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

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Exhibition on Medieval Towns in Magdeburg

The new exhibition of the Cultural History Museum is titled 'Faszination Stadt  - The Allure of Cities,' and is dedicated to the network of medieval towns following Magdeburg law. The topic is broadly framed, starting with city development in antiquity - but then it focuses on the development and spread of Magdeburg town law in the Middle Ages. The Magdeburg law originated in the twelfth century and spread in the course of the German east settlement across Central Europe, particularly to the areas of Poland, Bohemia and the Kingdom of Hungary. It is a characteristic feature of urbanization in this regiou and its peculiarity is that it divided the local power between the council and a jury appointed by the ruler. This made it easier for territorial rulers such as the Teutonic Order in the Baltic States and the kings of Poland and Hungary to control the cities they established and granted freedoms to. The legal framework was provided by the Sachsenspiegel, codified in 1230, which was a summary of existing legal knowledge. Starting from the story of Magdeburg law, the exhibition presents the legal framework, the day to day operations and daily life in medieval towns of Central Europe.

Stove tile from Besztercebánya, c. 1500, Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

The 250 objects on view are varied, ranging from luxurious gift items to objects of daily life. Given the subject, it is not surprising that a large number of loans from Hungary and the neighboring countries are featured in the exhibition.  The exhibition is accompanied by an 800-page catalog and by a volume of studies dedicated to the topic. It remains on view until February 2, 2020. You can find more information on the special website set up for the exhibition or in the flyer provided by the museum.

View of the exhibition, with the tombstone of a painter from Buda
(Budapest History Museum)

The results presented in the exhibition rely on a research project coordinated by the Museum. A website was also set up to provide information about Magdeburg law - it is a very useful resource, providing, among others, a map of European towns using Magdeburg law.

Copy of the Sachsenspiegel, Heidelberg University Library

(Photos by Kulturhistorisches Museum Magdeburg)

Late 15th century Passion panel from Thorn/Torun

Monday, November 25, 2019

In memoriam Tünde Wehli (1943-2019)

Photo of Tünde Wehli, taken at the celebration of her 70th birthday, 2013

It is with sadness that I report on the passing of art historian Tünde Wehli, on November 18, 2019, in the 76th year of her life. Tünde Wehli had been a long-time senior researcher at the Institute of Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, starting her career there in 1970. Dr. Wehli was a scholar of medieval art, primarily manuscript illumination, and had published groundbreaking studies ranging from the 12th century Admont Bible  (the subject of her dissertation) to the Bibliotheca Corviniana. She is particularly well-known for her research on medieval patronage of manuscripts, and she also participated in the work of the Fragmenta Codicum research group of the National Széchényi Library. She also published extensively on other subjects, including Romanesque art, iconography, Hungarian royal monuments abroad as well as on seals and armorial charters. Perhaps most widely accessible is her small book on medieval Spanish painting (Painting in Medieval Spain, 1980), which was published in at least five languages. She participated in the preparation of a number of exhibitions organized by the Institute of Art History - most notably the exhibitions on King Louis the Great (1982) and Emperor Sigismund (1987). You can have a look at the list of her publications in the Kubikat catalogue. Many of her publications can be found in the digital publication archive of the Institute of Art History.

Dr. Wehli was a very kind, helpful colleague. Although I only worked with her during my brief tenure at the Institute 25 years ago, she has followed my progress with great interest over the years and was always ready to help with advice or literature. As a teacher - participating in the art history program at Pázmány Péter Catholic University - she was also greatly admired. It is no wonder that she was celebrated with a hefty Festschrift - published as a special volume of the journal Ars Hungarica - on her 70th birthday in 2013 (you can read it online here). She will be remembered fondly by her students and colleagues and will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace.

Office of the Dead, Book of Hours, Flemish, about 1450–1455 (J.P. Getty Museum, Ms. 2)