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. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Corvinian manuscripts digitised

The very exciting digitisation process at the Vatican Library is going ahead at full speed, and the Library has made available online two manuscripts from the famous Bibliotheca Corviniana, the library of King Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490). The manuscripts are the following:


Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ms. Urb. lat. 110

The Missal of Matthias Corvinus, 1488-1489

The manuscript was made for King Matthias in the Buda workshop. The coat of arms of Matthias and his wife Beatrice of Aragon can be found on several pages.
It is a richly illustrated volume, with stylistic connections to Lombardy.
See also the catalogue page with bibliographic references. 




















Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
Missale fratrum minorum secundum consuetudinem Romanae curiae

This is a Franciscan Missal commissioned by King Matthias, and given to a Franciscan friar named Thomas (so technically, this is not a Corvinian manuscript, as it was not part of the Biblioteca Corviniana). The book was illuminated by an Austrian painter active in Vienna.




















With the two books above, the number of Corvinian manuscripts online now exceeds 100. On this occassion, I decided to move my checklist of digitised manuscripts over to this blog - you can reach it any time from the menu above. The version on my website is now obsolete - links have been checked and fixed on the version here in the blog. I also added links to two manuscripts digitised at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Museum of Fine Arts closes for three years

Photo of the Romanesque Hall at the Museum of Fine Art © MTI
The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest will be closed for the renovation of the building from 16 February 2015 until the end of 2017. During this period a highlight-selection from the Museum’s collection will be on view in the Hungarian National Gallery (in Buda Castle). The Museum will reopen in 2018 with brand new exhibitions and new spaces. The most important part of this renovation process will be the restortion of the so-called Romanesque Hall of the Museum, which had been closed since 1945. Since then, the space has been used as a storage space for the fantastic collection of plaster casts of medieval and renaissance sculpture, accumulated in the early years of the Museum's history. 


The Romanesque Hall at the time of the opening of the building (1906)


The plasters casts will be restored and put on display in a newly created museum space at the 19th century fortress of Komárom (see this article, with visualizations of the plans). Some other will be moved to the newly created National Museum Restoration and Storage Center, which is being developed on the site of a hospital, located behind the museum - see the plans in this article.


The state of the Romanesque Hall before the war


In addition, several other spaces of the museum will be restored, and new underground areas will be created for the storage of artworks and for a new space for large temporary exhibition. The entire heating and air-conditioning system of the museum will be redone, as well. This Hungarian language article in Népszabadság has more details. The renovation of the museum and the other developments mentioned above are all part of the controversial Liget Budapest project, which is aimed to create several new museum in City Park (read more on it). During the years of closure, the Museum of Fine Arts will continue to organize exhibitions in the Hungarian National Gallery, which was joined to it a few years ago. Highlights from the permanent collection will also be shown there.

See also this video about the Romanesque Hall from Szépművészeti Múzeum on Vimeo.