Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Restoration of the High Altar of Kisszeben

After many decades of restoration, the High Altar of Kisszeben (Sabinov, Slovakia) has been assembled in the Hungarian National Gallery. The restoration of one of the largest and most ornate winged altars from the medieval period of the Kingdom of Hungary began in 1954 and was completed in the summer of 2020. The high altar was put on view from 24 September at the Gallery’s exhibition titled Late Gothic Winged Altarpieces (it is currently not on view due to the national lockdown).

I wrote on this altarpiece several years ago, when it was first put on display at the National Gallery, at that time still without its gable - see this earlier post. Further details about the history of the altarpiece can be found there. 

The winged altar, which was one of the largest and most ornate ones in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, is dated to 1496 according to an inscription on the frame of the paintings - but it naturally took a longer period to complete. The altar was “renovated” in the baroque period, the panels of its workday side were all overpainted. This overpainting was not removed in the restoration campaign. The predella and the gable of the altar - both of which got seriously damaged - were both reconstructed.

On the occasion of the completion of the restoration, a special website was launched by the Museum of Fine Arts - Hungarian National Gallery, and a short film was also released about the altarpiece (both are in Hungarian). 
Art historians are also encouraged to read a study about the gable the altarpiece, which details the limits and possibilities of the reconstruction of this part of the altarpiece. Poszler, Györgyi: Kutatás-módszertani gyakorlat: új források, új gondolatok a kisszebeni Keresztelő Szent János-főoltár oromzatával kapcsolatban. Művészettörténeti Értesítő, 64 (2015/2). pp. 239-267.

(Source of text and images: Museum of Fine Arts - Hungarian National Gallery. For additional photos, see this report.)


  1. Your top photo of the High Altar of Kisszeben shows what must have originally been a stunning altar. I understand why the restoration took so long - its gold work, paintings and tiny sculptures are still minutely detailed and beautiful now.

  2. of course, there is missing information as the altar was stolen from the church of Sabinov! But it is usual by the Magyars and "experts" from Budapest!

    1. You can read the website that I linked in the post, it tells the story of the three altars of Kisszeben.