Showing posts with label architecture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label architecture. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

New books on Hungarian medieval art

As this blog  is aimed for an international audience, I  generally only write reviews of  books published in English or other western languages. However, in this post I would like to call attention to a few books published mostly in Hungarian last year.


János Eisler: Kis könyv a Szent Koronáról (Small book on the Holy Crown of Hungary). Budapest, 2013

This monograph, written by an art historian - a long-time curator of the Museum of Fine Arts - is a welcome addition to the literature on the Crown of St Stephen. Not too much in detail has been written about this unique object in recent years - a basic bibliography is available on my webpage dedicated to the Hungarian coronation insignia. Unfortunately, the subject of the crown has been hijacked by authors far removed from the framework of scholarship, putting forward one crazy theory after the other about the supposed age and power of the crown. János Eisler, however, concerns himself with the actual historical, political and theological questions of 11-12th century Hungary: the period when the crown was created. I am looking forward to reading it.
More details on the publishers website.



Középkori egyházi építészet Erdélyben - Medieval Ecclesiastical Architecture in Transylvania, vol. 5. Edited by Péter Levente Szőcs. Satu Mare, 2012.

This is the fifth volume in a series of conference proceedings, edited by Péter Levente Szőcs, and published by the County Museum of Satu Mare. As was the case with the previous volumes, the subject matter ranges from Romanesque architecture to late gothic church furnishings, in this case from four-lobed Romanesque churches to the rood screen of the parish church of Szeben/Sibiu and the wall paintings of Segesvár/Sighisoara. One study I found particularly interesting is Radu Lupescu's analysis of the western portal of the Church of St. Michael in Kolozsvár/Cluj, featured on the cover of the book. The studies are published in various languages: Hungarian, Romanian, English and French, with summaries generally in English. The list of studies can be consulted here. The book was published with the support of a EU-funded Hungarian-Romanian cross-border research project, about which you can read on the project website (Patronimium2).



A szórvány emlékei (Monuments of the diaspora). Ed. Tibor Kollár. Budapest, Teleki László Alapítvány, 2013.

This is another, much more lavishly produced book on medieval architecture in Transylvania. The book aims to publish medieval churches which had been abandonded by their original builders (Hungarians and Transylvanian Saxons) in southern Transylvania, due to historical circumstances. In addition to architecture, the book also focuses on medieval wall-painting, mainly on newly discovered monuments. The books makes available a whole new set of material for researchers of medieval art, not just in the studies but also in the large number of brand new photographs. The book was edited by Tibor Kollár, who became known as the organizer and editor of a series of books on Hungarian medieval architecture. The contents of the present volume are listed (in Hungarian) on the publishers website. My study in the book can be read here (a summary is available right here on the blog).





Közös tér - Közös örökség. Common space - Common heritage. Edited by József S. Sebestyén. Budapest, 2013.

This bilingual book documents the results of a long-term project funded by the Hungarian government, aimed at restoring monuments of mainly medieval Hungarian architecture from regions outside of the borders of modern Hungary. In ten years an amount of roughly 7,5 million dollars was spent on restoring approximately 300 architectural monuments related to Hungarian cultural history. Subsidies were mainly directed towards archeological studies, professional conservation, restauration and preservation efforts, but also included at times funding earmarked for making future use of monument buildings possible. This book, which grew out of an exhibition series, present this work, seeking to offer a glimpse into the wealth of architectural monuments bearing witness to the cultural history of centuries past.



Dániel Pócs: Didymus-corvina - Hatalmi reprezentáció Mátyás király udvarában (The Didymus Corvina - Representation of power at the court of king Matthias Corvinus). Budapest, 2013.

Dániel Pócs, one of the researchers who participated in the organization of last years Florentine exhibition dedicated to art at the court of Matthias finally published a book based on his doctoral dissertation, the subject of which is political iconography at the court of Matthias. The starting point of his analysis is one of the most splendid manuscripts commissioned by the king, the Didymus Corvina (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.496). The book is an important addition not only to Corvina-studies, but also to art history of the Matthias period in general. An earlier study of Pócs on the manuscript is available in English as well: Pócs, Dániel: "Holy Spirit in the Library. The Frontispiece of the Didymus corvina and neoplatonic theology at the court of king Matthias Corvinus", in: Acta Historiae Artium, 41, 1999/2000, pp. 63-212.



See some of  the other books I reviewed or reported on previously:


Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Church of St. Elizabeth at Kassa/Košice - Review of a monograph

Kassa, Church of St. Elizabeth, southern facade 

In recent years, western scholars have shown a much welcome interest in the art of medieval Hungary. In the past the vast majority of studies were published by Hungarian scholars in Hungarian only, thus having little influence beyond the Hungarian-speaking world. Recognizing the problem, art museums in Hungary some time ago began publishing works in at least one other language besides Hungarian – a relevant case in point is the catalogue of the 2006 Sigismund-exhibition, published in German and French versions as well. Recently, more and more monographic works have been published in English or German – primarily by Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian scholars, but also in increasing number by people for whom this is not native territory. The most recent sign of this is the monograph of Tim Juckes on the church of St. Elizabeth in Kassa (Košice, Kaschau, SK), which is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation defended at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He has already published a number of studies about the subject, but now the results of his research are published by a major publisher in the form of a 292 page long monograph. Hopefully, this publishing activity – including the future work of Tim Juckes as well – will eventually lead to a point where this part of Europe will no longer be a terra incognita on the map of medieval Europe.

West facade of the church in the 1846 monograph of Henszlmann
One of the challenges in Hungarian medieval art history is the fragmentary evidence. To get a clear picture a considerable amount of reconstruction is needed. The term “reconstruction” applies in every sense of the word, as much of medieval Hungary and its built heritage were obliterated by the occupation of a large part of Hungary by the Ottoman Turks in 1541. Even greater destruction took place at the time of the sieges of re-conquest in the seventeenth century and during the rebuilding and modernization that took place after. Although the Church of St Elizabeth in Kassa escaped the destruction of the Turkish wars, the original monument was all but obliterated during the late 19th century purist renovation. Thus even here, the first task of the art historian is to virtually reconstruct the original building – this time back to its true medieval stage, which was quite different from that constructed in 1877. 

There is no question that the church of St. Elizabeth, the second building of the parish church of Kassa, is one of the most important surviving medieval churches in the Kingdom of Hungary. The importance of the church has been long recognized: it was the subject of the first book ever written on Hungarian medieval art: Imre Henszlmann’s 1846 study on the medieval churches of Kassa. When Henszlmann first wrote about the building, the late Gothic style of its construction period was seen as an aberration from the classical Gothic standards or, at best, as a preparatory phase for the Renaissance. This led to two mistakes: an early dating of the building which had very little to do with historical reality, and also a drastic rebuilding at the end of the 19th century, according to “true principles of Gothic architecture” (1877-1896). This view of late Gothic art changed only in the early twentieth century with the recognition of the autonomous development in Northern art and with the emergence of the concept of the Sondergotik in German-Austrian scholarship. At this time Kassa, which in 1920 ended up outside the borders of modern Hungary, also received more and more attention, as one of the better preserved medieval urban centres, by both Hungarian and Slovak scholars.
Plan of the church before the restoration


However, the period of King Sigismund (1387-1437) did not enter the focus of research until 1937, when Henrik Horváth completed the first extensive intellectual and artistic history of the age of Sigismund. After World War II, large-scale excavations and reconstruction work carried out in medieval towns such as Sopron and Buda demonstrated the cross-border connections that existed between various Central European centres. Examples include the role of members of the Prague Parler workshop on the church of Our Lady and the royal castle at Buda, or the influence of Viennese ateliers in towns in north-western Hungary like Pozsony [Bratislava, SK] and Sopron. It was only in the 1970s-80s that the importance of the Sigismund period was truly recognized. At that time, more and more attention was paid to the Kassa’s international connections as well. Although the church and its history has been the subject of a lot of research, the medieval building of the church has never been the subject of a monograph until the present work by Juckes. Closest to a monograph is the series of studies by Ernő Marosi, which, however, never appeared in a book form. The selection of this topic by Juckes – likely suggested by the advisor of his dissertation, Paul Crossley – is thus much welcome.


In this new monograph, Tim Juckes first surveys the documentary evidence and the historiography of the church of St. Elizabeth, before embarking on a new analysis of the building and its history. The structure of the book is clear and logical: it helps us to understand the medieval building, virtually restoring it from beneath the layers of 19th century transformations. The first chapter provides an overview of the 19th century rebuilding of the church as well as a brief survey of previous scholarly literature and opinions on the structure. After this the time machine is turned on, and we travel back to the 14th century, to study the history of the town and its parish church, based on a careful analysis of written sources, urban topography, patronage and building lodge. We then start to move forward, following the chronology of construction.





Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Route of Medieval Churches

Baktalórántháza
Fresco of Christ
Two years ago, I already reported on the Route of Medieval Churches project, which focuses on medieval monuments in North-Eastern Hungary, and neighbouring regions of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, which now lie in Romania and the Ukraine. The project has been going ahead during that time, and by now reached another important milestone. This means first of all the publication of an all-new volume, which focuses on medieval churches in the north-eastern region of medieval Hungary, much of which now lies in the Ukraine (the region of Carpatho-Ukraine). The book, titled Medieval Churches from the Tisza valley to the Carpathians has been published both in Hungarian and Ukrainian versions. It treats several well-known monuments, such as the 13th century rotunda of Gerény with its 14th century fresco cycle, as well as a number of newly discovered medieval monuments, including a large number of medieval wall paintings. All of this is the result of research carried out during the last three years, coordinated by the editor of the book, Tibor Kollár. The publication joins the earlier volume, which focused on medieval monuments of historic Szatmár county. PDF-versions of both publications can be downloaded - in Hungarian. It is worth to do so simply for the all-new illustration material contained in these volumes.


Another new result of the project is a completely rewamped new website, which is available in several languages. The website outlines the goals and results of the entire EU-funded touristic and research project, and gives detailed information about the medieval churches of the region. Start browsing in English - it is definitely worth it. Check out such famous gems as the church of Csaroda, long thought to be the most characteristic medieval church from the Arpadian period (before 1301), but now dated to the early 14th century. Have a look at it twin edifice in Transcarpathia, the church of Palágykomoróc - where last year frescoes painted by a workshop known from Csaroda were found. Explore the church of Ákos, the most significant Romanesque monastery church in Eastern Hungary, or the little-known church of Nagybégány.
But most of all, go an explore the region in person - thanks to this EU-project, there is plenty of information available to organize such a trip. As an inspiration, I am including here a few photos taken during my most recent trip in the region.

Ákos, late 12th century church

Friday, July 20, 2012

New books on art in medieval Hungary

I've recently written brief reviews of several English or German language books about the art of medieval Hungary - including the conference volume published by Villa I Tatti on Italy and Hungary in the Early Renaissance or Evelin Wetter's book on late medieval goldsmith works from Hungary. I am happy to report that two new books in English have been published on the subject - both will be treated in more detailed reviews later on. For now, I would just like to inform my readers about these important contributions, both by young researchers, to the study of medieval art in Central Europe.


The first book is part of the »Studia Jagellonica Lipsiensia« series: Emese Sarkadi Nagy: Local Workshops - Foreign Connections. Late Medieval Altarpieces from Transylvania. Ostfildern, 2012. 


Here is the brief description: Altarpieces are complex works expressing the intellectual, economic and cultural life of a country. This comprehensive volume provides in-depth art-historical and historical analysis of various groups of winged altarpieces in Transylvania, especially the areas inhabited by Saxons. A complete catalog of the surviving Transylvanian altarpieces and lots of color pictures document this important chapter in European history and make this book an indispensable reference work.




The other book was published by Brepols Publishers: Tim Juckes: The Parish and Pilgrimage Church of St Elizabeth in Košice Town, Court, and Architecture in Late Medieval Hungary. Turnhout, 2012.


One of the most important building projects in late medieval Hungary was the reconstruction of the parish and pilgrimage church of St Elizabeth in Košice (present-day Slovakia). The burghers of this prosperous, free royal town decided to rebuild their main church shortly before 1400, and work continued, with several interruptions, into the late fifteenth century. Along with the ambitious and unusual design that emerged, far-reaching artistic connections with centres such as Prague and Vienna ensure the church’s exceptional value for architectural history – not only within Hungary, but in the Central European region as a whole.


It is this value as an art historical document that the present work seeks to exploit. It approaches the church’s fabric as a source of information about patrons, masons, and congregations, attempting to locate the dynamics behind design choices made. This necessitates a detailed reconstruction of the building enterprise itself, before the focus shifts to the impact of the St Elizabeth’s project both in northern Hungary and further afield (Transylvania, Lesser Poland), allowing the town lodge’s remarkable achievements be set in inter-regional context.


More information on both of these books is coming soon here on the Mediaval Hungary blog!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Medieval University of Pécs

General view of the site north of the cathedral
Photo: muemlekem.hu 
Hungary's first university was founded in 1367 at Pécs, with faculties of philosophy, law and medicine (no theology). The university was created by the bishop of Pécs, Vilmos (William), with royal support and by a decree of Pope Urban V. The university was short-lived: already in 1395, King Sigismund created a new insitution at Óbuda, and the school at Pécs stopped working some time in the early 15th century (the University of Óbuda was unsuccessful, too). It is believed that the buildings of the University were located on the north side of cathedral, where in the 12-13th centuries the bishop's palace was erected. Indeed, excavations carried out there in 1980s unearthed a large Gothic building, built on the remains of an earlier, Romanesque structure. The topography of this area, however is rather complicated: among other structures the remains of a 14th-century chapel: the so-called Gilded Chapel of Our Lady (mentioned as such in a charter of Pope Boniface IX in 1401: capella deaurata beate Marie Virginis), founded by Bishop Nicholas (1346-1360). Remains of the chapel and the university dissapeared during the Ottoman Turkish conquest and the wars ensuing (Pécs was occupied in 1543).

The chapel and other remains on the north side of the cathedral were unearthed by Mária Sándor between 1978-1987). Among the most important finds on the site were the extraordinarily fine statues stemming from the former chapel. After this for many decades, the remains of the buildings stood under temporary roofs, while the sculptural fragments from the chapel languished in storage at the local county museum. There were many attempts to make the site accessible, but there was never any money for it - not even during preparations for 2010, when Pécs was European Capital of Culture (when a new visitor center was built for the Early Christian ruins, also located near the cathedral).

Fragment of a stone retable from the Gilded Chapel of Our Lady
 Last year, however, something finally happened - there was a brief new archaeological campaing to clarify some questions, and it was announced that the site will be opened to the public by this year. Along this process a lot of additional medieval architectural fragments have been recovered in the area, especially inside the later walls encircling the complex.

The area is now managed by the Hungarian State Holding Company, and a significant amount was set aside for the erection of a new protective building for the remains of the university and the chapel. In June it was announced that that the university building is ready for visitors, apart from some minor internal restoration tasks. The walls of the medieval fortress structure surrounding the cathedral complex have also been strengthened and a new walkway is being created around them. The opening of this area is scheduled for September, 2012. With this step finally the whole cathedral complex will be accessible to visitors, together with the very rich holdings of medieval sculpture and other remains. I wrote briefly before about the cathedral and the adjacent Cathedral Museum, which holds the Romanesque sculptures from the cathedral. The new area will make accessible the equally significant Gothic remains of Pécs.

Glimpse inside the new museum building at the site
Photo: muemlekem.hu 



Additional reading:
Reports on a research project coordinated by Mária Sándor in 2001-2006, dedicated to the remains of the university and the chapel (with bilbiography).
The MA Thesis of Veronika Csikós, submitted at CEU Budapest in 2008, can be downloaded from the website of the University. The thesis deals with the statues of the Gilded Chapel of Our Lady.


More information is available in Hungarian at the following sites:

Report on the discovery of carved stones last year, in the online heritage magazine, Műemlékem.hu.
Report on the new excavations at the chapel, on the online journal for medieval archaeology (Archeologia - Altum Castrum Online Magazin), maintained by the Visegrád Palace Museum (with a more detailed report by Gergely Buzás, a PDF-file with lots of images).


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Inaugural Lecture of András Kovács at HAS

András Kovács at Szászrégen (Reghin), 2009

65 year old art historian András Kovács will deliver his inaugural lecture to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences tomorrow, on October 20th (he is an external member of the Academy). The title of his lecture, to be delivered in Hungarian, is: The Gyulafehérvár palace of the Princes of Transylvania.

András Kovács's primary field of research is the architecture of 16th-17th century Transylvania. Based on a careful reading of the sources (many not even studied before) and a detailed analysis of existing building and their ruins, he fundamentally altered our knowledge of this period - the new overview of the field is now provided by his magisterial survey of the period (Késő reneszánsz épí­tészet Erdélyben 1541-1720, which is available online, either chapter by chapter or as a full pdf-version). He also wrote on medieval architecture, in particular about the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).



András Kovács is professor of Art History at the Babeș-Bolyai University at Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), and during the last twenty years he has raised a new generation of Hungarian art historians in Transylvania. His pupils have just dedicated a volume of studies to him: the 23 studies represent that high level of scholarship and keen attention to detail that he always required of himself and of his students. (Liber discipulorum: Tanulmányok Kovács András 65. születésnapjára. Edited by Zsolt Kovács, Emese Sarkadi Nagy, Attila Weisz. Kolozsvár, 2011.) This in itself shows the success of his work, not to mention everything that he did in order to preserve historic monuments and to organize the field of Hungarian-language art historical research in Romania. An (incomplete) list of the publications of András Kovács can be consulted on the University's website as well as in the Transindex database (with some further works available online), and also on the website of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

With this brief post, I, too would like to congratulate András Kovács, and look forward to hearing his lecture tomorrow!






Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Reims, Naumburg - and Hungary?

This week an international art history conference is commencing in Naumburg, in conjunction with a major exhibition dedicated to the Naumburg Master. The exhibition - which is still on view until the beginning of November - is accompanied by a monumental catalogue, published in two volumes, and in over 1500 pages. Titled “The Naumburg Master - Sculptor and Architect in the Europe of Cathedrals“, the Saxony-Anhalt State Exhibition focuses on "the sculptors and stonemasons associated with the name “Naumburg Master“ [who] had an outstanding reputation throughout medieval Europe." The main topic of the catalogue is the French origin of the so-called Naumburg Master, with special emphasis on the impact of the Reims cathedral workshop on Central Europe (there is an entire chapter dedicated to the effects of Reims, with 9 studies - see the contents here). This is not a review, and the following is only based on a cursory study of the book. 



I think that a broader examination of direct connections of Central European artistic centers with the main sites of High Gothic art in France would have been necessary. In this context I definitely would have liked to see at least a few passages about medieval Hungary. Due to dynastic, personal and other, as yet untraced connections, a number of Hungarian monuments from the 1220s and 1230s are directly connected to the most fashionable monuments of French High Gothic. A few examples: in the early Gothic Cistercian Abbey church of Pilis, the tomb of Queen Gertrude (killed in 1213) was erected in the 1220s by a master hailing from Chartres or Reims. The tomb is one of the earliest examples anywhere of the combination of the Roman type sarcophagus and the medieval gisant. Another tombstone from Pilis, this time of a knight, gives the impression of being a two-dimensional, drawn version of the most fashionable High Gothic statues at Chartres. At about the same time, Villard de Honnecourt was also in Hungary (and likely at Pilis), coming directly from Reims - but it is not known what exactly he did here.


Pannonhalma, Porta Speciosa
Detail from the archivolt
Furthermore, the final section of the Benedictine Abbey church of Pannonhalma, consecrated in 1224, would have been unimaginable without the cooperation of builders and stone carvers trained in Champagne (Reims). The Porta Speciosa there (also completed by 1224) was also carved by this group of masters coming from Reims. The masters who worked on the vaulting of the nave as well as the building of the southern wall and portal must have been in residence in Hungary at the same time as their compatriots were working on the Capella Speciosa in Klosterneuburg.

Other churches of that exact period, such as the Church of St Stephen protomartyr in Esztergom or the Cathedral of Kalocsa also followed French Gothic prototypes. Now, much of this is largely destroyed (except for Pannonhalma) - but stone carvings, statue fragments survive in large number. Much of this material has been published extensively in German, English and French, in international catalogues and journals, as well as in many Hungarian publications. Authors such as Ernő Marosi, Imre Takács and Tibor Rostás wrote extensively on the “French connection”.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Exterior restoration of the Abbey Church of Lébény

Scaffolding at Lébény 
On my way to Vienna today (where my main goal was to see the exhibition on the medieval plans of the Stephansdom), I stopped at the Romanesque Abbey church of Lébény. Some alarming news emerged about the condition of the building in recent years, as photos on this Hungarian website also attest (click for 'more pictures'). Well, by now, work is well under way on the exterior restoration of the building, and almost the entire edifice is covered by a scaffolding. Heavy rain and wind prevented me to explore the building more closely, and there is also very little information available online on the ongoing restoration. Main tasks include a consolidation of the facades and the renovation of the roof of the edifice. They are also restoring the old parish building, with the intention of creating a new museum there. Work will go on throughout the summer.

Lébény, south portal 

The Benedictine Abbey of Lébény was officially founded in 1208, and it is believed that the church was  completed within a short time. Benedictine life went on with varied intensity during the Middle Ages, until the church was burned by Turkish troops in 1529, as they were marching towards the siege of Vienna. The vault of the nave was not even repaired until the Jesuits took over the church in 1631. Those knowing the history of the region will not be surprised to read that the Turkish army burned the church again in 1683, en route to another failed siege of Vienna. The building was again fixed up by the Jesuits, and finally underwent major renovation during the 1870s. 

The church of Lébény before 1872

Despite all these events, the church of Lébény can be regarded as one of the most intact Romanesque churches of Hungary. The fact that the church is still standing after 800 years is also due to those Italian stonemasons, who were sent there to dismantle the church at the time when the Ottoman Turks were advancing towards Győr. The stones of the monastery would have been needed to to repair the fortifications of Győr - but the masons did not carry out the job, saying the Lébény was the most beautiful church they have ever seen.

You can judge for yourself by looking at photographs at the following links:

Hungarian summary of the church's history from the catalogue of the Pannonhalma exhibition on Benedictines in medieval Hungary (click on "Fotó" at the bottom of the page)

Finally, here are some details of the stone carvings of the western portal seen from the lower levels of the scaffolding.




Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Route of Medieval Churches in Szatmár county

Csengersima,  parish church 
A major research project, aimed at surveying and documenting the churches of medieval Szatmár country, was completed last week, and its results are now largely available on the web. As the territory of medieval Szatmár country is today divided between Romania and Hungary, the research project was a joint Hungarian-Romanian one, funded by the EU. The project documented a large number of medieval churches, including some only known from excavations. The area preserved some important medieval buildings, such as the Romanesque basilica of Ákos (Acâş), but most surviving buildings are small medieval parish churches.

The project consists of the following main elements: Mapping out a thematic route of medieval churches in the Hungarian-Romanian border area (in historic Szatmár county), which is the first common thematic route of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg and Satu Mare counties. This route is supported by very useful and informative material: maps, brochures and on-site information. The route includes 30 medieval churches - 20 of them located in the Hungarian county of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, while another 10 in the Romanian country of Satu Mare. 


A brand new website was also developed, which contains all the necessary information about the route and the churches. This website is available in Hungarian, Romanian and English versions. English readers should maybe start on this page. The website - even though the English-language texts are only summaries of the Hungarian versions - provides ample information in English on the medieval buildings of the region, and is thus highly recommended.
Csenger, parish church 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fortified Saxon churches of Transylania

Birthälm (Berethalom/Biertan) 
The southern part of Transylvania has been populated by settlers from various (mainly the westernmost) parts of Germany, generally termed Saxons in medieval and more recent sources (you can read their history here). These Saxon settlers built some of the most urban settlements of Transylvania - cities such as Kronstadt (Brassó/Brasov), Hermannstadt (Nagyszeben/Sibiu) or Schässburg (Segesvár/Sighisoara). The villages of that region largely preserved their medieval structure to this day, and most are dominated by large medieval churches. Over the course of the 15-17th centuries,  as the territory was under constant threat by the Ottoman Empire, these churches were all fortified - some built into veritable castles. Transylvanian Saxons became Lutheran during the 16th century, thus these churches preserved much of their medieval treasures - including altarpieces, goldsmith works, liturgical textiles, Turkish rugs - to this day. These days, more and more frescoes are also coming to light from under the whitewash in these churches. Owing to the mass exodus of Transylvanian Saxons to Germany during the 1980s-1990s, many of these churches are out of use today, some completely abandoned. However, more and more is done to preserve this rich heritage. The churches of the region of Hermannstadt have been put on the watch-list of the World Monument Fund, while seven churches and the historic center of Schässburg are on the Unesco World Heritage list. International conservation efforts have been quite successful in some cases, as with the Church on the Hill in Schässburg, and Prince Charles has taken an interest in the region, buying property there.

Malmkrog (Almakerék/Malancrav) 

In this post, I would like to call attention to a website aimed at documenting the Saxon churches of Transylvania. The website Fortified Churches provides information on the region in five languages, with photo galleries of many of the churches (browse them under Locations). It is well worth a visit - although the best of course is visit the region in person, something I can highly recommend.

(Pictures in this post are from the Fortified Churches website. See also my earlier post on Abandoned medieval churches in Transylvania).

Saturday, March 05, 2011

New medieval art websites, IV.

This is turning into a regular feature of my blog - once again I collected some wonderful new websites on medieval art. I learned about most of them on Twitter (you can find a number of excellent Tweeters just by clicking on my list of Medieval Art - or if you don't like Twitter, check out the Medieval Art Weekly, an automatic paper created from tweets on this list). Other websites I found on the Facebook page dedicated to Medieval Art. So, here are the recommendations for March, most related to medieval manuscripts:

Oxford, Bodleian Library. 
Ms Douce, 134. fol 98 

Medieval Imaginations: Literature and visual culture in the Middle Ages is a database coordinated by Faculty of English of Cambridge University. It has been online for some time, and it is an ongoing project. I am quoting from the main page: "Medieval Imaginations provides a database of images to enable you to explore the interface between the literature and visual culture of medieval England. It has been compiled to provide images corresponding to the main episodes dramatized in the English Mystery Plays, because these present the medieval view of human history from the Creation to the Last Judgement. The images are mostly of English origin and from the later Middle Ages, with an emphasis on material from East Anglia, one of medieval England's most dynamic regions."




Getty, Ms. Ludwig XV 3.
Fol. 89v

Stories to watch: Narratives in Medieval Manuscripts is a website of a new exhibition at the Getty Center, Los Angeles (February 22 - May 15, 2011). The exhibition focuses on narrative images and storytelling in medieval manuscripts. The website also has a nice interactive feature, where the gospel narrative from a prayer book can be studied.









München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,
Cgm 1952  
Treasures of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 3D. More and more medieval manuscripts can be studied in digital format. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is now offering something more: 3D digital versions of some medieval manuscripts. You can virtually turn the pages, and even turn the book upside down or spin it. Its the kind of thing one often sees in new exhibitions, on touchscreen computers - where the real thing is in a showcase nearby. Browsing books like this at home, however, is really not all that useful - although fun, at first. The application is slow, pages often tend to turn the wrong way, zooming is quite limited, etc. I'll take an old-fashioned digital facsimile any day instead of this - luckily, the BSB has plenty of those!


It is more fun to look at virtual buildings in 3D - and that is precisely what you can do at the Catedral - Libro de Piedra website. It is a web application providing a virtual tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and its museum, through new technologies. If you are interested in more details, this website describes the making of this web application.







The last site to be mentioned today is not only about medieval art - it is a general listing of art history websites, especially blogs. As stated in the overview, "the Art & History Database (AHDB) is an ongoing collation of information on art and history resources on the web". The database offers search capabilities, as well as a list of websites. You can read more about AHDB on the Three Pipe Problem blog of its creator, H Niyazi.







Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New medieval art websites

In this post I would like to call attention to a number websites dedicated to medieval art. I was inspired to do this by the latest post on the blog 1100sor (1100lines) of Gábor Endrődi - a very informative Hungarian blog on Medieval and Renaissance art. The websites below are recommended not only to specialists - although they are wonderful resources for art historians - but to everyone interested in medieval art in general. They all provide stunning images of major monuments of Gothic art.

Etampes, Collégiale Notre-Dame-du-Fort
Mapping Gothic France - This wonderful websites provides information, images and virtual panoramas of Gothic churches in France. Initiated by Stephen Murray, Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and Andrew Tallon, Assistant Professor of Art at Vassar College, the website was developed by the these two institutions. With a database of images, texts, charts and historical maps, Mapping Gothic France provides parallel stories of Gothic architecture and the formation of France in the 12th and 13th centuries, considered in three dimensions: space, time and narratives. Still officially in beta version, the website is already a treasure-trove of information.




Stained glass from Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
(CVMA GB)
Vidimus - The only online magazine dedicated to medieval stained glass. The online magazin Vidimus is celebrating its fourth year with an annivesary issue - No. 45. Vidimus has a regular news section dedicated (mainly) to medieval stained glass, also listing various medieval exhibitions and new publications. The monthly features - including the Panel of the Month - are short articles dedicated to individual monuments or specific topics (this month to the Fifteen Signs of Doom window in the Church of All Saints, North Street, York and to Jan Gossaert and Stained Glass). I would also recommend the Corpus Virtearum Medii Aevi (GB) website and picture archive (c. 17.000 images). CVMA GB are the publishers of Vidimus.


Haltadefinizione - A website with high resolution images of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. Haltadefinizione provides a gallery of extremely high definition images of the greatest treasures in the history of art, mainly of Italian Renaissance paintings (Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Bronzino, etc.). The main reason for  including it here is the latest addition to the site: a virtual tour of Giotto's Cappella Scrovegni in Padua. You should set the presentation to full screen, and then you can look around in the interior of the chapel (like in any other virtual tour) - then select any part of the frescoes to arrive at a very high resolution image of it. Wonderful (despite the watermark appearing on the images).



Codex Manesse
Heidelberg, UB CPg 848
Two very important Gothic manuscripts are currently exhibited in Leuven and in Heidelberg: The Anjou Bible in Leuven ("a royal manuscript revealed") is on view until December 5, 2010, while the Codex Manesse is exhibited in Heidelberg in the context of the The House of Hohenstaufen and Italy exhibition in the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums Mannheim until 20th February 2011. Both manuscripts are available in superb digital facsimile versions on the web: the Anjou Bible in a special book viewer (the English commentary for which is in preparation), where every illuminated page can be studied and zoomed, and the Codex Manesse in the Digital Library of the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg - with an image of every folio. These two, roughly contemporary 14th-century manuscripts are true highlights of the art of illumination, and browsing these digital editions is highly recommended to everyone.




Seen any good new medieval art websites? Let me know in a comment!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Abandoned medieval churches in Transylvania

The Calvinist church of Marosszentimre (Sântimbru) in Transylvania 

I would like to start this post by a poem written by my grandfather, Zoltán Jékely, in 1936. The translation included here is by Bernard S. Adams.1


A marosszentimrei templomban

Fejünkre por hull, régi vakolat,
így énekeljük a drága Siont:
egér futkározik a pad alatt
s odvából egy-egy vén kuvik kiront.


Tízen vagyunk: ez a gyülekezet,
a tizenegyedik maga a pap,
de énekelünk mi százak helyett,
hogy hull belé a por s a vakolat,


a hiúban a denevér riad
s egy-egy szúvas gerenda meglazul:
tizenegyedikünk az árva pap,
tizenkettedikünk maga az Úr.


Így énekelünk mi, pár megmaradt
- azt bünteti, akit szeret az Úr -,
s velünk dalolnak a padló alatt,
kiket kiirtott az idő gazul.


In Marosszentimre Church

As crumbling plaster falls upon our heads,
Thus we the praises of dear Zion sing:
Beneath the pews mice scurry from their nests,
An ancient company of owls take wing.


We in the congregation number ten,
Eleven if we reckon in the priest,
But when we sing, we sound a hundred men.
Down pour the plaster and the dust;


The bats are startled in their attic roost;
Worm-eaten rafters weakened even more.
Eleventh is our solitary priest,
The twelfth among us is the Lord himself.


And so we sing, the few that still remain
—The Lord exacts a price from him that loves—
And those whom wicked time from us has ta’en
Join in our psalmody beneath the floor.




On its most simple level, this poem expressed what is an ever-growing problem of abandoned churches in Transylavania. In several areas of Transylvania, Hungarian population has drastically decreased in a process which had speeded up since the middle of the 19th century. After the Treaty of Trianon (1920), when Hungary ceded Transylvania to Romania, this process reached a dramatic scale, especially in southern Transylvania (the area around Gyulafehérvár cathedral, on which see my earlier post). In a place like Marosszentimre, where my grandfather could write about a Calvinist congregation of ten people, today there is practically no Hungarian congregation. Unlike Hungarians, the Romanian population is Eastern Orthodox, and they have built their own new churches in Marosszentimre and similar places. As a result, there are a number of virtually abandoned medieval churches throughout Transylvania. Managed by the Hungarian Catholic or Calvinist churches, sometimes there is no money for even the most basic maintenance of these structures, and with no locals to carry out simple repairs, many of these churches are virtually on the brink of collapse. The Romanian government or its monument protection agency similarly pays little attention to these places.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Conference on medieval ecclesiastical architecture in Transylvania

The monastery church of Ákos (Acâş),
the most important Romanesque monument
 of Szatmár County
This coming weekend, on October 8-10, 2010, an international conference will be dedicated to medieval ecclesiastical architecture in Transylvania. Jointly organized by the County Museum of Satu Mare (Romania) and the Museums of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County (Hungary), the conference will be held at Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare). Speakers will include noted archaeologists, art and architectural historians both from Romania and Hungary. Topics include mainly Romanesque and Gothic church buildings and medieval wall-paintings. I uploaded the program of the conference, you can read it by following this link.



The present conference is the 7th in a series started in 1997. This long tradition and the international nature of the conference makes it one of the most important forums to present new research on medieval art in Transylvania. Another important factor is that the conference papers are published in bilingual (sometimes tri-lingual) publications. So far, four volumes have been published, and volume V is currently in preparation.

You can reach these books, and many other publications of the County Museum of Satu Mare on a website they dedicated to monuments of the county.

Here are the direct links to the individual volumes:
Volume II (2002)
Volume III (2004)
Volume IV (2007)
(Volume I is not available on the website, but you can find the contents of it in the database of the Regesta Imperii Opac).

Finally, if you would like to know more about the monastery church of Ákos (pictured above), visit the database of architectural monuments on the same website. All information is available in English, Hungarian and Romanian.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

1000 years of Gyulafehérvár Cathedral


Western facade of Gyulafehérvár cathedral
Survey by Márton Sarkadi and Tamás Emődi, 1996 
In 1009, King Stephen I decided to create a new bishopric, with jurisdiction over the territory of Transylvania. The seat of the bishopric was established at Gyulafehérvár (Karlsburg, Alba Iulia) and the first cathedral, dedicated to Saint Michael, was erected during the 11th century. The first cathedral was replaced with a much larger Romanesque cathedral, construction of which started at the end of the 12th century, and was for the most part completed before the Mongol invasion of 1241. At that time the town and the church was sacked and burned. Just as soon as repairs were made, the Saxons of nearby Szeben (Hermannstadt, Sibiu) sacked the town again in 1277. Two very important contracts dating from 1287 an 1291 detail the repairs undertaken at this time, with the latter date indicating completion of the entire edifice. These dates at the same time also underline the significance of this building: apart from smaller expansion and the addition of chapels, the building as it stands today originates from the 13th century. This makes Gyulafehérvár the only cathedral building to have survived from the Árpád-period - well, in fact, from the Middle Ages at all. (Other cathedral cities - including Esztergom, Kalocsa, Pécs, Veszpém, Győr, Vác, Eger, Várad - were in the territories occupied by the Ottoman Turks. To get an idea of their fate, see my previous post on the destruction of the centers of medieval Hungary).

The main body of the church is that of the Romanesque building, although the western part of the nave was vaulted in the 14th century. The two side apses, opening from the transept, are also from this period, while the original main apse has been replaced with a much longer early Gothic apse, built during the 1270s. Chapels on the north side (Lázói and Várdai chapels) originate from the early 16th century, and the monumental south tower also dates from the Gothic period. The building has suffered more during the last few centuries than it could be summarized here (significant dates of damage include 1438, 1565, 1601, 1603, 1658, 1849) - yet it still stands today and serves as the center of the Hungarian catholic church in Romania.

The building underwent major renovation at the beginning of the 20th century. The work, which was led by István Möller, was not fully completed by 1918, when Gyulafehérvár became part of Romania. More recently, several campaigns of restoration have been carried out during the last fifteen years, in preparation for the millennial celebrations of the bishopric. During this period, a large amount of archaeological and art historical research was carried out, the results of which are now largely published.
In this post, I would like to call attention to these publications.

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.