Friday, November 01, 2019

Spectacular Cycle of Medieval Frescoes uncovered at Visk

At a press conference on October 30th, 2019, the Teleki László Foundation presented the early 15th-century fresco cycle uncovered in the Calvinist church at Visk (Vyshkovo, Ukraine). The wall paintings - which had been found in 2001 and partially revealed in 2012 - were uncovered with the support of the Rómer Flóris Plan. This is a Hungarian government program launched in 2015 and aimed at protecting elements of Hungarian cultural heritage across the borders. The wall paintings of Visk were presented to the press by Prof. Ernő Marosi, restorer József Lángi, and myself (Zsombor Jékely). 

Visk is located in the Zakarpattia Oblast region of Ukraine - and area which was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1918. The medieval church at Visk was built in the first third of the 14th century and is a simple Gothic edifice with a rectangular nave and a polygonal sanctuary. The town itself was one of the five royal settlements in Máramaros county, an area known for its salt mines. Nothing remains today of the medieval castle once guarding the settlement. Since the mid-16th-century, the population of Visk had converted to Calvinism, which led to the reconfiguration of the medieval church as well. In 1717, the town was burned down during the last raid of the Crimean Tatars into Hungary. When the church was rebuilt, the medieval frescoes were no longer visible - they were eventually covered by rich ornamental paintings executed in 1789.

Press conference with Ernő Marosi, József Lángi and Zsombor Jékely (photo: Magyar Kurír)
The medieval wall paintings of the church were preserved in the sanctuary. Their existence had been known for some time, and their presence under later layers of plaster was established in 2001. Several details had been uncovered by restorer József Lángi in 2012, which led to a plan for their complete recovery. Once the community of the church was also convinced of the importance of these frescoes, work could commence with the help of the Rómer Flóris Plan. In September - October 2019, the entire surface of the sanctuary wall has been cleaned and wall paintings have been uncovered on the northern and southern wall of the sanctuary, as well as around the eastern windows.

Passion cycle on the northern wall of the sanctuary

The ensemble recovered by József Lángi is fragmentary: a large Late Gothic window opened in the southern wall destroyed a large portion of the wall paintings. The vaults collapsed (most likely in 1717) and were replaced by a flat ceiling - thus a very important part of the former ensemble is missing. A 19th-century gallery installed in the sanctuary for an organ caused further damage. Despite all this, a remarkably complete cycle of wall paintings has come to light. The northern and southern wall of the sanctuary was decorated with a detailed Christological cycle, narrating the story of Christ from the Annunciation through the Passion all the way to the death and Coronation of the Virgin Mary. 

Massacre of the Innocents

The cycle was arranged in four registers in a wrap-around pattern (so running left to right on the northern wall, continuing on the southern wall, then jumping back to the northern wall and so on). Many of the scene survive fairly intact, including monumental compositions of the Massacre of the Innocents and the Entry into Jerusalem, as well as several episodes from the Passion of Christ. Although there is a lot of damage to the cycle, and the fire of 1717 changed the coloring of the paintings, the power of the storytelling is still clear to see today. Dramatic and expressive scenes - such as the Arrest of Christ or the scene of Christ being nailed to the cross - add to the richness of the narrative. On the eastern walls, in the spaces between the windows, a gallery of saints was painted in several rows. Most of them appear to be female martyr saints: Catherine, Barbara, and Margaret can be identified today.

The surface of the wall paintings still needs to be cleaned and they need to be restored - a task which can hopefully be completed during the next two years. In the meantime, we can already establish that the fresco cycle was painted during the second part of the reign of King Sigismund (1387-1437) - most likely in the 1420s. No other works are known by the same workshop in the Upper Tisza Valley, so the discovery of these frescoes is a significant addition to our knowledge about medieval painting in north-eastern Hungary. Art historical research on the fresco cycle will commence in the near future, and hopefully, initial results will be published soon.


You can read more about the press conference (in Hungarian) in this overview by Magyar Kurír. To learn more about the medieval churches of the region, have a look at the website of the Route of Medieval Churches. Photos in the post are by Attila Mudrák.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Two discoveries of medieval painting

Cimabue, Christ Mocked, c. 1280
This post has nothing to do with the art of medieval Hungary, but the information presented below is so fascinating that I decided to create a small post about it. New started circulating this week about the discovery of some spectacular medieval paintings, which had been hitherto unknown. The most famous discovery concerns a small panel attributed by Cimabue, which was found hanging in the kitchen of French woman. The painting will be auctioned by Acteon in Senlis on October 27, with an estimate of 4 to 6 million Euros.
The small panel depicts the Christ being Mocked and was identified as part of a dismembered small altarpiece. Its reconstruction shows a diptych, with four small panels on each wing. So far, two other paintings of the left wing have been known: the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Angels at the National Gallery, London and the Flagellation of Christ at the Frick Collection. The two panels have been exhibited together at the Frick Collection in 2006. The newly identified painting dates from around 1280, along with the dismembered former altarpiece.

The Cimabue panels in  London and New York

Also discovered in France, the second painting originates from Central Europe. It is a small panel of the Virgin and Child, attributed to one of the most famous - but anonymous - masters of medieval Czech painting, the Master of Vyšší Brod. Active in the middle of the 14th century, the master received his name from the altarpiece now preserved in the National Gallery in Prague. The background of the small panel has been repainted but could be cleaned and restored by a potential buyer (see the image in the article in La Tribune l'Art). The painting will be offered for sale by Cortot & Associés in Dijon, on November 30, with an estimate of 400.000 to 600.000 Euros.
For more information, see for example La Gazette Drouot.

Master of Vyšší Brod, The Virgin and Child, c. 1350

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Medieval Wall Paintings of Gidófalva (Ghidfalău) Restored

About a decade ago, wall paintings were discovered in the church of Gidófalva (Ghidfalău, Romania), which lies in the eastern part of Transylvania, in historic Háromszék (present-day Covasna County). After careful research and a painstaking process of restoration, the restored state of the fragmentary fresco cycle was unveiled on September 2019.  The restoration was carried out by restorer Loránd Kiss and his team of the Imago Picta company. Art historian Mihály Jánó from Sepsiszentgyörgy (Sfântu Gheorghe, RO) provided the following overview of the wall paintings for the readers of the Medieval Hungary blog. 

The wall paintings of the church of Gidófalva were found on the walls of the nave of the medieval church. They were covered over in the course of the Reformation and were uncovered in a very fragmentary state. In fact, of the frescoes of the south wall, only traces of the painted curtain in the lower zone remained, the paintings themselves were destroyed.

Frescoes of the north wall during restoration
 Despite the fragmentary state of the remaining frescoes, the iconographic system of the decoration is relatively clear. Most survived from the upper register on the north wall: here we find a cycle depicting events from the Life and Passion of Christ. The narrative order of the scenes is reversed: the scenes follow each other from right to left. We see the Nativity next to the chancel arch, this is followed by the Adoration of the Magi, and we also see scenes of the Massacre of the Innocents, Flight to Egypt, the Entry into Jerusalem, and finally, by the western wall, the Last Supper.

Entry into Jerusalem

The next cycle which can be identified with certainty is the Legend of Saint Ladislas, a story which was frequently depicted in Medieval Hungary. This is located in the upper row of the western wall, and the order of the scenes again runs from right to left. Only two scenes remain: the bishop blessing Saint Ladislas before he leads his troops against pagan invaders, and then we see Ladislas and his troops in battle against the Cumans. The following scenes of the story were likely painted on the southern wall of the nave. A few other scenes were also uncovered in the church, including a depiction of Saint George fighting the dragon, also on the western wall (lower register). The wall paintings of Gidófalva still await a more detailed analysis, but tentatively they can be dated to the turn of the 14th-15th centuries. Their discovery and restoration are significant for a better understanding of the art of medieval Transylvania.

Detail from the Legend of Saint Ladislas
(Photos provided by Mihály Jánó as well).

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

New Permanent Exhibition of the Seuso Treasure in Budapest

On July 28, 2019, the new, permanent exhibition of the Seuso Treasure opened at the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest. This famed collection of 14 silver items of tableware represent the most valuable silver treasure collectıon from the late Roman Empire. The pieces of the silver tableware represent the highest level of art of their era. The treasure was discovered in the 1970s and was subsequently smuggled out of Hungary. I reported on its recovery by the Hungarian state on two previous occasions - see the first post, and this one as well. During last year, the treasure was already on view at the Hungarian National Museum, in a temporary exhibition. Now the items were moved into another part of the Museum, and an introductory part - focusing on the role of silver objects in the late Roman period - was added to the exhibition. The silver quadripus thought to belong to the set (and known since the 19th century) is also on view. The pieces can be examined in well-lit large glass showcases, and a visit to the Treasure is now part of the permanent exhibition ticket of the Museum. On this occasion, a well-illustrated new publication was also published about the Seuso Treasure. The exhibition was curated by Marianna Dági and Zsolt Mráv.

The Seuso Treasure - The Splendour of Roman Pannonia. Permanent exhibition of the Hungarian National Museum.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

What's next for the Medieval Hungary blog?

Late 14th century wall-painting at Nitra cathedral
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I haven't posted here for a while. The reasons for this are manifold - among others, I don't seem to have as much time these days as some years ago. Also, I feel that the importance of this blog has decreased in the last few years. When I started this blog ten years ago, it was very hard to find up-to-date information about the art of Medieval Hungary. Thanks to numerous new publications and online resources, the situation has improved considerably in recent years. Most importantly, a new English-language survey book is now available on the subject, providing up-to-date information. Those who would like to find publications on more specific subjects, I can now advise the consultation of the annotated bibliography I put together 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).

In addition, the digitization of museum collections (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 more material much more accessible. In other words, it is much easier for English-speaking scholars to find information about the art of Medieval Hungary than it was a decade ago.

Original carved decoration of the portal of the parish church at Bártfa (Bardejov), discovered in 2019

Therefore, I feel less pressure to regularly post new information here. This does not mean that there will be no new posts here - but definitely not with the regularity characteristic of this blog until about 2017. I've looked at the blog stats now - there are about 5000 page views here per month, with the most popular posts each getting that many - hundreds of thousands of page views in total. This tells me that there is still a need for this resource.

What do you think? How did this blog help you over the years? Let me know in a comment.


See also: Jekely, Zsombor. “Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Art History. Ed. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199920105-0136

Sunday, February 03, 2019

In memoriam Ferenc Dávid (1940-2019)

Ferenc Dávid, one of the most important personalities of Hungarian monument protection research, died on January 21th, 2019, at age 78.

Throughout his life, Ferenc Dávid worked as an art historian and researcher of historic buildings. He wrote his thesis on a medieval theme and started working in the field of monument protection, as a disciple of Dezső Dercsényi and Géza Entz. The 1960s and 1970s were a very important period of Hungarian monument protection when large-scale research and reconstructions were carried out throughout the country. Ferenc Dávid was responsible for a long time for the research of the historic monuments of Sopron - a town rich in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque monuments. 

This work required knowledge of every period of architectural history, as well as intensive archival research. As a result of his research, he was able to publish important studies on Sopron's gothic residential buildings (1970) the history of the medieval synagogue of Sopron (1978), as well as on houses and homeowners of downtown Sopron (in several parts).

His primary area of research, however, was on the buildings themselves, which proved to be the most reliable source of their own story. Ferenc Dávid worked out the methodology of the historical-architectural research process, which included a step-by-step investigation of the building fabric itself, comparing finds with information from archival sources. This detailed analysis - known in German terminology as the method of Bauforschung - forms the basis of both the restoration of the buildings and the art historical studies written on them. The use of this method became widespread following his example - thus he played an important role in the most creative and important period of the Hungarian Office for Monument Protection (from the 1960s to the mid-1980s).

In 1986, Ferenc Dávid became a member of the Institute of Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In this period, he mainly researched Baroque palace architecture: buildings such as Gödöllő Castle or the Esterházy-palace at Fertőd. As an expert-consultant, he participated in the restoration of countless important monuments, from the presidential palace (Sándor Palace in Buda castle) to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Although he never held a formal teaching position, young art historians learned the complex method of building research from him - often on site. I still remember our conversations, when I started as a young researcher myself in 1994. He was always helpful and generous with his time - amply demonstrated by his work carried out for my current workplace, the Museum of Applied Arts. He consulted on our collection of historic tile stoves and helped the restoration and exhibition of several monumental Baroque stoves. More recently, we greatly benefited from his advice on the history and historical decoration of the main building of the Museum of Applied Arts (which is awaiting a full reconstruction). 

His influence and the admiration of his colleagues for him is well demonstrated by the monumental, two-volume study collection published for his 73rd birthday in 2013 (Kő kövön. Dávid Ferenc 73. születésnapjára - Stein auf Stein. Festschrift für Ferenc Dávid. Budapest, 2013. Ed. Edit Szentesi, Klára Mentényi, Anna Simon).

His importance is also marked by the numerous obituaries published during the last two weeks. My Hungarian-speaking readers are advised to read especially the obituary by Pál Lővei in Élet és irodalom

I am saying good-bye to him with the picture below, which shows the reconstruction of a medieval wall-painting uncovered in Sopron's church of St Michael in 1866. Ferenc Storno, who had uncovered the fresco and made this reconstruction, was unsuccessful in his attempts to save the original. After learning of my casual interest in this unstudied monument last year, Ferenc Dávid immediately sent me this picture, encouraging me to work on it. Sadly, any result of my research can now only be published in his memory. R.I.P.

Ferenc Storno's reconstruction of a wall painting from the church of St. Michael, Sopron. 1868
Sopron Museum, Storno Collection

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Exhibition and Database of Corvinian Manuscripts

A new exhibition at the National Széchényi Library puts the famous library of Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490) in focus again. This time, the title and the theme of the exhibition is the Buda workshop of Corvina manuscripts  The aim of the exhibition is to present the joint efforts of humanists, illuminators, bookbinders and the scribes of Buda, in order to create luxurious royal manuscripts in the capital as well.  For this exhibition, A lot of splendid Corvinian manuscripts have arrived in National Széchényi Library from various parts of the world, from New York, Paris, the Vatican, as well as from Hungarian collections. In fact, Visitors of the exhibition have the unparalleled opportunity to look at almost all the Corvinas, nearly fifty codices, preserved in Hungary. together. The exhibition demonstrates that in addition to the splendid Renaissance codices ordered from Italy, similarly precious and decorative manuscripts were made in the royal court of Buda as well. The exhibition is very well organized, beautifully installed, and is equipped with various interactive tools, enable for example the browsing of manuscripts on display. The first part presents the precursors of the Buda workshop - especially the books, including Greek manuscripts of Janus Pannonius, which were later incorporated into the king's library. The Graduale of King Matthias, one of the important non-Italian books commissioned by the king is also on view here (OSZK Cod. Lat. 424). The second part presents a number of Italian illuminators who worked at the Buda court, not just for the king but also in the service of high-ranking prelates. The main focus of the exhibition is on the last five years of the rule of King Matthias (who died in 1490) when production greatly increased. This was the time when uniform leather bindings were made for the manuscripts as well. Among the highlights on view, I would point out the Cassianus Corvina from Paris (BNF Cod.Lat. 2129), the Vatican Missal (Urb. Lat. 110), or the National Library's Philostratos Corvina (OSZK Cod. Lat. 417).

The Breviary of Domokos Kálmáncsehi, 1481

The curator of the exhibition is Edina Zsupán, and the exhibition will remain on view until February 9, 2019. You can read more about the exhibition on the National Library's website.

At the time of the opening of the exhibition, the newly redesigned and updated Bibliotheca Corviniana Digitalis was launched. It is a great improvement compared to the earlier version, with a much nicer interface and - most importantly - with a lot more digitized manuscripts. All the manuscripts held in Hungarian collections are available right on the website, while links point to digitized manuscripts all over the world (finally making my own little list unnecessary). A new image-viewer and thousands of new photographs - including superb details - make the manuscripts much more accessible than ever before. The database also includes the complete bibliography of the Corvinian Library, with direct links to publications available online. With this new version, the website can truly serve as the starting point for all research focusing on the Bibliotheca Corviniana of King Matthias.