keystone and other fragments of the late Gothic vault of the church were found, along with the remains of the bell, as well as stone carvings from the portal of the church and other structural elements. Here are some photos of the stone carvings:

The excavation was one of the first times when the new heritage laws of Hungary were applied in a real-life scenario, and it became obvious that the regulations are not sufficient to protect archaeological heritage. Despite protests from the Association of Hungarian Archaeologists and even a statement by the ombudsman, it seems that the site will have to covered over before the excavations can fully be completed, as construction will resume as early as next week. Maybe the ensuing debate and national attention will help lawmakers rethink the current regulations.

Photo: István Huszti / Index

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Johannes Aquila pictor and Flóris Rómer

I am currently writing a conference paper on Flóris Rómer, one of the founding fathers of Hungarian art history. Flóris Rómer was born 200 years ago, in 1815, and filled numerous important positions during his illustrious career. He became active in the field of archaeology and art history in the 1860, and published the first survey of medieval wall painting in Hungary in 1874. The book, which is in the focus of my study, is a beautifully illustrated, monumental work, published by the Archaeological Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Self portrait of Johannes Aquila at Velemér
copy by Storno, published by Rómer
In the book, Rómer discusses over 100 medieval monuments with wall paintings, but the main focus is the work of Johannes Aquila, which Rómer effectively discovered in 1863. At that time, he was called by Imre Gozón to examine an abandonded medieval church in western Hungary, in the village of Velemér. The church had no roof or vaulting, but its walls were covered by a wonderful series of wall paintings. Surprisingly, Rómer also found a self-portrait of the painter as well, who called himself Johannes Aquila. The date of the frescoes was also recorded in an inscription: 1378. Rómer also found the frescoes of Johannes Aquila in the nearby church of Turniscsa (Toronyhely, Bántornya, now Turnišče in Slovenia): here he identified the legend of St. Ladislas in the frescoes located in the attic space, above the Baroque vault covering the nave of the church. Another fresco cycle of Johannes Aquila - again with his selfp-portrait, and dating from 1392 - was found at Mártonhely (Martyáncz, now Martjanci in Slovenia). Rómer also attributed the frescoes in the rotunda of Nagytótlak (Selo, Slovenia) to Johannes Aquila.
At the instigation of Rómer, Ferenc Storno made a set of color copies of the wall paintings, which were published in his 1874 monograph, and are still indispensible tools of research. Quite coincidentally, a series of these copies are currently exhibited at Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle Budapest), which is normally a place of contemporary exhibitions. The Johannes Aquila exhibition is part of an interesting mix of exhibitions, called the Slovenian connection, which are accompanying an exhibition of contemporary Slovenian painting. Whatever the reason, the Műcsarnok displays not only Storno's original notebook and sketches, but also the much more detailed large-scale copies executed by István Gróh in 1903 and 1912. These include watercolour copies, as well life-size replicas of the St. Ladislas cycle at Bántornya. In addition, the exhibition also includes a large-scale model of the interior of the church at Velemér, imagined and reconstructed at the stage when Johannes Aquila began his activities there, with the painting of the Adoration of the Magi. The curator of the exhibition is Terézia Kerny, who published a book on Johannes Aquila a few years ago (the current show is accompanied by a brief - but bilingual - booklet about the painter).

Copy of the frescoes at Velemér from the sketchbook of Ferenc Storno, 1863, via Rómer 2015

The monograph of Flóris Rómer has been digitized both by Google and the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. The original book contains a number of large, fold-out plates, and the digitized versions cannot replicate this. Knowing the limits of the Hungarian language, Rómer also published the first part of his book - that dealing with Johannes Aquila - in German in volume 19 of the Mittheilungen der k.k. Central Commission zur Erforschung und Erhaltung (1874), as "Kirchliche
Wandgemälde des XIII. und XIV. Jahrhunderts in der Eisenburger Gespanschaft" (pp. 201-215).
Copy by Storno of the frescoes at Mártonhely - page from Rómer's book

"Johannes Aquila .... by his hands..." - The Slovenian Connection, on view at Műcsarnok-Kunsthalle Budapest until September 29, 2015.

Some of my photos of the paintings of Johannes Aquila - along with other photos of medieval wall paintings in Slovenia - are available in my album on Flickr.

Bántornya -  Turnišče

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Catalogue of Liturgical Vestments of the Black Church in Brasov

The Abbeg-Stiftung (Riggisberg, CH) published an exhaustive catalogue of the liturgical vestments of the Black Church of Brașov / Brassó / Kronstadt in Transylvania. Regarded as the most important ecclesiastical collection of the Transylvanian Saxon churches, interest in the collection started already in the 19th century, but the present book, edited and largely written by Evelin Wetter, is the first systematic catalogue of the medieval and renaissance textiles preserved in the church. Several objects date back to the 15th and the early 16th century, and these remained in use even after the community and its church turned Lutheran in 1543.

The origins of the town of Brassó / Kronstadt go back to the early 13th century, when as part of King Andreas II's policies, it was established by German settlers (known in later sources generally as Saxons). Along with Nagyszeben / Hermannstadt (Sibiu), Brassó became one of the most important Saxon towns of Transylvania, and developed greatly due its favorable position near the border of the Hungarian Kingdom and along key trade routes. The present parish church of Brassó /Kronstadt, dedicated to the Virgin, was built from around 1380 until about 1470, and it is the easternmost major Gothic building of medieval Europe (it is also the largest medieval church in all of Transylvania). The original fabric of the church was heavily damaged in a fire in 1689 - hence the name of "Black church." After the fire, a slow rebuilding process started, during which the entire church had to be re-vaulted, which was carried out in a Gothicising spirit.

Black Church in Brasov, by Vlad Moldovean, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the fire, the church has preserved a remarkable array of its treasures. The treasury holds medieval chalices and other goldsmith works, and the church also preserves one of the largest collection of historic Ottoman Turkish carpets in the world. The subject of the present book is another ensemble, that of the liturgical vestments. The catalogue includes 21 objects, a few of which have been brought to Brasov from smaller communities. There are six copes in the collection (cat. 1-6), originally stemming from the late 15th - early 16th century, and made from the finest Italian (and in one case, Ottoman Turkish) velvets. There are also five Baroque chasubles (ca. 9-14), preserving outstanding late medieval or early Renaissance embroideries, along with two further separate cross orphreys.

Cope, mid 15th century, with later transformations. Brasov, Black Church (cat. 1.)

The book has been produced in an exemplary manner. I mean this in many senses of the word: first of all regarding the nature of scholarly collaboration. Evelin Wetter, the editor of the the volume, and a noted expert of medieval liturgical objects, started researching the collection in 2001. She has worked together with Ágnes Ziegler, who has worked as the art historian assigned by the church next to the collection for several years now. A study tour was made to Brasov from Riggisberg each year, where the third author of the volume, textile conservator Corinna Kienzler was also regularly present. The result in an exhaustive work, which examines and publishes the textiles in great detail. After the introductory essay by Evelin Wetter, there are 6 long studies in the first part of the book, dealing with the history of the church (Ágnes Ziegler), the history of the collection as well as with the later use of the medieval vestments (Wetter and Ziegler together). Corinna Kienzler authored important studies on later changes carried out on the vestments, as well as on the subject of the Italian or Turkish origin of the velvets. After the studies, comes the catalogue part, with detailed descriptions of the technical, historical and art historical aspects of the objects. Drawings and excellent photographs present the material as well. The book is in German, but a separate volume contains exhaustive summaries of the essays in Romanian, Hungarian and English. All of this was produced according to the very high techological standards we have come to expect from the Abbeg-Stiftung. Overall, the book is not simply a catalogue of a significant collection of liturgical vestments, but a major contribution to the study of the history of a most important Transylvanian town and community, with major implications for the medieval art history of Hungary in general.

The book was presented in Brasov by the authors on the 6th of June, along with a lecture by Ernő Marosi on the subject of communal memory. On this occasion, the vestments were presented to the public - see the photo on the left, and the accompanying article from the Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung für Rumänien

Biblographical data: 

Evelin Wetter: Liturgische Gewänder in der Schwarzen Kirche zu Kronstadt in Siebenbürgen. Mit Beiträgen von Corinna Kienzler und Ágnes Ziegler, Vol. 1-2. (Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 2015), 484 and 160 pp. More information of the website of the Abbeg-Stiftung. 
A Hungarian-language overview of the new publication can be found on the website of Obeliscus, an online journal of Early Modern Studies.