detail of the St. Catherine legend (copy)
In 1844, during repairs after a minor earthquake, medieval wall-paintings were uncovered in the Calvinist church of Máramarossziget (at that time the capital of Máramaros County, today Sighetu Marmaţiei in Romania). Instead of simply recording this fact in the Historia domus, and covering the paintings over, a detailed report was sent to Budapest, to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which had been founded not so long ago, in 1825. After requesting more information, Imre Henszlmann, the only art historian member of the Academy, delivered a lecture on the wall paintings of Máramarossziget in 1847. By this time, Henszlmann has already published his monograph on the Church of St. Elisabeth in Kassa (Kaschau, Košice, Slovakia) and also in 1846, was among those issuing a general call for the protection of historic monuments.
|Máramarossziget church in 1846|
In delivering his lecture, Henszlmann relied on a plan and view of the church (illustrated to the right) and also a copy of the wall-paintings. He did not describe the copy, and his description of the frescoes is not entirely clear. István Szilágyi, a teacher at the college of Máramarossziget and a member of the Academy corrected Henszlmann's interpretation in a lecture presented in 1850 (as it is well known, Hungary was occupied with a revolution and a failed war for independence in 1848-1849). Szilágyi did not have a chance to see the frescoes himself, but his interpretation was based on first-hand eyewitness accounts, in addition to copies. This episode represents the first true art historical debate in Hungary, concerning a medieval monument.
As it happened, the church of Máramarossziget burned down in 1859. The fire destroyed a large part of the town, the entire roof of the church burned down, and the vaults all collapsed. As a result of this catastrophy, the wall paintings - even more of them - came to light again. This time Szilágyi had a chance to examine them, and a new set of drawings and copies were made. A sad decision had to be made - the remains of the church had to be torn down, with the exception of the medieval tower. Rebuilding the church was halted by another fire in 1872 - the new building was only finished in 1892.