Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mapping Eastern Europe Website Launched

The North of Byzantium initiative has launched a new open-access digital project – Mapping Eastern Europe – intended to promote the study, research, and teaching about the history, art, and culture of Eastern Europe between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries among students, teachers, scholars, and the wider public.

Mapping Eastern Europe gathers a multitude of specialists – early career and senior scholars who have either already published or are currently researching new topics – to supply original online content in English in the form of historical overview, art historical case studies, short notices about ongoing projects, and reviews of recent books and exhibitions. 

This platform aims to stimulate new research and outreach focused on the networked regions of the Balkan Peninsula, the Carpathian Mountains, and further north into early modern Russia, which developed at the crossroads of the Latin, Greek, Slavic, and Islamic traditions during the late Middle Ages and early modern periods. This a very wide focus, and so far most of the resources on the website are related to Byzantine and Post-Byzantine art - after all, the North of Byzantium initiative focuses on art and culture of the northern frontiers of the Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe. The website has a map-based interface to browse overview, notices, and book reviews and it will be continuously updated. Already in this early phase, there are a number of pins in the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary as well.

Mapping Eastern Europe is made possible through generous support from the “Rapid Response Magic Project of the Princeton University Humanities Council”. Co-founders and editors are: Maria Alessia Rossi and Alice Isabella Sullivan.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Croatia and Hungary. 800 Years of Common Heritage

Chest of Saint Simeon in Zadar, 1377-1380

The coronation of  King Koloman as King of Croatia in 1102, an act which established the Hungarian-Croatian personal union, was one of the formative events of the Middle Ages for the region. Starting from this point, the two countries were ruled by the Hungarian Kings - although control over the Dalmatian coast was lost for long periods to the Republic of Venice. Currently, and exhibition is on view in Zagreb to illustrate highlights of the common history of the two countries. This joint project of the Hungarian National Museum and the Galerija Klovićevi Dvori (Zagreb) will be shown in Budapest at the end of the year as well. The goal of the exhibition project is to present the Croatian-Hungarian cultural and cultural-historical relations in a broad and illustrative context, thus strengthening the feeling of belonging together in the two nations. The exhibition is divided into eight chronological and thematic chapters, starting with the Middle Ages and continuing with the Renaissance period. Later on, in the early modern times, heraldic representation of the Croatian-Hungarian state community was somewhat special, the relationship of the partner countries manifested in many different ways. In the Baroque era, the veneration of the Hungarian holy kings was lively in both countries. Several examples from the iconographic program and liturgical objects of the Zagreb Cathedral are showcased to highlight this common cult. A special unit is dedicated to the most emblematic family of the era, the Zrínyis/Zrinskis. Their activities in the spirit of dual patriotism left an indelible mark on the culture and art of the two countries. Other sections focus on more modern periods. 

Gianfrancesco da Tolmezzo: Crucifixion with Hungarian saints. Zagreb, 1505

A virtual exhibition was also created to present chief objects. The virtual exhibition, currently consisting of 60 objects, guides the visitor - partly chronologically and partly thematically - through the representative spaces of the Hungarian National Museum, the Dome, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Fireplace Halls. CLICK HERE to start the virtual exhibition, then select the English language version.

Virtual exhibition of the Hungarian National Museum, 2020

Monday, August 24, 2020

10 Years of the Medieval Hungary blog

Chronicler from the Illuminated Chronicle, c. 1360

I started this blog 10 years ago, in August 2010. Originally, the idea was to try another platform, in order to provide up-to-date information - information that was hard to provide on my rudimentary website Art in Medieval Hungary. I created the first incarnation of the website in 1998, and by around 2005, it existed in its current form, with frequent updates until about 2011. Incredibly, the website is still up and running (although I no longer have access to update it). Both the website and the blog grew out of the frustration that there is almost no information available about the art of Medieval Hungary in the current English-language scholarship. One of the largest and most stable kingdoms of medieval Europe is usually just a vast empty expanse, a terra incognita in survey works and overviews of medieval art. I can identify at least three reasons for this: first, the medieval Kingdom of Hungary collapsed after the 1526 battle of Mohács and the 150 years of Ottoman rule that followed in much of the country had disastrous consequences. The central areas of medieval Hungary and its culture along with it were obliterated in this period, and even greater destruction took place at the time of the sieges of re-conquest in the seventeenth century and during the rebuilding and modernization after. Coupled with the well-known effects of the Reformation on medieval ecclesiastical art, there are vast areas of Hungary where there is almost nothing left from the medieval period (at least as far as visual arts are concerned). 

Neither destruction nor modernization affected each part of Hungary equally. The outer areas (with the exception of the southern border), in particular preserved a large part of their medieval heritage, including countless churches still in use. And here we come to the second reason: following the Treaty of Trianon after WWI, these regions are no longer part of Hungary, as they were ceded to newly-formed states. Today the great majority of important medieval sites from the medieval Kingdom of Hungary are found in the neighboring Central European states - especially in Slovakia and Romania (Transylvania). And here we reach the third obstacle: language. Most literature on the art of medieval Hungary is written in Hungarian - but there is also significant literature in Slovak and Romanian, not to mention the languages of all the other countries bordering Hungary. Also, most places have at least three names in the literature - a Hungarian name, a name in the language of modern nation-states, and a German name - creating a lot of confusion at times. 

When it comes to the first two historical factors, there is not much we can do about them - we just have to be aware of these factors when writing about medieval Hungary, and deal with them as best as we can. However, there is an easy way to fix the third factor: more publications are needed in English and German about medieval Hungary. As such publications were few and far between, I felt the need for this blog, to provide timely information about the research of medieval Hungary, and to call attention to new publications in more accessible languages. 

Detail from the Legend of Saint Ladislas, at Homoródkarácsonyfalva (Crăciunel, RO)

In the ten years since I've started this blog, the situation has improved considerably. Most importantly, a new English-language survey book is now available on the subject, providing up-to-date information.  There is also a growing number of English-language books both by Hungarian and international publishers on various aspects of medieval Hungarian art. To get an overview of new publications, please consult the detailed annotated bibliography I wrote for Oxford Bibliographies in Art History. It is a rather comprehensive bibliography on Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary and can be consulted online (with a valid institutional subscription). You could also just click on the new books tag, to find the most important new publications right here on the blog. Museum databases (such as the Museum of Fine Arts/Hungarian National Gallery, the Hungarian National Museum, or the Christian Museum in Esztergom) and library collections of medieval manuscripts (see especially the new database of the Bibliotheca Corviniana) make a lot of material much more readily accessible. Thus it is much easier for English-speaking scholars to find information about the art of Medieval Hungary than it was a decade ago.

Nevertheless, you can still expect updates on medieval art here on the blog, so please keep following here or on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

An Antonio Tempesta rediscovered in Budapest

The following news does not have much to do with medieval art in Hungary, but it is a very significant discovery made at a Hungarian museum - specifically, at the Museum of Applied Arts, where I work - and I believe that the story is of interest to readers of this blog. So here it goes - the text below is based on the research and exhibition texts of Miklós Gálos, curator of the exhibition:

A rare, two-sided painting by Antonio Tempesta was rediscovered and restored at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. The painting was painted on lapis lazuli, a rare and precious stone from the Middle East, which is the raw material of ultramarine, the marvelous deep blue color of paintings. This prestigious semi-precious stone was used by Antonio Tempesta, a painter active in the early 17th-century Rome, as support of paintings made for aristocratic patrons. Tempesta’s paintings on various types of stone are real curiosities. Only three paintings on lapis lazuli survived – one of them is housed in the Louvre in Paris, the other has recently been published by Alberto and Alessandra di Castro (the work is in private collection).

Another of them – a hitherto unknown lapis lazuli painting by Tempesta – was discovered in one of the storage areas of the Museum of Applied Arts some years ago. This work actually consists of two paintings: both sides of this thin, scarcely one-millimeter thick, translucent slab present scenes from the Old Testament. One side shows the Creation of Eve, and the other the Crossing of the Red Sea. Both depictions demonstrate a perfect collaboration between nature and art. The stone slab used as support is not painted on the entire surface, therefore, its color and patterns form an integral part of the depictions. The boundaries between the natural patterns of the stone and the artist’s work are imperceptible. The frame, with its mother-of-pearl inlays, is also unusual because of its complicated, contrived image field.

Antonio Tempesta: Crossing of the Red Sea (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest)

In January 2016, the artwork was discovered in a ruined state in one of the storage areas of the Museum of Applied Arts. The inlays of the broken frame were missing, and the stone support had been shattered with some pieces lost. Plaster infills made up a fifth of the painted surface. The shoddy inpainting on the plaster areas created a sharp contrast to the artistic quality of the original. The object did not appear in the museum’s inventory. During the next few years research managed to shed light on the provenance of the painting and later its deletion from the records. Fortunately, it was possible to determine the identities of the painter and, with considerable certainty, the original commissioner of the work. Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the Museum of Applied Arts’ Friends of the Museum, restoration was also carried out. The restoration of the lapis lazuli panel and the paintings on both sides was carried out by Ágnes Kuna. The frame was restored by Mária Szilágyi of the Museum of Applied Arts. As a result, this once-forgotten work of art has now regained its former glory. 

Antonio Tempesta: Creation of Eve, during and after restoration (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest)
Now, the results of this work are presented to the public, in the form of a temporary exhibition at the György Ráth villa. Besides Tempesta’s painting, the exhibition includes some goldsmith works which, just like Tempesta’s painting, are examples of the fusion of an object of nature and an exceptional product of artistic talent. Like the Tempesta painting, the goldsmith works are from the former collection of Miklós Jankovich, a renowned Hungarian art collector of the early 19th century.

A detailed publication of the newly discovered Tempesta paintings - including a reconstruction of its history - was published by Miklós Gálos in volume 32 of Ars Decorativa, the Yearbook of the Museum of Applied Arts.

Miklós Gálos: An Antonio Tempesta Rediscovered in the Collection of the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, Ars Decorativa 32 (2018), 7-36.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

In memoriam Paul Crossley (1945-2019)

Paul Crossley, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London has passed away on December 11th, 2019. Dr. Crossley was an eminent scholar of Gothic architecture - perhaps best known for the second and much expanded edition of Paul Frankl's Gothic Architecture in the Pelican History of Art series (Yale, 2000). He has made a significant addition to the study of medieval art, primarily through his research on Central European Gothic architecture. He completed his PhD on medieval architecture in Poland, and his book on fourteenth-century Polish Gothic Architecture in the Reign of Kasimir the Great was published in 1985. In addition, he also published extensively on Gothic architecture in Prague at the time of Charles IV.

Paul Crossley did not publish much about medieval Hungary but was very knowledgeable about it as well. I had a chance to meet him on several occasions, the most memorable of which was when he opened the 2006 exhibition dedicated to Emperor Sigismund, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The text of his opening speech was published in The Hungarian Quarterly (No. 182, 2006), and can be downloaded from this link - the issue also includes an overview of the exhibition by Ernő Marosi. The speech was also published in Hungarian in Élet és Irodalom (2006. April 7), and I am making it available below. Let me quote a characteristic passage from the original English text of Dr. Crossley:
In my experience, Hungary had always been the eminence gris of later medieval European art—a country of exquisite, but mysterious culture. When I was a student in Cracow, many years ago, my Polish Professor, when asked about a particularly exquisite late medieval or early Renaissance object in Poland, would reply, with hushed wonder: “Ah, that is Hungarian”. But how, or why, or when it was Hungarian always remained a mystery. Now, thanks to this spectacular exhibition Sigismundus. Rex et Imperator, Hungary’s vital contribution to the international “court culture” of later medieval and early Renaissance Christendom has been magnificently recognized.

Paul will always be remembered as a kind, enthusiastic and funny colleague, and a great champion of Central Europen Gothic art. He will be greatly missed.

Hungarian translation of the opening speech of the Sigismundus - Rex et Imperator exhibition, 2006

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Romanesque Stone Carvings Found at Borosjenő Castle

New finds of Romanesque stone carvings were presented by the László Teleki Foundation earlier this week. The carvings were found during reconstruction work at the castle of Borosjenő (Ineu, Romania) in 2016 and 2019. The carvings most likely come from the abbey church of Dénesmonostora, which was located near the castle and was abandoned by the early 16th century. The stone carving were found in walls of the castle dating from the 1530s-1540s. These carving now provide some context from the lone capital decorated with a siren, which had been at the Hungarian National Museum since the 1870s.

The finds shine some light on the rich architecture and culture of a chain of Árpádian era monasteries established along the lower Maros river valley - an area that played a key role in the transportation of salt from Transylvania towards the plains. Perhaps Bizere is the most famous monastery in this region, which had been excavated during recent decades - and which is discussed in an important conference volume on monastic life. More recently, excavations were started at the Cistercian monastery of Egres as well. Dénesmonostora was established for the Augustinian canons, at an unknown date before 1199. 

Siren from Borosjenő (originally Dénesmonostora), Hungarian National Museum

No research on the castle of Borosjenő had been carried out since it was rebuilt in the 1870. The building stood empty since 2004, and the municipality is currently working on rebuilding the castle. Already during the surveys carried out in 2016, it was discovered that the walls incorporate a large number of pre-1200 stone carvings used as building materials. At that time, 9 early carvings were recovered. In 2019, with support of the Rómer Flóris Plan, another 14 smaller or larger stones were found, and dozens more were documented within the walls. This work was carried about by Zsolt Kovács and Attila Weisz, art historians from Cluj.

Borosjenő (Ineu) castle, awaiting restoration

The stone carvings are mainly capitals and bases of columns, decorated with various vegetal carvings in Romanesque style. They most likely date from around the middle of the 12th century, and are very important because from this region nothing similar has been found so far - now these finds can be analyzed through comparisons with carvings from such important ecclesiastiacal centers as Székesfehérvár or Pécs. The excavation of the site of the former monastery is also planned for the near future, which would certainly help place these objects in context.

A final remark: earlier this year I published a brief study on the churches of the Augustinian canons in Hungary, where Dénesmonostora was mentioned, but I could not say much about its church. As these investigations will continue, we will certainly know more about the canons regular in Hungary as well, an order which played an important role in the 12th century monastic reform in Central Europe. 

Photos by Attila Mudrák, used with permission of the László Teleki Foundation.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Monument Protection Archives Reopen in Budapest

Viktor Myskovszky's drawing of the Saint Michael chapel
 at Kassa (Košice, SK)

The national system of monument protection has been through many changes in Hungary during the last few years: have a look at the diagram on the website of the institution to get an idea. I did not report on every step of this process (the most recent overview dates from almost three years ago)  - which led to the complete closing of Hungary's National Office for Cultural Heritage. While day-to-day tasks of heritage protection are carried out by various ministries and government offices, the care of the rich archives of the national office was uncertain for some time.
Finally in 2017, the Archives were handed over to the Hungarian Academy of Arts. This institution is now called Hungarian Museum of Architecture and Monument Protection Documentation Centre. The Academy took care of moving the collections to a new, temporary location, where now they have been made accessible again. As indicated by the name, part of this collection is that of the Hungarian Museum of Architecture, which is also supervised by the Hungarian Academy of Arts.

The Monument Protection Document Service represents the most significant collection of archival material for the study of the historic Kingdom of Hungary. Material accumulated at the archives since 1872, the foundation of the Temporary Committee for Historic Monuments, and it covers the entire territory of the Carpathian basin. All the documentation of the major restorations carried in Hungary during the last decades of the 19th century can be found there, along with documents surveying monuments of the land. During the 20th century, material continued to accumulate there.

The Document Service consists of the following parts:
  • Historical archives - this is where all the documentation is kept, along with correspondence
  • Collection of plans - plans and drawings are kept here, along with a super-important collection of watercolor copies of medieval wall paintings
  • Photo repository - the largest collection of historic photographs of Hungarian monuments
  • Library - Hungary's most important library specialized in monument protection, restoration, etc.
Copy of wall painting at Mártonhely (Martjanci, SLO) by István Gróh

The English page of the website of the institution provides more information on the holdings. The reason for this post is to announce that as of December 2, 2019, the Monument Protection Documentation Services are once again accessible for researchers. This at least is good news. This might be a good point to mention that all of the earlier publications of the National Office of Monuments Protection are available online in the database. 

Romanesque stone carvings from Pécs cathedral, photo by Péter Gerecze