Showing posts with label Budapest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Budapest. Show all posts

Monday, February 10, 2014

Main altar of Kisszeben on view again

Photo: Hungarian National Gallery / MTI Photo: Soós Lajos
The main altar of the church of Kisszeben (Sabinov, Slovakia) is on view again at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest. The altarpiece has not been put together since WWII - during the last few years, only parts of it were visible in the permanent exhibition of the Hungarian National Gallery. A restoration project of several decades has come to an important milestone, when the central shrine of the altarpiece, as well as the paintings of a pair of movable wings were assembled and put on display. There is still work to be done (including the restoration of the superstructure), which is expected to be completed by next year - but for the first time in 70 years, visitors can appreciate the size and beauty of this whole winged altarpiece.


The main altar of the church of Kisszeben was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and is one of the largest and most lavishly decorated winged altarpieces of medieval Hungary (along with the main altar of the Church of St. Elisabeth at Kassa/Košice and the main altar of the parish church of Lőcse/Levoča). The altarpiece was executed in the period between 1490-1516, based on heraldic evidence and a date on one of the panels. The 24 panel paintings of the altarpiece tell the story of Saint John the Baptist, as well as the life of the Virgin. The three central statues of the altarpiece depict the Virgin Mary, accompanied by St. Peter and St. John the Baptist.

As part of a coordinated campaign to transfer medieval altarpieces in museum collections at the time of the Hungarian millenium, the altars of Kisszeben were transported to and exhibited in the newly built building of the Museum of Applied Arts. In addition to the main altar, this included two side altars from the same church. By the 1920s, the altarpieces were transferred to the Museum of Fine Art, where the main altar was put on display in the Marble Hall of the museum. During the war, the altar was dismantled and put in storage, suffering serious damage. It was transferred to the Hungarian National Gallery along with the rest of the Old Hungarian Collection in 1974. The restoration of the altarpiece commenced already in the 1950s, and continued in the National Gallery. Some of the restored parts of the altar - including the central statues - have been on display along with similar works of art for some time. Last week, the assembled altarpiece was formally put on display in the same gallery. In addition to the central part of the altar and one set of the wing paintings, several other paintings from the Life of St. John and the Life of the Virgin cycles are also on view. Moreover, statues originally in the superstructure of the altar can also be seen.

Update: link to a better photo of the whole altar. I should also mention that the two side altars from the church - one with the Annunciation and another dedicated to St. Anne - are also on view in the same room of the Hungarian National Gallery.



Photo: Hungarian National Gallery / MTI Photo: Soós Lajos

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Medieval news from the end of 2013

There were quite a lot of things I wanted to report on at the end of 2013. I hope to come back to these subject individually in the near future - for now, I can only give a brief listing of these news.

Medieval palace chapel reopened at Esztergom

After a restoration process of about 13 years, the palace chapel of Esztergom chapel finally reopened to visitors. During this period, the chapel was completely inaccessible, as heavy scaffolding was erected inside. The chapel, which was built at the end of the 12th century, is the most important Early Gothic building in Hungary. It was decorated with a wonderful cycle of frescoes, painted in the 1330s - the best example of Italianate frescoes in Hungary. During the Turkish wars, the chapel, along with the royal (later archepiscopal) palace next to it fell to ruin, and was only uncovered between 1934-38. The restoration of the Renaissance frescoes in the adjoining room still goes on, and will probably be completed in 2015.
The website of the Castle Museum of Esztergom (a branch of the Hungarian National Museum) provides very basic information about visits to the chapel. The press kit, which can be downloaded from the website, provides a few photos of the frescoes in their restored state. The photo used here is from the press kit. A full architectural and photogrammetrical survey of the palace chapel and adjoining spaces - which was carried out in connection of the restoration - is available on the website of the company who made the survey. Reports on the reopening of the chapel were made by Hungarian press, see here and here, for example. For more photos, go to Archeologia - Altum Castrum Magazin.

Exhibition of the Sculpture Collection reopened at the Museum of Fine Arts

Horse and rider attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
The Collection of European Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest has been inaccessible for a long time, ever since the old permanent exhibition was closed some 25 years. During this period, the Gothic wooden sculptures were on display for a few years starting from 2000, and there were several temporary exhibitions organized from this material (as the Verrocchio exhibition, organized by the author of this blog). More recently, several important statues in the collection were (and remain) incorporated into the galleries of Old Master paintings. The Museum website reports on the reopening of the sculpture exhibition in detail:
"The sculptures of the Museum of Fine Arts, housed in the deposits for the past 25 years, are now presented in newly renovated rooms on the second floor of the museum. The Department of Sculpture collection includes nearly 650 European sculptures covering six centuries of artistic creation from the Middle Ages to 18th-century Classicism. The exhibition encompasses over 100 artworks, from various styles and periods, including German Late-Gothic, Italian Renaissance, and Austrian Baroque. Among the exhibited masterpieces are German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider’s (circa 1460-1531) wooden sculpture, referred to as Madonna and Child, Italian architect and sculptor Jacopo Sansovino’s (1486−1570) unique wax sculpture entitled Madonna and Child, and the extraordinary Austrian Baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s (1736−1783) Character Heads. In addition to displaying the most celebrated sculptures, the museum’s exhibition also provides insights into the secrets and special production techniques of the workshops. Throughout the centuries, sculptors have experimented with several types of material, including wood, stone, ivory, terracotta, and various alloys of metal. Furthermore, over time artists developed numerous methods for decorating and painting their sculptures and reliefs. Conservators have applied the original methods and traditional materials and techniques to make samples, thus highlighting the important details of the displayed sculptures and enabling the viewer to observe and follow the various stages of the creative process." You can continue reading on the website of the museum.

Other news

Interesting things are happening elsewhere in the region as well. The Gallery of Medieval Art finally reopened at the National Museum in Warsaw. The exhibition of the Master of the Liechtenstein Castle remains open until February 23, at the Belvedere in Vienna. Finally, the exhibition on the Florentine connections of Hungarian Renaissance art is closing this weekend in Florence.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Collection Databases of Hungarian Art Museums

2012 represented a sort of breakthrough for Hungarian art museums in the process of putting their collections online. When I wrote about the medieval holdings of Budapest museums about two years ago, there was not much to report on in this respect. The situation is now a lot better, and keeps improving - you can now find an increasing number of medieval art objects online. I will give a brief overview of each of these  databases.

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Maso di Banco: Coronation of the Virgin
Florence, 1335-1340  
The Museum of Fine Arts launched two separate databases this year: one is a general collection database, which provides basic inventory data on thousands of artworks. Integrated into the newly rewamped museum website, the database is available in English as well - although the translation seems to have been made with a translation software, and contains a lot of peculiarities and inaccuracies. The quality of the images varies a great deal: in some departments (for example Sculpture) all the archival pictures seem to have made it into the database, while some objects are illustrated with just one image, or no image at all. You can browse the objects based on the collections and also by period, so it is fairly easy to get to the medieval and Renaissance objects. 



Florentine master: Siren in a medallion 
The Museum also launched another, more scholarly database: an online catalogue of Italian and French prints before 1620. The catalogue, containing 4.604 objects, is the first complete publication of a section from the rich collection of 100.000 prints preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts. The catalogue was edited by Eszter Seres and Zoltán Kárpáti, and provides detailed catalogue records of each print, as well as new, zoomable images. This material does not seem to be integrated into the general collection database mentioned above - so if you are after prints, you have to come to this specialized website. There are a few dozen 15th century prints in the collection as well.





Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Book of Hours for Lodovico Gonzaga.
Florence, 1469-1478
The Museum of Applied Arts also launched its collection database, which is continuously being filled up with images and records, and currently contains over 2000 objects. There are plenty of medieval objects in this rich and varied collection of decorative arts, some of which have already appeared in the database. At this point, the database is only available in Hungarian, but an English language version is currently in preparation. The interface is very easy to use, and there are various ways to browse: by collection or with virtual tours, which present the material arranged according to various topics. Medium-size images can be downloaded for personal use after registration.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Buried Medieval Synagogue of Buda

View of the remains in 1964
Hungarian daily Népszabadság reported this weekend on the Schulhof Foundation for the Restoration of the Medieval Synagogue of Buda. The aim of the foundation is to uncover and reconstruct the medieval great Synagogue of Buda, which was found in 1964. This late Gothic Synagogue was built in 1461, and was destoyed in 1686, when the castle of Buda was taken back by the Christian army from the Turks. Although the medieval Jewish community of Buda had to leave the town in 1526 (when the army of Suleiman the Great first took the Hungarian capital), they were allowed to return during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule (1541-1686). In September 1686, when the Christian army broke through the Vienna Gate in the process of taking back the town, they started slaughtering everyone they encountered - Turks and Jews alike. The chronicle of rabbi Isaac Schulhof describes how the people of the town ran into the synagogue and tried to barricade themselves inside - but the Christians stormed the synagogue and slaughtered everyone inside. The building burned down, and was later covered over, becoming the tomb of those trapped inside for several centuries.



Remains of the building were found by László Zolnay in 1964. The Synagogue was a square building, which was divided into two aisles by a row of piers. The remains are about 4 meters below the present-day street level, so tall walls, as well as much of the piers once dividing the space survive. The vault supported by these piers already collapsed in the 16th century, but one keystone survives. After the removal of the bodies, the great synagoge had to be covered over again, in hopes of a future reconstruction. Stones from the piers were taken across the street, where a smaller and earlier synagogue was also found in the 1960s. This smaller prayer house was rebuilt from its ruins at the beginning of the 18th century as a residential house, and now it operates as a small museum, as part of the Budapest History Museum.

Drawing of one of the walls of the Synagogue


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hungarian National Gallery in Crisis

Throne room in the former royal palace
- now the home of winged altarpieces in the National Gallery 
Hungary (and its capital, Budapest) has a rich and multi-layered art museum system, the result of almost two centuries of organic development (I wrote about these museums in a previous post). One of the largest such institutions in Budapest is the Hungarian National Gallery, officialy created as a separate museum in 1957, and presently housed inside the former royal palace on top of Buda castle hill. The museums is home to art from all over the territory of historic Hungary, ranging in chronology from the 11th century to the present day. The museum is the largest repository of Hungarian medieval art, holding stone carvings, sculptures, painting and complete altarpieces. You can browse highlights of the collection starting from this page. It is also a very important research center of Hungarian art history - during the last few decades, most new knowledge about Hungarian art was published in the catalogues and journals of the National Gallery, many of which can be studied online in the database of Hungarian museum publications (go down to "Magyar Nemzeti Galéria").

Hans Siebenbürger: St. Eligius before King Clotaire
One of the more recent acquisitions of the Gallery 
Several years ago, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, László Baán raised the possibility of once again uniting the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hungarian National Museum, into one mega-museum (The Art Newspaper 177, 2007). The idea then was met with skepticism and rejection - but was already put partly in practice in the 2010 exhibition at the Royal Academy in London titled Treasures from Budapest (to mixed reviews, as the detailed overview of Gábor Endrődi at the 1100sor.hu blog proved - in Hungarian, but with links to English-language reviews). Things, however, sped up this year, after a major EU-funded expansion plan of the Museum of Fine Arts was scrapped (On this, see the brief report of The Art Newspaper, as well as the letter to the editor of TAN at the bottom of this page.) Baán then went ahead to realize his plan of merging the two museums under his leadership, and received government support for it. What was only a plan this summer (see once again The Art Newspaper's report) quickly became a reality when the backing of this plan was announced in a government decree, and Baán was appointed as state commissary to lead the project. There was talk of negotiations, examinations and planning - but less the nthree weeks later, another decree was published, announcing that the two museums will have to be officially merged by February 29, 2012.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First publications on the murals of the parish church of Pest

The 14th century fresco of the Virgin of Child, discovered last year in the sanctuary of the Inner City Parish Church of Pest (in downtown Budapest) created quite a stir. I suppose it always creates some stir when a a fresco appears older than the wall it is painted on. The sanctuary of the parish church of Pest has always been dated to around 1400, while the fresco clearly dates from  some time in the 14th century. This then of course calls for a re-evaluation of the construction history of the church, something which is quite hard to do without more extensive on-site research. Already, debate is raging on concerning the date of the newly discovered frescoes (also, some questions have been raised about the restoration as well). A detailed examination of the building and all its fresco decoration, however, is yet to be carried out.

The Hungarian journal Műemlékvédelem published several articles on the building, summarizing the results of previous art historical and architectural research, also publishing restorer Éva Derdák's overview of the uncovering and restoration of the mural (Műemlékvédelem, vol. LIV, 2010/6). The journal is not available online, but you can see the contents of the issue here. Tünde Wehli wrote an article for the journal on the newly discovered frescoes. After briefly describing the frescoes, she proceeds to bring analogies to the image of the Madonna. Most of these come from the north of the Alps, from France and Central Europe (esp. Bohemia), although Wehli acknowledges the Italian origins of several motifs of the fresco (such as the shape of the throne). In the conclusion of her article, Tünde Wehli dates the fresco to the last quarter of the 14th century - a date which requires a relatively modest modification in the building's chronology.

More recently, Mária Prokopp also wrote on the frescoes. She is a noted expert of the Italian connections of Hungarian medieval painting (I wrote on her theory of Botticelli in Esztergom). Her article was published in Múzeumcafé, which is a flashy magazine about museums, and is not really known for serious studies on medieval art. Prokopp's article can be read in the online version of Múzeumcafé vol. 5, 23 (2011 június/július), and also here. A somewhat more detailed version of Prokopp's article is available in the journal Magyar Sion (2010/2, full text available here). Prokopp's study also appeared in the journal of the Budapest History Museum (Tanulmányok Budapest Múltjából 36, 2010),  in what can be considered as its definitive version to this date. A pdf-version of the Hungarian-language article is available here; there is a brief German summary at the end. Prokopp cites mainly Italian analogies from the beginning of the Trecento, and thus dates the fresco of the Virgin and child to around 1320-1340 (the fresco of the bishop she considers even earlier, from the end of the 13th century). In explaining the significance of the frescoes, she analyses the historical importance of the church as well.

I've had no time to write anything more than some blog-length pieces on the fresco so far. My brief report on the find (essentially the same as my first two blog entries - see part I and part II) was summarized for the newsletter of the International Center of Medieval Art (April 2011 issue), while my report on Hungarian azurite was picked up by National Geographic Hungary (May 2011). Hopefully I'll get to write more about it soon!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Conference and exhibition about László Gerevich

László Gerevich, one of the eminent Hungarian archaeologists of the Middle Ages, was born 100 years ago. To commemorate, the Budapest History Museum organized a conference and an exhibition about his career. The highlight of this career was the excavation of the medieval royal palace of Buda, which became possible after the destruction of World War II. Gerevich was able to uncover the lower lever of the entire medieval palace, bringing to light a number of highly important finds. In that period, he was the director of the Budapest History Museum, and later also the founder and first director of the Archaeological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Gerevich also excavated several other medieval sites, including the Cistercian Abbey of Pilis (see my recent post on the abbey). His English-language books include The Art of Buda and Pest in the Middle Ages and Towns in Medieval Hungary. If you read Hungarian, you can find more information on him here.

You can read the program of today's conference by clicking on the image above. I will write another post on the exhibition once I get a chance to visit it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hungarian azurite

When the previously unknown fresco of the Virgin and Child was uncovered in the Inner City parish church of (Buda)Pest, the restorer and art historians alike were struck by the excellent preservation of large patches of azurite blue. The cloak of the Virgin and that of the Child is the same blue, and the background of the painting is painted with a darker shade of the same blue (azurite mixed with black). This find reminds us that during the Middle Ages, Hungary was one of the primary sources of azurite in Europe. The mineral (a copper-ore) came from the copper mines of northern Hungary, from places such as Rudabánya. It is well-known that ultramarine was the most expensive pigment in the Middle Ages - but it was very hard to get, and azurite was a good alternative. You can read about the pigment a lot, for example in Daniel V. Thompson's classic book on the Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting.




Paint samples have been analysed from the Budapest fresco, and beautiful microscopic photos of the pigment were made by restorer Éva Galambos - such as this one to the right.

The Virgin Mary from
the Ghent Altarpiece 
Hungarian azurite sources became generally unavailable to Europe after the Ottoman Turks occupied much of the country during the 16th century. There is a classic story, reported among others by Karel van Mander, that reminds us of these historical circumstances. Around 1558, Michiel Coxie was making a copy of the Ghent altarpiece of Jan and Hubert van Eyck (the panels of which are today in Berlin and Munich), for Philip II of Spain (also the Duke of Flanders). As Karel van Mander tells us, Coxie fulfilled this commission admirably. Coxie, however, was unable to obtain azurite of suitable quality - Coxie explains that this type of azure pigment, a natural coloring, comes from some mountains of Hungary, and was easier to obtain earlier, before the country came under Ottoman rule. Coxie in the end was able to get the needed azurite on the order of the king directly from Titian, who still had some. Van Mander goes on to emphasize that only the azurite needed for the cloak of the Virgin was worth 32 ducats. Did Jan van Eyck use Hungarian azurite, too? The sources do not reveal this - but maybe the new technical examination of the Ghent altarpiece will provide some answers.

You can read van Mander's original text in the Het Schilder-boek, in the online edition of the Dutch Digital Library. The story is told in the Life of Jan and Hubert van Eyck.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Medieval holdings of Budapest museums

I often find myself trying to explain the system of Budapest's major art museums to foreigners. Although it is a clear system, it can still be confusing at times. For example, you can find important medieval artworks in all major museums of the capital. In this post, I will give a brief overview of the system, and list the most important medieval holdings of Budapest museums.

1. Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum)

This is Hungary's oldest public museum, founded in 1802. The present building of the museum, designed by Mihály Pollack, opened in 1847. Originally, all kinds of collections were housed here, a lot of which formed the basis of later museums. Today, it is basically a museum dedicated to the history of Hungary. The museum houses a large number of medieval objects from the territory of historic and modern Hungary. Various objects - including stone carvings, pottery, etc. - are held in the Archaeological Department and are on view in the Medieval Lapidary. Departments of the Historical Repository hold all kinds of medieval objects - furniture, textiles, weapons and ceramics. Of particular note is the Collection of Metalwork, with the best selection of Hungarian goldsmith works. Highlights of these collections are on view in the permanent exhibition. Until 2000, the Coronation regalia were kept here, too - today only the Coronation mantle remains in the Museum. The museum has a useful website, with lot of English language content - although not every page is translated from Hungarian. Start browsing here.

2. Museum of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Múzeum)


Founded in 1872 and modeled after the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Applied Arts was the second major public museum in Hungary. It is housed in an Art Nouveau building designed by Ödön Lechner, opened in 1896. The collections of the museum include all fields of decorative arts - metalwork, furniture, ivories, textiles, ceramics. This is the only major national museum in Hungary where objects of Hungarian origin are side-by-side with other European works. When it comes to medieval objects, the collection is stronger in general European art (most Hungarian objects can be found in the National Museum). Particular highlights include medieval ivories, important goldsmith works from the Esterházy-treasury, chasubles and other medieval textiles, etc. Some of the highlights are on view in the permament exhibition of the museum, but the website only provides information on them in Hungarian. You can still browse the collection and picture galleries of highlights here. The museum's permanent exhibition of the history of furniture is located in the Nagytétény mansion on the outskirts of Budapest, and includes a number of medieval and renaissance objects.

3. Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum)

Officially founded in 1896, the Museum of Fine Art is based on the Esterházy-collection, purchased by the Hungarian state in 1871, and on numerous other acquisitions carried out during the last decades of the 19th century. The main building of the museum opened in 1906. The museum is basically dedicated to monuments of western art, including Egyptian and ancient art, stretching all the way to the present day. Focus is on paintings, drawings and sculpture (for other fields, see the Museum of Applied Arts above). Hungarian works have been transferred to the Hungarian National Gallery (see below). In terms of medieval art, The Collection of Old Master Paintings is particularly strong in Italian Trecento works as well as German/Austrian Late Gothic paintings. There are a number of outstanding medieval drawings in the collection as well, and there is a large collection of medieval sculpture - the latter presently not on view. For information and highlights, visit the website of the museum. In 2006, the Museum of Fine Arts organized and housed the great international exhibition dedicated to Emperor Sigismund.

4. Hungarian National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria)

The National Gallery was created in 1957, with the intention of providing a separate museum dedicated to Hungarian art. It is primarily based on material transferred from the Museum of Fine Arts. When the new museum was transferred to its present building - in the former royal palace of Buda - the Old Hungarian Collection was also transferred there. This is a rich repository of Hungarian medieval art, consisting of medieval stone carvings and sculpture, panel paintings and a large number of complete altarpieces. The collections can be browsed on the website of the museum.

5. Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Museum)

The main site of this museum  - the Castle Museum - is also located in the building of the former royal palace of Buda (this site opened in 1967). Lower levels of the museum incorporate the remains of the medieval royal palace. The museum is an archaeological and historical collection - similar to the Hungarian National Museum - focusing on the territory of Budapest. As the Buda side of present-day Budapest was the medieval seat of Hungarian kings, the museum is particularly rich in medieval objects, most of them archaeological finds. The famous statue-find from the period of King Sigismund is also on view here. New excavations keep adding significant material to the collections. The English version of the website is not quite complete, but you can read about the permanent exhibitions here. In 2008, the museum organised and housed the exhibition titled Matthias Corvinus, the King.

6. Museum of Ethnography (Néprajzi Múzeum)

Started in 1872 as a unit of the Hungarian National Museum, and becoming an independent institution in 1947, the Museum of Ethnography moved into the former Palace of Justice in 1873. It might be surprising that I am listing it here, as the museum has no medieval collection - but it does include a number of medieval objects in its collections of European furniture, ceramics and textiles. The website of the museum is available in English, but the collection database is only in Hungarian. The Ethnological Archives also contain a lot of material about medieval buildings and wall-paintings.


I did not add pictures of actual medieval objects to this post - but you will find plenty to look at by following the links above. Of course, it is best to come and see these museums for yourself! If you would like to know even more about museums in Hungary, visit the central website for Hungarian museums.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Destruction of the centers of medieval Hungary

On August 29 1526, the army of Suleiman the Magnificent defeated the Hungarian army at Mohács. King Louis II died on the battlefield, and the sultan's army marched on to take the capital, Buda. At that time, the Turkish army withdrew - but in 1541, Suleiman took the capital of the divided kingdom without having to lay siege to it. Two years later, he occupied the towns of Pécs, Székesfehérvár and Esztergom, and Visegrád fell soon after that. Thus all the centrally located towns - the Medium Regni - became part of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years. Because of the prohibition of figural religious imagery, this period led to the destruction of altarpieces, paintings, statues and to the covering up of frescoes. Damage to buildings was caused by neglect, but even more during the wars waged in order to reconquer these towns, especially during the Long War ('15 years' war,' 1591-1606) and the final campaign of 1683-1687. When the towns were retaken by the Christians, it was largely ruins what they found. Remains of important medieval buildings were generally taken down as new structures were erected during the 18th century.

As a result, the most important medieval sites of Hungary only survived as ruins, their remains recovered during various archaeological campaigns. The sites include Buda, the capital of the Kingdom; Esztergom, the seat of Hungary's Primate Archbishop; Székesfehérvár, the coronation and burial place of Hungarian kings; and Visegrád, perhaps the most important royal castle complex of the land. 

The photos below illustrate what little is left of these sites. Rather than illustrating the destruction (about which many contemporary prints were made), I chose mainly photos showing moments of discovery - although the first example will be of destruction.

Buda and Óbuda



This is an image of Buda castle from 1686, at the time when the center of the Kingdom was retaken by the joint Christian armies. The print shows the castle hill, with the ruins of the medieval royal palace on top of the hill. Very little of this survived when the new, Baroque royal palace was built in the 18th century.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The medieval parish church of Pest (part II.) - A remarkable discovery



This post focuses on the medieval fresco decoration of the Inner City parish church of Pest - you can read my introduction to the history of the building here.
Not much survived of the original painted decoration of the Inner City parish church. Knowing the history of the building, it is not surprising that all these are associated with the choir and ambulatory of the building. Over the years, the following fragments have been discovered:


  • Some fragments of the  earliest painted decoration, found on broadstones, during excavations, surviving from the Romanesque-period chancel of the church.
  • Head of a bishop and of a female figure, found on fragments of the late Gothic tabernacle. These frescoes - especially the bishop - were in quite good condition at the time of their discovery in the 1930s. They were built in when the tabernacle was reconstructed - today they are just barely legible.

Head of a bishop, fresco fragment on the Gothic tabernacle
(Condition in 1933)
  • Fragments of scenes and figures inside the wall niches encircling the choir ambulatory. These have been discovered during the 1940s, and they have been detached and restored many times. Not much remains: just two scenes - Christ on the Mount of Olives and a Calvary - can be identified, and a few heads of angels survived in the upper circle of the blind tracery articulating the niches. These frescoes can be dated to the early decades of the 15th century.
Fragments of Christ on the Mount of Olives,
with the Veil of Veronica above

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The medieval parish church of Pest (part I.)


The Inner City parish church is perhaps the most frequently-seen, yet most overlooked major medieval building in Budapest. Standing in the middle of the city, right next to Elizabeth bridge, modern-day citizens of Budapest zoom by it every day. The church, however, preserves great medieval artworks and still holds many surprises. On the occasion of the discovery of a great 14th century fresco inside the church, I am writing a two-part post on the history of the edifice.

Modern-day Budapest was created in 1873, when the cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda were united. The center of Buda, the settlement on castle hill was founded after the Mongol invasion (Óbuda, or Old-Buda was somewhat north, at the area of the Roman town of Aquincum). Pest, on the other side of the Danube, was older. For most of the Middle Ages, Buda - the site of the royal castle - played a more important role, but Pest developed into an important town as well. In the center of the town, at the spot where the Danube was narrowest and at the site of a Roman fort, the parish church of the town was built.

Romanesque carved stones built into the
foundations of the pier of the triumphal arch
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the first stone church was built around 1200. It was a Romanesque basilica, of which some parts survived inside the south tower of the present structure, and in the crypt of the present building.

This church was badly damaged in 1241, but it is unclear to what extent it had to be rebuilt. We know that during the second half of the 14th century, the chancel of the church was greatly expanded and fully rebuilt into a hall-church with an ambulatory. Further expansion was carried out in the late 15th century, when chapels were added to both sides of the nave, and new portals were opened into the side aisles. An imposing south tower was also built at this time. Side chapels were also added to both sides of the western end of the chancel area.

Only the chancel survived the Turkish wars, while the nave had to be entirely rebuilt in the early 18th century. Instead of the three-aisled medieval structure, the Baroque nave is a spacious hall, but the row of chapels on either side have been preserved.


Map from 1785, with the parish church and city hall in the center
For centuries, this church stood at the center of old Pest, adjacent to City Hall. A series of small shops were attached to the body of the church. This traditional center of Pest survived all the way to the end of the 19th century, and is thus known for a series of photographs (see the one by György Klösz on top of this page). The church was part of the urban fabric, with small squares around it. Unfortunately Budapest lost its center when the new Elizabeth bridge was built during the 1890s. City Hall and dozens of other buildings were demolished, and new avenues were opened. The church just narrowly escaped demolition - there were plans to tear it down or to move it, but in the end the new roadway leading to the bridge curved right along the church.