Thursday, December 01, 2022

The Island - Saint Margaret and the Dominicans (new exhibition in Budapest)

A new temporary exhibition opened at the Budapest History Museum, dedicated to St Margaret and the Dominican monastery on Margaret Island. The story and fate of Saint Margaret, the thirteenth-century saintly princess, has always captured the imagination of people interested in history. The exhibition offers visitors a selection of artifacts never before exhibited anywhere. The occasion for the exhibition is the 750th anniversary of Margaret's death in 2020, and the fact that in the last two decades our knowledge of the religious institution that was the home of the young princess of the Árpád dynasty has increased considerably. This is primarily thanks to the research of Eszter Kovács, who passed away in 2018 and who had carried out several small-scale excavations in the area of the Dominican monastery. This is how the fragments of wall paintings, probably dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, were found, which are on display for the first time in this exhibition.

Margaret, the daughter of King Béla IV, was born in 1242 at the time of the Mongol invasion.  We know that she was brought up as a child in the Dominican monastery in Veszprém, which had been founded shortly before, and at the age of 10, she was transferred to the monastery on Margaret Island, which her parents had built. During her canonization process, the testimonies of her contemporaries, recorded in 1276, tell of her dedicated, sacrificial, and self-sacrificing lifestyle, her unending faith in Christ, and the miracles that took place in her life and at her tomb. Margaret's role model was her aunt, the sister of Béla IV, St Elizabeth of Hungary, who was canonized as early as 1235.

Despite all attempts and royal support, Margaret's canonization was not achieved in the Middle Ages. It was her brother, Stephen V, who was the first to attempt this: but neither he, nor Ladislas IV, nor their successors from the House of Anjou were successful. We don't know exactly when she was elevated to the Blessed, but there are many records of this from the 15th century and we also know of many medieval depictions of Margaret. Her cult in Hungary developed soon after her death: she was buried in front of the main sanctuary of the Dominican church, and later an ornate white marble sarcophagus was made for her body, with reliefs depicting her miraculous deeds. Based on her oldest legend and the canonization records, further versions of the legend were written, and a Hungarian-language version was produced at the end of the Middle Ages. The veneration of St Margaret has been almost unbroken over the centuries. Her relics and bones were taken to Pozsony (Bratislava) by the nuns in the 16th century to escape the Ottoman threat. Most of the bones were lost in the 18th century, but perhaps her most famous relic, her penitential belt, has survived, and its ornate reliquary box and an authentic replica of the medieval object can also be admired in the exhibition. Also on display is the funerary crown of King Stephen V (Margaret's brother), also buried on Margaret Island, from the collection of the Hungarian National Museum, the discovery of which in 1838 marked the start of systematic excavations of the monastery ruins.

Funerary crown of King Stephen V (Hungarian National Museum)

Thanks to the excavations, the extent of the former monastery and its church is well-known, and it has been possible to reconstruct the most important phases of its construction. Among the spectacular results of the recent research are the fragments of wall paintings, most of which can now be seen by the public for the first time thanks to the restoration work of Eszter Harsányi. Wall paintings have been found in several parts of the monastery, including the small room where the staircase leading from the monastery to the nuns' choir was located in the late Middle Ages. The colorful pieces of plaster fragments preserving halos and faces hint at the relationship of St Margaret and her fellow nuns to images: her legend describes the role of Calvary images and other representations in her prayer and contemplation. 

Imitation marble painting from the monastery building

Ignác Roskovics: Saint Margaret (for the Royal Palace)

When the nuns were forced to flee from the Ottoman attacks in the sixteenth century, the monastery complex became abandoned. It was only used during sieges, for example as a field hospital during the recapture of Buda in 1686. The greatest destruction, however, was not caused by the wars, but by the landscaping of the island in the 19th century, when the owner of the area, Archduke Joseph of Austria, had it turned into an English garden. Like so many other monuments of the Hungarian Middle Ages, our image of the Dominican monastery on Margaret Island must be pieced together from small fragments. The current state of research on Saint Margaret and her cult was presented at a conference organized jointly by the Apostolic Congregation of the Dominican Sisters, the Károli Gáspár Reformed University, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, while the Budapest History Museum has collected the material relics essential for the reconstruction. The exhibition will allow us to recall the figure of Saint Margaret and the monastery where she spent most of her life and which became the center of her cult.

The curator of the exhibition is Ágoston Takács. This text is based on the speech I gave at the opening of the exhibition on November 17, 2022. The exhibition is on view until March 19, 2023.

Zsombor Jékely speaking at the opening ceremony - Photo by Magyar Kurír

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The oldest dated roof structure in Transylvania and some 14th-century frescoes at Magyarvista

A press conference was dedicated to the church of Magyarvista (Viștea, Romania) at the László Teleki Foundation, to announce the result of recent investigations inside the medieval church of the village. The following overview is written on the basis of the press release. The Calvinist church of Magyarvista in Cluj County is one of the most famous medieval monuments in Transylvania and the area of Kalotaszeg. The stone-built, single-nave, square-apsed building with a Romanesque western doorway was probably built at the end of the 13th century. The first documentary mention of the village dates back to 1229, and in 1291 it became the property of the Transylvanian bishopric as a royal donation. The church is richly decorated with painted woodwork, the outstanding features of which are the converted late Gothic priest's chair, the coffered ceiling above the nave supported by a beam and a wooden column, the pews, the doorways of the south and west entrances, the altar, the pulpit, and the pulpit crown. An 18th-century belfry rises next to the building, the oldest bell in it dating from 1487, from the time of Matthias. During the last year the exterior masonry of the church has been strengthened, plastered and the roof structure repaired, as has the belfry.

The building's hidden treasures had been highlighted by several research findings: in 1913, István Gróh documented in watercolor copies ten scenes of mural paintings located in the nave (they could not be restored and displayed at the time), and in 1935, semicircular foundation walls were found within the demolished sacristy, which may be part of a demolished medieval round church. One of the scenes copied by Gróh was found in 2008 on the south wall of the nave, and next to it, on two sides of the south-east corner, two related, previously unknown scenes were revealed: a three-figure Crucifixion and an image of St Longinus with an attendant. The wall painting on the south wall, depicting a storm-tossed ship of pilgrims, dates from around 1400, while the images in the corner date from the early 14th century. It has also been found that the painting of the corner was originally placed under a canopy and formed the decoration of an altar there - there are very few similar canopied altarpieces from medieval Hungary.

In 2022, with the support of the László Teleki Foundation, the uncovery of the mural paintings in the semicircular triumphal arch continued, and art historical research was also carried out. In this context, it was suggested that the interesting stone frame of the southern entrance and the square sanctuary are not Romanesque but late Gothic, as confirmed by some analogies of the frame of the sacristy door, and that the ribbed vault with the 1498 inscription on the keystone of the sanctuary is not the result of a later intervention, but this whole structure was, in fact, built at that time. 

The excavation of the mural revealed a scene of the Annunciation on the eastern wall above the triumphal arch: on the left, a fragmentary figure of the Archangel Gabriel and the Lord, and on the right, a small detail of the standing figure of Mary can be discerned. The Annunciation, arranged on the right and left sides of the triumphal arch, has many foreign and local analogies: Palermo, Cappella Palatina, Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George's Church, Padua, Scrovegni Chapel, Karaszkó, Disznajó, etc. The scene belongs to the plaster layer of the early 14th century.

The research on the inside of the triumphal arch was also a surprise: the upper fragment of the figure of the Maiestas Domini, set in a mandorla in the center, was preserved: its continuation was on the vault of the demolished original sanctuary, which was much smaller than the one we have today. Thus, the fragment of the mural also proves that the present sanctuary is secondary compared to the nave. The figure of Christ was accompanied by the symbols of the four evangelists, two of whom, the eagle (John) and perhaps the angel (Matthew), the latter holding an open book, partially survive. The book's minuscule inscription is partly legible and contains a line from John's Revelation.  The painting continued on the side wall with the gallery of the apostles, of which 2-3 figures have been preserved, among them St Andrew can be recognized from the X-shaped cross. 

Stylistically, the mural paintings of the triumphal arch are in a style well known in Transylvania, usually called Italo-Byzantine without distinction. Analogies appear in many other places: Csíkszentimre, Felvinc, Boroskrakkó, Szék, Ördöngösfüzes, etc. Although this spectacular style is called Italo-Byzantine by some scholars, because of its widespread use it is more correct to speak of a Central European Gothic tendency using the Italian tradition of the Duecento period. The exact dating of the wall paintings of this group is (was) problematic, as no historical data, inscriptions or other information of any kind was available for any of the buildings, so the dating of the monuments oscillated in the literature from the 1310s to the 1340s. For this reason, the restorer's observation that the plaster of the fresco was in contact with the ceiling and, through it, the roof, was of particular importance. Dendrochronological analysis of the wooden elements of the ceiling can ideally be used to date the mural with annual (or even seasonal) precision, which can provide a post quem (later than ...) date for the mural. With the support of the László Teleki Foundation, this very important study was carried out, which revealed that one of the trees of the structure, which can be dated precisely, was cut in the winter of 1329-30 so that the construction of the structure could have taken place as early as 1330, and the wall paintings cannot be earlier than that. This date applies to the central beam supporting the wooden ceiling as well as the wooden pier in the center of the nave. Some parts of the original roof structure also date from this period. This information puts a secure dating to the Magyarvista wall paintings, and also to the entire circle of monuments

The dendrochronological research was carried out in the autumn of 2022 by the Anno Domini Dendrolab team from Csíkszereda, on the initiative of the wall painting restorers and art historians who were researching in the church. The study and subsequent laboratory analysis proved that the longitudinal central beam and the carved column supporting it in the nave date back to the 14th century, from the years 1329-30. The ring analysis of the beams built into the stone gable walls and of some elements of the present mid-17th century roof structure also indicated that the nave itself and its earlier roof structure were built at this time. In this case, the dating is year-specific, with oak felled in the winter of 1329/1330 being used for the former roof structure.

The dendrochronological research shows that the wooden roof of the nave and the former roof structure of the church in Magyarvista, as well as the column and the master beam supporting them, were built in 1330, making it the oldest surviving roof and slab structure in Transylvania, according to our present knowledge. The 14th-century roof structure can most probably be reconstructed on the basis of elements reused from the earlier structure when the present roof was built, but further field research and measurements are needed. 

This discovery of particular importance encourages further research into wall painting, dendrochronology, archaeology, and art history, which we hope will take place in 2023. Hopefully, we will still get to see one day the fresco decoration of the church of Magyarvista.

Research and restoration of Magyarvista were done by Lóránd Kiss, Zsolt Sólyom, Melinda Filep, Janka Melinda Oláh, Károly Sipos (wall painting restoration, Imago Picta, Târgu Mures), Boglárka Tóth, István Botár, Denis Walgraffe (dendrochronology, Anno Domini Dendrolab, Csíkszereda), Attila Weisz (art history). Text by Loránd Kiss, Boglárka Tóth, Attila Weisz. Photos courtesy of Attila Weisz.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

The Age of the Árpád Dynasty - The missed opportunity of the Székesfehérvár exhibition

The year 2022 marks the 800th anniversary of the issuance of the Golden Bull by King Andrew II.  Issued at the 1222 Diet held at Fehérvár, the Golden Bull is one of the cornerstones of the medieval Hungarian constitutional system and its anniversary created a perfect opportunity to organize a major exhibition dedicated to Hungary's first ruling house, the Árpád Dynasty. Such an exhibition has been planned for at least a decade and curators at the Hungarian National Museum have prepared a proposal for a major exhibition with international loans. In 2017 government support came, along with the decision that the exhibition should be held at Székesfehérvár, to mark the anniversary of the Golden Bull and to inaugurate a newly renovated museum building belonging to the King Saint Stephen Museum. Curators were appointed from both institutions and the long work of securing loans and preparing a catalog was began. At the beginning of 2019 a new government-funded institution, the Institute of Hungarian Research started its operations. The Minister of Human Resources (in charge of cultural affairs) delegated this Institute to the consortium preparing the exhibition. Work continued and the scheduled date of opening was nearing - although the renovation of the Székesfehérvár museum building was not yet completed.

Installation view

Then late in December of 2021, Miklós Kásler, Minister of Human Resources - in agreement with the newly appointed director of the Hungarian National Museum, László L. Simon - announced in an email that the appointment of the curators (Etele Kiss, Ágnes Ritoók, and Erika Simonyi of the Hungarian National Museum) is being withdrawn, and Miklós Makoldi of the Institute of Hungarian Research is appointed as the new curator of the exhibition. Making such a move three months before the opening of a major exhibition is quite surprising even in Hungary and naturally, a scandal broke out. Given the fact that Miklós Makoldi, an archeologist without a doctorate and any relevant museum-related expertise was about to take over the results of three years of work by a team of experienced museum curators, many scholars decided that they no longer wish to participate in such a project. In the end, 25 scholars signed an open letter, withdrawing their contributions from the catalog of the exhibition (which was already nearing completion). In this situation, many people doubted that the exhibition could be opened at all. In the end, the exhibition - titled Kings and Saints, The Era of the Árpád Dynasty - opened on March 18, 2022, in a former monastery turned into a museum at Székesfehérvár. Due to the circumstances, however, the result amounts to a monumental missed opportunity.

The Monomachos Crown (Hungarian National Museum)

Let me explain in detail. Makoldi, the new curator of the exhibition, had no chance or time to change the concept of the exhibition. He only modified three rooms of the exhibition, mainly to remove references to the non-Hungarian population of medieval Hungary (including Carolingians and Slavs from the first section dealing with the Hungarian conquest and a chapter about Muslims, Jews, and various Eastern nomadic people living in the Kingdom of Hungary). You can read the explanation of the Institute and see for yourself. In any case, the new curator worked with the original synopsis and object list - taking over other people's work, if you will. However, the original concept could not be realized. Several important loans did not make it to Székesfehérvár (the Cross of Adelheid from Lavantall is one such object mentioned in the press, but there are many others). It is hard to tell what role the scandal played in the case of missing loans - I think the venue in Székesfehérvár may also have played a role in this. Not the address itself, but the fact that the museum building in Székesfehérvár was completed just a few weeks before the opening of the exhibition, so lenders could not verify that it is up to international standards needed for sensitive objects. 

Lehel's horn from Jászberény

Enklopion from Maastricht
The exhibition mounted with the remaining objects still contains many highlights and presents a good overview of Árpád-age Hungary. According to the original concept, the objects are arranged in 17 sections, ranging from the period of the Hungarian Conquest to an overview of saints from the Árpád Dynasty. The website of the exhibition (a work in progress at the time of writing) lists the chapters. Many of the highlights - the Monomachos Crown, the crown with lilies from Margaret Island, or some stone carvings - come from the Hungarian National Museum. There are important objects from Székesfehérvár and other Hungarian museums (such as the Lehel's horn/olifant from Jászberény).  A number of recent archaeological finds - such as a reliquary and other finds from Pétermonostora - are on view. There are numerous foreign loans as well: the sword of Saint Stephen from Prague, stone carvings from former monasteries now located in Serbia or Romania, important manuscripts from various libraries, a flag with the double-cross of the Árpád Dynasty from Bern, or even the tombstone of the Blessed Elisabeth of Töss, daughter of King Andrew III (from the Landesmuseum in Zürich). True highlights, such as the 12th century double cross in the Dommuseum of Salzburg and especially the highly sophisticated 13th-century court goldsmith works (the Zaviš-cross, the cross made from diadems in Cracow or the Bern (Königsfelden) diptych) are sadly missing from the exhibition. Granted, such loans are extremely hard to secure and not all of these objects were even envisioned in the original scenario of the exhibition - but such an exhibition is a one-time chance in a generation and this chance was sadly missed. 

A display of stone carvings

The exhibition also does not take advantage of being in Székesfehérvár. Although there are references to the royal basilica dedicated to the Virgin - the coronation church and most important burial place of Hungarian kings - the actual site of the church was closed at the time of my visit (although supposedly it is open daily from April 1st). The highly important Árpád-period stone carvings from this church remain largely inaccessible - a museum scheduled to become their new home will open only by the end of the year.

Finds from Pétermonostora

Moreover, it is obvious that the new curator and his team scrambled to put the exhibition together in the three months at their disposal. As there is no list of the exhibition team, it is hard to tell who did what, but two weeks after the opening day, the exhibition looked half-finished. All the rooms are darkly lit (even rooms with stone carvings and goldsmith objects), the object labels are quite impossible to read and some of them are even missing. Some key objects are placed in dark corners or close to the floor, or at the back of large showcases. The larger exhibition graphics are unnecessary and badly designed in general: a section of the Bayeaux tapestry stands in to illustrate 11th-century battles in Hungary, the Legend of Saint Ladislas from the Hungarian Angevin Legendary was adapted to a graphic of a fake medieval stained glass window series, some kings lifted from the 14th-century Illuminated Chronicle are mislabeled, etc. There is no explanation for the complete lack of any information in English in the exhibition. There are some interactive video screens - but no new content was developed for them, they simply show films recycled from other venues and exhibitions. Of course, there is no catalog in any language or any publication whatsoever, due to the lack of authors (see above). All this makes it impossible to reach any kind of international impact with the exhibition All this despite the 506 million HUF (about 1,3 million euros) budget from government support dedicated to the exhibition. A missed opportunity, indeed.

13th-century crown from Margaret Island, HNM

Despite these significant shortcomings, do visit the exhibition if you get a chance. Objects that are otherwise hard to see and some highlights are definitely worth a visit. The original concept of the exhibition can still be followed (as long as you read Hungarian...) and Székesfehérvár is only about 45 minutes from Budapest by train. The exhibition will be on view until June 15, 2022.

Fragments from the tomb of Queen Gertrude, from Pilis Abbey

14th-century reliquary of St. Stephen from Aachen

(photos my own, taken with permission)

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Restoration of the Medieval Church of Sóly

The restoration of the medieval church of Sóly was finally completed after two decades of research and renovation. The village of Sóly is located near Veszprém and its church was first mentioned in 1009, in the foundation charter of the bishopric of Veszprém, issued by King Saint Stephen. There is a theory that Sóly is the location where the young Stephen defeated Koppány in 997, three years before his coronation. The present church, however, dates from the 13th century and was dedicated to St. Stephen Protomartyr. Archeological research identified the traces of an earlier, wooden church under the present edifice. The 13th-century building consists of a simple one-aisled nave and a rectangular sanctuary. The place was turned into a fortress at the time of the Ottoman occupation. From this period, a number of burials have been found inside the building. The damaged building was finally restored in 1706 and was embellished several times. By this time, the community and their church were Calvinist. Rich painted ornamental frames decorate the windows, embellished with biblical verses. In 1724, a painted wooden gallery was installed in the nave, and the church was adorned with painted coffered ceilings as well. As these elements were purchased and installed by the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest during the 1890s, they were now recreated in the form of copies. The original wooden balustrade in the sanctuary of the church, however, was at this occasion returned to the church. The western tower of the church was built in 1903.

Inside the nave of the church, a medieval fresco of the Crucifixion was uncovered in 2018. The stylistic features of this painting and the Cosmatesque border decoration around it indicate that it was painted in the 14th century. Possibly it was part of a larger cycle - but no other paintings have been found in the church. The newly restored church was ceremoniously opened on March 20, 2022. Contact the pastor to visit.

Crucifixion fresco in the nave

Here is a small video of the restored church.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Medieval Manuscripts in Esztergom

From the 11th to the 31st of March, an exhibition presents the medieval manuscripts of the Cathedral Libray of Esztergom. Titled "For They Watch for Your Souls..." - Codices in the Cathedral Library of Esztergom, the exhibition is on view in the newly restored exhibition rooms of the Bibliotheca.

The Cathedral Library of Esztergom preserves forty-five medieval manuscript books, which are displayed together for the first time now, in March 2022. The exhibition honors the archbishops and canons of Esztergom as well as the donators and previous owners of the manuscripts, by whose generosity the library became the largest collection of codices among ecclesiastical libraries of Hungary. The written culture of medieval Hungary is represented by fourteen codices copied in various Hungarian scriptoria. Two old Hungarian manuscripts - early linguistic records - stand out from among the Latin books on account of their special value. The Nagyszombat Codex was prepared in the monastery of the Poor Clares in Óbuda. It contains meditations and guides for penance and confession. The Jordánszky Codex is the most complete medieval Bible translation into Hungarian, and is named after is former owner, Elek Jordánszky, a canon of Esztergom. Out of the codices preserved in the Cathedral Library of Esztergom, without a doubt three were used in Esztergom before 1543. These are the 12th-century Expositiones super Cantica Canticorum, László Szalkai's (1475-1526) schoolbook written by the future archbishop between 1489 and 1490, and the codex of vicar-general Albert Pesthy. The manuscript collection owned by the Archbishop and the Chapter of Esztergom was further enriched during the sojourn of the Archbishopric in Nagyszombat (Trnava, Slovakia). Liturgical books and astronomical works were acquired, as well as a manuscript containing letters by Saint Gregory the Great, copied in the Benedictine Abbey of Moissac in the 11th century. In 1555, Nicholaus Olah )1493-1568), archbishop of Esztergom, donated the two-volume Bakócs Gradual to the church of Esztergom The luxurious Wladislav Gradual originates from Prague from the first decade of the 16th century. It holds Bohemian musical material, richly illuminated with historiated initials as well as border decorations with floral motifs, animal figures, and scenes from everyday life.

Title page from the Bakócz Gradual (Ms. I. 1a-1b.)

After the library moved back to Esztergom in 1853, János Scitovszky (1785-1866), archbishop of Esztergom, József Dankó and Nándor Knauz, canons of Esztergom each bequeathed four codices to the collection. Among these, there was a 12th-century cathedral schoolbook containing a commentary of the Song of Songs among other texts, and several manuscripts of Bohemian origin.

Psalter from Saxony, 1279 (Ms. II.5)

Most codices in the library originated and were used in Central Europe, in Bohemia, Vienna, and Southern Germany. Nevertheless, some of the manuscripts came from the English, Italian, and French territories. The decoration of Peter Lombard's commentary on the Psalms is a high-quality product of English miniature painting. The exhibited manuscripts present a wide range of medieval ecclesiastical literature encompassing books on liturgy, theology, church law, astronomy, lexicography, as well as sermon collections, prayer books, and schoolbooks. 
The digital copies of the codices can be viewed on the website of the Cathedral Library of Esztergom, on the Bibliotheca Digitalis subpage. Ther scholarly descriptions were prepared by the HAS-NSZL Res Libraria Hungariae Research Group.  This part of the database seems to work only in Hungarian for the moment.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of a catalog describing with great erudition the medieval manuscripts preserved in the Esztergom book collections (The Codices of the Cathedral Library of Esztergom, the Archiepiscopal Simor Library, and the Esztergom City Library). The book was edited by Edit Madas and written by Kinga Körmendy, Judit Lauf, Edit Madas, and Gábor Sarbak. Kinga Körmendy's thorough introduction presents the history of the collections and the detailed descriptions are accompanied by various indices, appendices, a bibliography, and color plates. The book is the most recent volume of the Fragmenta et codices in bibliothecis Hungariae series. The book can be ordered here: A German-language version of the catalog is forthcoming.

(Text and photos by the Cathedral Library of Esztergom) 

Wladislav Gradual (Ms. I. 3a)

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

In memoriam László Beke (1944-2022)

László Beke (1944-2022)
On January 31, 2022, art historian László Beke passed away in Budapest. He was 78 years old. He was one of the most well-known figures of Hungarian art history in recent decades and he was primarily known for his research of 20th-century art. As chief curator of the Modern Department at the Hungarian National Gallery (1988-1995) and as director of the Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle, 1995-2000), he was instrumental in making Hungarian conceptual art and neo-avantgarde known to the wider public. From the beginning of his career in 1968, Beke was actually a key figure in the Hungarian contemporary art world, much of which verged on illegality. As participant, organizer, and researcher of this period, he left behind a very significant body of work. For the general public, he is most well-known for one of his early publications (apart from his directorial positions): In 1985, he wrote a high-school textbook on art history, which remained in use for decades. Titled Analyzing artworks, it shaped the early approach to art objects for a generation. 

However, László Beke started his career as a medieval art historian: he wrote his MA thesis on the gold background ornaments of medieval panel paintings and then - encouraged by Éva Kovács - he started researching medieval goldsmith works. His 1976 dissertation on filigree enamels was published in 1980 by the Art History Research Group (later Institute) of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences - the institute where Beke worked from 1969 to 1988 and where he later served as director between 2000-2011. László Beke also participated in the 1987 exhibition on King and Emperor Sigismund, being one of the editors of the two-volume catalogue. He was also one of the editors of the English-language Festschrift in honour of Ernő Marosi, published in 2010 on Hungarian medieval art and titled Bonum ut pulchrum.

The 1980 publication on filigree enamel decoration (Sodronyzománcos ötvösművek) traces the history and origin of this decorative technique, which became particularly popular in 15th century Hungary. The work includes a complete catalogue of medieval goldsmith objects with filigree enamel decoration and remains the most complete survey of this material, which makes it invaluable to this day. Despite its very average print quality (resembling a photocopied thesis) the 173 black and white reproductions are also unsurpassed regarding this topic.

Filigree enamel decoration on the foot of the Suki-chalice, c. 1437 (Esztergom, Cathedral Treasury)

The career of László Beke was summarized by Ernő Marosi in 2014, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (Ernő Marosi: László Beke turns seventy. Acta Historiae Artium 55, 2014). Those of you reading Hungarian can also read an interview with Beke in MúzeumCafé (31, 2012). Beke's inquisitive mind made him a great company at conferences, exhibition openings, excursions, and any other art historical events. I remember fondly our conversations over the last few decades. He will be greatly missed.

László Beke with Jaynie Anderson at the 2007 CIHA Conference in Budapest, at the Museum of Applied Arts

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Medieval Charters from the Batthyány Family Archives enter the National Archives

Charter of King Béla IV, 1256

On August 2, 2021, it was announced at a press conference that the collection of the Hungarian National Archives had been enriched with 520 original charters, which the Hungarian state had purchased from the Batthyány family for a price of 5,6 million EUR.

This collection consists of the most important documents in the Batthyány family archives originally held at Körmend. Members of the family took these charters with them in 1945 and preserved them in Austria until now. The remainder of the archives was badly damaged when the Soviet army plundered the Batthyány mansion at Körmend. Anything saved after that event was nationalized in 1949 and has been preserved at the National Archives since (it is estimated that about 15 percent of the medieval charters were destroyed in 1945).

Görgy Rácz, deputy director of the National Archives, explained at the press conference that the newly purchased collection contains the historically most important part of the family archives and is filled with irreplaceable documents of medieval Hungarian history, as the members of the Batthyány family held high government positions for centuries.

One box of the Batthyány-charters

Most of the charters are from the three series of the old archives of the Batthyány family preserved at Körmend castle until 1945: the Memorabilia (297 diplomas) series is the most valuable historical material of the Batthyány archives from the national point of view. The new acquisition makes this former series almost complete. Here the earliest piece is King Louis the Great's charter of 1352 on the nobility of the Pechenegs in Fejér County. There are also letters from King Louis II from 1526, calling Ferenc Batthyány to battle against the Turks - dating from just a couple of weeks before the catastrophic Battle of Mohács. The other outstanding part of the collection is the so-called Heimiana or “Himfiana” series, which was the family archive of the Himfis of Döbrente, one of the most influential baronial families of the Anjou era. Their charters went to the Batthyánys, who preserved them. The documents purchased now contain 141 pieces of this series, including 11 charters from the Árpádian period and 125 from the Anjou period. The third series is Acta Antiqua (48 charters), which contains the oldest documents concerning property in the family’s ancient estate. The earliest piece in this series is the 1355 charter of King Louis the Great.

Charter with the seal of King Sigismund, 1411

The documents will now join the other part of the Batthyány family archives in the National Archives as part of the nation's cultural heritage, where they will be available for scientific research after their inventory, processing, and digitization. All the medieval charters of the Batthyány family archives already in the National Archives can be consulted in the Hungaricana database.

Source of text and photos: Hungarian National Archives, Budapest