Showing posts with label Gothic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gothic. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

K700 - Exhibition on Emperor Charles IV and his Era in Prague and Nuremberg

Ten years after the most recent major exhibition about Emperor Charles IV and the Luxembourg dyansty (shown in New York and Prague), the National Gallery in Prague and curator/director Jiři Fajt returned to the topic, and organized a major exhibition dedicated to the Emperor. The occasion was the 700th anniversary of the birth of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor - hence the short logo-title of the exhibition: K700. The exhibition was jointly organized by the National Gallery in Prague and the House of of Bavarian History, and will be shown later this year in Nuremberg as well. I managed to catch it in Prague before it closed on September 25, 2016, at the Waldstein Riding School.

Titled Emperor Charles IV 1316-2016, the topic of the Czech-Bavarian exhibition is summarized in the press release of the National Gallery:
"Charles IV is among the most frequently portrayed medieval monarchs. Not only was he a wise and pious ruler, but also a successful collector of royal crowns. He liked to dress in the latest Paris fashion and participated in jousting tournaments. One of them was nearly fatal, permanently affecting his appearance as shown in his many portraits. The first Czech-Bavarian Land Exhibition Emperor Charles IV 1316–2016, held at the Waldstein Riding School of the National Gallery in Prague, not only gets to the heart of the traditional Charles IV themes but also focuses on the less popularised ones. About 200 precious exhibits will present the emperor’s personality, a perspective on him by his adherents and opponents, art, and Jewish pogroms." Along with other materials, this press release can be downloaded from the website of the National Gallery.

What follows is not a proper review of the exhibition - I would merely like to summarize a few of my observations about the exhibition. As the court of Charles IV was one of the most important artistic centers of 14th century Europe, it is no surprise that the exhibition was full of beautiful, even breathtaking works of art. The highlights for me were some of the reliquaries commissioned by the Emperor, as well as the statues and paintings made for Prague or Karlstein castle. Some monumental works also made it into the exhibition hall, including the tympanum relief with Passion scenes from the north portal of Tyn Church (Prague). Given the partnership with Nuremberg, one of the richest section of the exhibition consisted of works stemming from Nuremberg, including the monumental Waldstromer’s window from the hospital church of St Martha in Nuremberg, which rose over 5 meters high in the exhibition space. Further sections focused on other artistic centers in Bohemia, apart from Prague and Karlstein, as well as on artistic developments in the northern German areas of Brandenburg and neighboring territories. Special attention was given to the French upbringing of Charles, and the influence of Parisian court art at his court - high-quality loan objects illustrated the types of objects likely available in Prague, and one of the last sections focuses on the final journey of Charles to Paris in 1378.

Cat.04.08. - Ewer for the tablecloth
 of the Last Supper
A special section was dedicated to the contemporaries and opponents of Charles IV - however, I felt that rather little attention was given to his Central European neighbors in Vienna, Cracow or Buda. I would like to make a few small observations about objects with Hungarian connections. One of these was a centerpiece of the display of reliquaries: a rock crystal ewer once holding the tablecloth used for the Last Supper. The relic was a gift of Hungarian King Louis the Great before 1350. Some high-quality goldsmith works commissioned by Louis the Great are also on view: a mantle clasp and escutcheons with the coat of arms of Hungary, coming from the Hungarian chapel by Aachen Cathedral. The chapel was established in 1367, and these objects are part of a larger group donated by the ruler. Contrary to the label in the exhibition, Hungarian art historians have long disproved the identification of their makers as the brothers Martin and George of Klausenburg (Kolozsvár/Cluj). Next to these objects the wonderful Fonthill vase was on view (from the National Museum of Ireland) - which is the first documented Chinese porcelain object in Europe. Unfortunately, it has no connection either to Charles IV or the Hungarian Angevin Court - it has long been demonstrated that the object was mounted in the Neapolitan Angevin court (as I summarized it here in this blog a few years ago).

These are minor points. Another issue is a bit more significant - unfortunately, the catalogue of the exhibition has not yet been published. As far as I know, the catalogue is in preparation, and will be published for the second, Nuremberg venue of the exhibition. So far only a guide to the exhibition is available (In English, German and Czech editions), which includes the text of the exhibition labels and illustrations (Emperor Charles IV 1316-2016, Exhibition guide. Jiří Fajt, in cooperation with Helena Dáňová. Prague, 2016, 188 pp.). The exhibition, however, has its own website, and an illustrated visual and audioguide is also available, as well as additional publications.

Cat. 08.11. - Tympanum of Tyn Church, Prague

It should also be mentioned, that at the occasion of the 700th anniversary, a series of other exhibitions were organized in Prague by the Prague Castle. These include an exhibition dedicated to the Cathedral of St. Vitus, with life-size replicas of the famous triforium busts, as well as a display of the burial costumes of Bohemian rulers. Another exhibition focused on royal coronations in Bohemia. Information on these exhibitions is available on the website of Prague Castle.
Cat. 09.06. Panel from Retable of the Virgin, Nuremberg, St. Clare

The main exhibition, now simply titled Charles IV., will be on wiew at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg from 20 October 2016 until 5 March 2017. See also the website of the Haus der Bayerischen Geschichte, one of the co-organizers.

Photos in this blog post come from the websites associated with the exhibition, and linked to above. In addition, I have collected a number of objects included in the exhibition on Pinterest. Some images come with links to fully digitized manuscripts.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Heritage in Danger - A Medieval Copy of the Navicella in Transylvania

Kiszsolna, the church around 2010
In last week's post, I already called attention to the precarious state of medieval churches in Transylvania, especially in the areas previously inhabited by Transylvanian Saxons. Among these areas is the vicinity of Beszterce / Bistritz / Bistrița in Northern Transylvania and also the northern part of the Transylvanian Plain. In many villages here, the German population left Transylvania at the time of the Soviet advance during World War II in 1944, and they never returned. After this, the churches lost their former function and the communities which had maintained them. Although the Orthodox church took over most of the abandoned buildings, the new occupants of these villages often did not take over the churches, but rather built new ones. After decades of neglect, there are now a large number of medieval churches in the area around Beszterce in the final stages of their existence. Vermes (Wermesch, Vermeș) and Sajómagyarós (Ungersdorf, Șieu-Măgheruș, in the Transylvanian Plain) are just two examples of buildings with collapsed roofs. 

At a conference last week, a new research project was announced, aimed at surveying, documenting and studying the churches of Central and Northern Transylvania - the area of the Mezőség especially, but also the region of Beszterce. The research project is coordinated by the István Möller Foundation, and a number of buildings were already surveyed and documented. In several places, restorers also surveyed the walls of the churches, looking for medieval wall paintings, which have not yet been uncovered in these churches.

The most interesting announcement at the conference was made by one of the art historians involved in the project, Szilárd Papp. It concerns the wall paintings of the church of Kiszsolna (Senndorf, Jelna), located near Beszterce. The frescoes have been known for some time, but their true significance was only revealed now - perhaps finally prompting the authorities to action. Some time ago, the roof of the church collapsed, leading to quick decay (even the vault of the nave collapsed). Thanks to weather damage, the plaster peeled off from the walls, revealing frescoes beneath. These were documented, and some details - especially intact heads of figures - were removed and transported to the Bistriţa - Năsăud County Museum back in 2007. A few articles - including a Hungarian-language overview of the church and an English-language study on medieval frescoes of the region - called attention to the find, but to this date, not much has been done to actually save them.

Fresco fragments in the church of Kiszsolna (photo: Kinga German)
The most interesting frescoes are on the north wall of the sanctuary. One scene, in particular, is of great importance: it depicts the Navicella, based on the famous mosaic of Giotto once in the atrium of Old St. Peter's basilica in Rome. This celebrated mosaic is known from a number of later copies. In monumental form, the earliest copy dates from the 1320s, and is in Strasbourg - other 14th century painted copies are in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence as well as in Pistoia. Dating from the third quarter of the 14th century, the fresco at Kiszsolna is the fourth known painted copy of the Navicella from that century in all of Europe. It would be very important to fully uncover and restore it, along with all the other frescoes of the church - the ensemble could likely contribute to the studies of Italian Trecento painting, and thus is not only of a local significance. For decades, we have watched the decay of this - and many other - churches: it is now time to act, before these works of art are completely destroyed. Kiszsolna demonstrates, that even a modest village church can preserve unique and important works of art - it shows that this region of Transylvania still preserves a lot more worth saving and studying.

Fragments of the Navicella at Kiszsolna (note the mast of the ship on top)

Parri Spinelli's drawing of the Navicella, c. 1420 (Metropolitan Museum)
Kiszsolna, a few decades ago
The frescoes these days (Photo: Attila Mudrák)

A fragment of the Navicella scene, now at the Museum of Bistrița
The conference of the István Möller Foundation created quite a stir in the Hungarian press, see this article in Népszabadság, for example. The ruins of the church cannot survive another winter - spread the news, help save the frescoes!
Photos by Szilárd Papp, Kinga German and Attila Mudrák.

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. 

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

Monday, June 22, 2015

A 14th-century antependium from Dalmatia on view at Pannonhalma

In this post, I would like to call attention to a little-known medieval textile object at the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest and also to an important exhibition in Pannonhalma, where the textile is currently on view.

The object in question is a 14th century altar frontal (antependium) with the figures of the Virgin and Child, St Benedict and St. Chrysogonus. Previously it was thought to date from the late 15th century, and it was little studied, but recent research shed light to its origins:  the object in fact dates from around 1360, and originates from the Church of the Benedictine Monastery of St Chrysogonus at Zadar. A Benedictine donor can be seen kneeling next to the throne of the Virgin - probably one of the abbots of the monastery. The antependium entered the Museum of Applied Arts along with the collection of Bishop Zsigmond Bubics at the beginning of the 20th century. Similar altar frontals - mostly made in Venice - are known from other churches in Zadar and in the region. One of these works, known as the Veglia Altar Frontal is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was likely designed by Paolo Veneziano around 1330. That piece comes from the cathedral of Krk in Dalmatia (known as Veglia in Italian). 

If you would like to know more on the altar frontal in Budapest, read a recent study on it by Silvija Banić on

The Budapest altar frontal is currently on view (after a recent conservation treatment) at an exhibition organized by the Benedictine Arcabbey of Pannonhalma. Titled Saint Benedict and Benedictine Spirituality, the exhibition is on view at the new Abbey Museum until the end of September.

The exhibition allows an insight into the 1500-year-long history of Benedictine mentality through assorted works of art from the collections of the Benedectine Abbey of Lavantall, the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, and other museums. The most significant works of art in the exhibition are medieval liturgical objects, including ones which were taken from the treasury of St. Blasien Monastery in Germany to Carinthia after the provisions of Joseph II: a 12th century chasuble decorated with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, and the monumental Adelheid-cross decorated with gems, which had been originally commissioned in the 11th century by the wife of Hungarian king Saint Ladislaus, and  which contains a splinter of the True Cross. 

Adelheid-cross, St. Paul im Lavanttal

I haven't seen the Pannonhalma exhibition and its catalogue yet, but I may yet write a review of it, if time permits - perhaps a comparative review with the recent Benedictine exhibition organized in Prague.

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.

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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Restoration of the wall paintings of Torna / Turňa nad Bodvou

Detail from the Arrest of Christ (cleaned state, 2008)
One of the largest restoration projects in Slovakia was completed in 2014: the restoration of the wall paintings in the sanctuary of the medieval church of Torna (Turňa nad Bodvou). The frescoes, found in 2006, were uncovered starting from 2007, and their full restoration is now completed. I contributed as an external art historical consultant to this work, and wrote a preliminary study about the wall paintings for the scholarly documentation of the frescoes. Although my study has not yet been published, I am now providing here a brief overview of the frescoes and their restoration.

Torna is a medieval village in southern Slovakia, just north of the Hungarian border, not far from the town of Kassa/Košice. In 1357, the owners of the property received permission from the king to build a castle on top of the hill overlooking the village. The castle still dominates the landscape. It was the same family - the Tornai family - who had the parish church of the village built, in the second half of the 14th century. The last member of the family, János Tornai, passed away in 1406, his tombstone stands to this day in the sanctuary of the church. Although the sanctuary of church, intended as a family burial site for the Tornai family, was clearly completed before 1406, it was only decorated some time later, as I will discuss below.

First details to emerge (2006)

Until 2006, a nondescript neo-Gothic ornamental decoration covered the walls of the sanctuary, painted to harmonize with the neo-Gothic main altar of the church. The frescoes were first found on the back wall of the Gothic sitting niches on the south wall of the sanctuary. As research and recovery progressed, it became clear that the entire sanctuary (including the vaults) was once painted according to a unified system. Although the first details to emerge from this painted cycle were very promising, unfortunately it turned out that the decoration is largely lost: large surfaces of the original painted decoration were destroyed during the centuries. The original decoration survived mainly on the eastern walls (behind the altar), on the lower zone of the wall as well as on the window splays. What was once an elaborate narrative cycle on the uninterrupted north wall of the sanctuary, however, is now lost almost without a trace. 

Work in progress (2008)

Still, enough remains from the painted decoration to establish its original arrangement, and surviving scenes attest to the high quality of this decoration. The most significant part of the decoration was a large, multi-zone narrative cycle, depicting the Infancy and Passion of Christ. Only a few of the scenes can be identified today, including the Nativity, and from the Passion: the scenes of Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Arrest of Christ. The scene of the Nativity belongs to the type of representation, in which Mary prays before her newborn son, who is lying on the ground. The region of Gömör county contains a large number of comparable cycles depicting the Life and Passion of Christ - for example Gecelfava/Koceľovce or Ochtina/Ochtiná but the quality of the frescoes at Torna is much higher.

Detail of the Virgin Mary from the Nativity (cleaned state, 2008)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

New medieval exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery

Maria gravida, Vienna, 1409
see in high resolution 
I haven't had time to upload anything here for over a month - but a lot has happened in Hungary in the field of medieval art. I will try to catch up with a series of brief posts. First, I would like to report on the new medieval exhibition of the Hungarian National Gallery, which was completely reinstalled and opened at the end of September. This part of the permanent exhibition focuses on painting and sculpture from Hungary and neighboring areas in the 14th and 15th centuries. Some of the highlights of the collection can be seen here, including two statues of the Virgin of Child from Toporc, the two beautiful statues of female saints from Barka, or a painting originally showing the St. Joseph's Doubt (now cut down to only show the Virgin, see left). The exhibition was reinstalled to focus on the original liturgical context of these artworks, and therefore also includes a number of other liturgical objects - mainly goldsmith works on loan from the Hungarian National Museum. The new exhibition presents the material in a chronological-regional arrangement. The last section includes several complete altarpieces, thereby preparing the visitor for the next section of the permanent exhibition, where the monumental late Gothic altarpieces can be seen. That section has also been slightly rearranged recently, with the new installation of the main altar from Kisszeben.

The new exhibition, which provides a greatly improved space for the objects and a clear narrative for visitors, is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in medieval art. Organized by curator Györgyi Poszler, the exhibition also includes a number of works previously never shown, This was made possible by the continuous work of restorers during the last few decades. Readers familiar with Hungarian are encouraged to consult a new publication by the Hungarian National Gallery, which is dedicated to the most important restorations carried out between 1957-2011. The publication is available online from this link. In addition, you can see selected objects from this part of the collection on the website of the Hungarian National Gallery. The exhibition of Renaissance stone carvings (the area of which was unfortunately partially taken over by the museum shop) was also reinstalled - but the medieval stone carvings are still not on view (following the theft three years ago).

Here are some images of the new exhibition, provided by the Hungarian National Gallery.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Books on Medieval Art in Hungary

Luckily, I am able to report on more and more books published in English (or German) about the art of medieval Hungary. These books make the rich medieval heritage of Hungary available to a wide international audience - especially when we are talking about books published by western publishing companies. The books listed below deal with different aspects of medieval Hungary, and would be welcome additions to any serious library on medieval art.

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

The following description was provided by the publisher:

Visegrád stands out among the medieval sites of Hungary and the royal palace complex can be regarded as one of the most important monuments for the artistic and architectural production of the royal court during the period of the late Middle Ages. The size and the complexity of the palace would in itself ensure that the Visegrád royal residence became one of the principal sites of Hungarian medieval archaeology.

The palace was continuously built, altered and enlarged for two hundred years, and emerged as a sophisticated complex of dwelling rooms, spaces of status display, ecclesiastical buildings (royal chapel and Franciscan friary), kitchens, workshops, storage buildings, gardens, loggias, balconies and fountains. Its ruination was also a long process that took three hundred years. Although this slow process caused immeasurable damage, it also helped to preserve the traces of medieval life in the monument, which in case of buildings continuously inhabited are usually swept away by modern use and later architectural changes. The Visegrád Palace, however, was not used by anyone after the Middle Ages. Its ruined buildings were not utilized for any other purpose, and so the later alterations were minimal. Its rediscovery, excavation and reconstruction has been a task of twentieth and twenty-first-century archaeology and heritage protection, and the monument provided an opportunity to study a medieval complex almost undisturbed. The excavations at the Visegrád Palace also served as one of the most significant steps in the development of medieval archaeology in Hungary.

This volume is the first comprehensive monograph on the archaeological investigations, objects, finds, reconstruction and restoration of the palace complex published in English. It is also a revised, extended and in some other parts compressed version of a volume published in Hungarian in 2010. It offers a summary of the previous and recent excavations since 1934 and the interpretation of the palace in its European archaeological and art historical context. It also contains the functional analysis of the palace complex and the discussion of the interactions between the residence and the Franciscan friary. Some chapters focus on the most important group of finds (pottery, stove tiles, worked bone material, etc.) along with their detailed catalogue.

Ivan Gerát: Legendary Scenes : An Essay on Medieval Pictorial Hagiography. Bratislava : Veda, 2014.

Published by the Institute of Art History in Bratislava, this beautifully illustrated book provides an overview of biblical and hagiographical scenes from late medieval painting from the northern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary, providing new insights into the art of the period.The introduction of the book gives an overview of the topic of the book:

"This book is devoted mainly to scenes from the lives of saints in panel paintings originally produced in the northern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary in present-day Slovakia. The form these pictures took and their rôle in cultural life was determined by various processes concerning the whole of Christian Europe. Research into these pictures necessarily crosses both modern and historical political boundaries. Around 1500 panel paintings enjoyed great popularity across Central Europe. Carefully elaborated pictures of violent or miraculous events from the lives of the heroes and heroines of the faith were placed primarily on the wings of altar retables. [...] Prior to the work of the Reformation, these pictures played a central rôle in religious and social life. They articulated many of the problems and tensions of the period, which was marked not only by internal disputes in the Christian countries, but also by growing conflict with the Ottoman Empire, which resulted in the resounding defeat of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1526 at the Battle of Mohács."

Kinga German: Sakramentsnischen und Sakramentshäuser in Siebenbürgen.  Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2014.

Kinga German's book provides an analysis and overview of 145 Late Gothic sacrament houses and sacrament niches from Transylvania, along with a catalogue of all these monuents. The analysis deals with the function of these micro-architectural elements in the context of Eucharistic worship in later medieval Transylvania. The book - based on the author's doctoral dissertation - provides the first detailed survey of these monuments. 

A look at the contents and the inside of the book is available on the website of the publisher (pdf).

Ana-Maria Gruia: Religious Representations on Stove Tiles from the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Cluj-Napoca, Mega, 2013.

This book, which is based on the author's doctoral dissertation defended at the Central European University in Budapest provides an iconographical analyisis of late medieval stove tiles from the Kingdom of Hungary. It is the first detailed analysis of the subject, arranged according to themes, and accompanied by a catalogue of several hunders of monuments.

The author has previosly also published a number of articles on the subject, especially in Studia Patzinakia - see for example in vol. 5, 2007 (pdf).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Treasury of Gyöngyös parish church opens to public

The Treasury of the medieval parish church of Gyöngyös, dedicated to St. Bartholomew, reopened for visitor at the beginning of July. The Treasury - one of the richest in Hungary, after the treasuries at Esztergom and Győr cathedrals - has important medieval holdings as well. Most important in this respect are the seven late medieval chalices made around 1500, probably in a workshop in Upper Hungary, all decorated with a special filigree ornament.

The recent history of the treasury is quite interesting: the treasures were hidden in 1944, and were only recovered in 1967. The objects were later put on display, but a number of them got stolen in 2012. These five Baroque objects were soon recovered by the police, but unfortunately, in a dismembered state. However, as of now, all of the objects are on view in the newly created exhibition room in the parish building, the so-called Szent Korona House. In addition to the chalices, the Treasury also includes a number of other medieval objects, as well as a large number of Baroque liturgical objects, including reliquiaries, monstrances and church vestments. A number of paintings, sculptures and a significant library round out the collection. Visitors can also see two specialised conservation workshops (for goldsmith works and for textiles). More information can be found on the new website of the parish (which is still being developed). You can also read more about the recent history of the treasures in this article (in Hungarian).

Source of images: here and here.