Showing posts with label Museum of Applied Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Museum of Applied Arts. Show all posts

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.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A 14th-century antependium from Dalmatia on view at Pannonhalma

In this post, I would like to call attention to a little-known medieval textile object at the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest and also to an important exhibition in Pannonhalma, where the textile is currently on view.

The object in question is a 14th century altar frontal (antependium) with the figures of the Virgin and Child, St Benedict and St. Chrysogonus. Previously it was thought to date from the late 15th century, and it was little studied, but recent research shed light to its origins:  the object in fact dates from around 1360, and originates from the Church of the Benedictine Monastery of St Chrysogonus at Zadar. A Benedictine donor can be seen kneeling next to the throne of the Virgin - probably one of the abbots of the monastery. The antependium entered the Museum of Applied Arts along with the collection of Bishop Zsigmond Bubics at the beginning of the 20th century. Similar altar frontals - mostly made in Venice - are known from other churches in Zadar and in the region. One of these works, known as the Veglia Altar Frontal is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was likely designed by Paolo Veneziano around 1330. That piece comes from the cathedral of Krk in Dalmatia (known as Veglia in Italian). 

If you would like to know more on the altar frontal in Budapest, read a recent study on it by Silvija Banić on

The Budapest altar frontal is currently on view (after a recent conservation treatment) at an exhibition organized by the Benedictine Arcabbey of Pannonhalma. Titled Saint Benedict and Benedictine Spirituality, the exhibition is on view at the new Abbey Museum until the end of September.

The exhibition allows an insight into the 1500-year-long history of Benedictine mentality through assorted works of art from the collections of the Benedectine Abbey of Lavantall, the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, and other museums. The most significant works of art in the exhibition are medieval liturgical objects, including ones which were taken from the treasury of St. Blasien Monastery in Germany to Carinthia after the provisions of Joseph II: a 12th century chasuble decorated with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, and the monumental Adelheid-cross decorated with gems, which had been originally commissioned in the 11th century by the wife of Hungarian king Saint Ladislaus, and  which contains a splinter of the True Cross. 

Adelheid-cross, St. Paul im Lavanttal

I haven't seen the Pannonhalma exhibition and its catalogue yet, but I may yet write a review of it, if time permits - perhaps a comparative review with the recent Benedictine exhibition organized in Prague.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bethlen 400

Egidius Sadeler II: Gábor Bethlen, c. 1620
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the rule of Gábor Bethlen as Prince of Transylvania. To commemorate this, a series of events are being organized both in Hungary and Romania in the Bethlen Memorial Year. The following overview is given by the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

"400 years ago, on 23 October, 1613, Gabriel Bethlen (1580–1629), the most significant Prince of Transylvania ascended the throne. He had to take over a devastated country, empty treasury and desperate politicians due to the ill-considered policy of his immediate predecessor and the damages of the Long Turkish War (1593-1606). The existence of the Principality of Transylvania was restricted by the Turkish protectorate and threatened by the Habsburg Empire. The situation was even worsened by the political and economic crisis affecting all Europe. Gabriel Bethlen was able to get out of this seemingly hopeless situation with recognizing the possibilities lying just in these desperate circumstances. He created a new, effective team of politicians, a court of high European standards, and with brilliant organizing work he could stabilize the political and economic situation in Transylvania. He connected to the European diplomatic and military processes. He generated a powerful military force, and arranged the situation – having been unresolved for more than half a century – of the Székelys forming the main part of the army. His military actions coordinated with his allies were supplemented with his many-folded diplomatic activity. With his peace treaties he was able to enlarge the territory of the Principality of Transylvania, becoming part of the European alliance system with the Treaties of Hague and Westminster. He was elected and ceremonially acclaimed king of Hungary on 25 August 1620, but later he refused to be crowned which made it possible for him to come to an agreement with the Habsburg Monarch and to keep the Ottoman Empire from gaining more influence and from expanding in Transylvania. From then on, Transylvania became the main support for the political and cultural endeavors of Hungarian estates in the Habsburg Empire. The tolerant religious policy of the protestant ruler made Transylvania a host country again. He provided the training of “up-to-date” intellectuals with founding schools and university scholarships. His multifaceted activity served as inspiration for generations from his age on through the centuries."

I would like to call attention to a few exhibitions and events of the Bethlen Memorial Year.

An exhibition on Gábor Bethlen and his era is currently on view at the Hungarian National Archives.

Opening next month (on view November 12, 2013 - February 2, 2014) is the main exhibition of the memorial year at the Hungarian National Museum. Titled Bethlen 1613, the exhibition is organized together with the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Coming up this week is the international conference Gábor Bethlen and Europe, at Kolozsvár / Cluj (October 24-26, 2013). More information on the website of the organizers, the Transylvanian Museum Society and the Hungarian Historical Institute of the Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj.

Bonus:  In May 2013, an episode of the PBS-program Antiques Roadshow featured an exceptionally rare object, a diamond marriage pendant associated with the wedding of Gábor Bethlen and Catherine of Brandenburg (1626). The object is part of a series, last seen together at the 1884 exhibition of goldsmith works held in Budapest. One pendant of the series is at the Hungarian National Museum, while another similar object is in the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. (via the Institute of History)
You can read about these jewels in the journal of the museum, Ars Decorativa (vol. 24).

Marriage pendant shown in Antiques Roadshow, source:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Brussels tapestry in Budapest digitized in gigapixel resolution

Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
The Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest joined the Google Art Project earlier this year. So far, about 100 objects have been made available in high resolution on the project website - selected from the over 5000 objects already digitized and made available online by the museum. More recently, the museum view function has also been enabled, allowing visitors to look around inside this wonderful Art Nouveau palace of Budapest. Several medieval objects can also be found in the database.

Google digitizes one artwork from each museum with the very high resolution gigapixel technology. When it came to selecting a work from the Museum of Applied Arts, after some discussion with my colleagues, we settled on one of the most spectacular works in the collection: the early 16th century Nativity tapestry woven in the workshop of Pieter van Aelst, and likely designed by Jan van Roome. The dimension and the intricate details of this work made it suitable for the high resolution digitisation - and the results, made available online this week, are quite spectacular.

The Nativity tapestry, originating from the cathedral of Győr, is the most important early Renaissance work in the Museum of Applied Arts. Its size is 275 x 260 centimetres, so it is not particularly large. The field of the tapestry is surrounded by a richly decorated border, and is divided into three parts. The large central field contains the principal decoration of the tapestry: the Nativity, or more specifically, the Adoration of the newborn Jesus. The baby Jesus is depicted laying on the ground, her mother kneeling and praying in front of him. Joseph, holding a candle, is depicted behind the Virgin Mary. Several angels also adore the newborn and two shepherds also appear in the composition. The upper part of the image is occupied by three majestic angels hovering above the vision. This type of depiction reflects the impact of late medieval mysticism, particularly the visions of St. Bridget, who died in 1373. The picture type was popular in Early Netherlandish painting since the early 15th century.

The Nativity tapestry. Budapest, Museum of Applied Arts 

Two further scenes are depicted in the two upper corners of the tapestry: the Annunciation can be seen on the upper right, while the Adoration of the Magi is on the upper left – both complete compositions on their own. Two decorated Renaissance pillars separate the central scene from further depictions on either side: two Sibyls, holding inscribed scrolls are shown on the sides. Their texts refer to significance and mystery of the incarnation: UTERUS VIRGINIS ERIT STATERA CUNCROTU/M (The holy uterus of the Virgin is the ransom for all of us), DEUS NASCETUR EX VIRGINE HEBREA (God will be born of a Hebrew virgin). The border is decorated with finely composed bunches of flowers and fruits.

An exact analogy of the tapestry can be found in the Museo Diocesano in Trento as the first piece of a seven-part cycle mainly depicting Christ’s Passion. The cycle was purchased by Bernardo Cles, the prince-archbishop of Trento (1514 – 1539) from Joris van Lickau, a merchant of Antwerp in 1531. The tapestries were made earlier: the piece showing the Carrying of the Cross features the date 1507, and in another one the name of the leader of the weaving workshop, Pieter van Aelst (ca. 1450 – 1531/1533) can also be read. Pieter van Aelst, however, was clearly not the designer of the tapestry, only the entrepreneur carrying out the costly process of weaving.

The stylistic features of the design of the tapestry point to the direction of Jan van Roome, the most prolific artist of the first two decades of the 16th century (active between 1498 and 1521). He is known as a designer of sculpture, stained glass, seals and tapestry, his most important work being the creation of the funerary chapel of Margaret of Austria in Brou. Documents reveal that he was the most important painter-designer of his time, receiving many other courtly commissions. His activities as a tapestry designer are documented from 1513, when in Louvain the tapestry depicting the miraculous communion of Herkenbald was commissioned from him.

Details of this magnificent work can now be studied up close in front of any computer. The resolution is truly impressive: you can even see how the gold threads were made, which give this work its particular glistening appearance. Go ahead, and browse this and other medieval treasures from Hungarian museums in the Google Art Project!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Gothic Ivories in Hungary

Diptych, Paris, 14th century. Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
At the most recent update of the Gothic Ivories Project, coordinated by The Courtauld Institute of Art, medieval ivories in Hungarian public collections were also added to the database. You can now look at photos of about a dozen Gothic ivories from the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, as well as one single example preserved in the Sculpture Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts. With the 700 ivories added with the most recent update, the database now includes 3800 objects.

It is to be hoped that the next update will add some more objects from Hungary: in particular, it would be great to see the three late Gothic bone saddles from the collection of the Hungarian National Museum. Many other saddles from the period of Emperor Sigismund are already online - including the Batthyany saddle stemming from Körmend in western Hungary (and now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston).

There are a few more great ivories in Hungarian ecclesiastical collections - in particular the wing of a diptych at the Cathedral Treasury of Győr (illustrated below). The Gothic Ivories project is of course a great resource for the research of ivory - it helped me to identify a surviving part of the other wing of this diptych, kept today at The Art Institute of Chicago. Hopefully, the wing at Győr can be added to the database soon. In the meantime, we can also find photos of some complete diptychs on the Gothic Ivories Project website, which can help us reconstruct the Győr-Chicago diptych as well: such as this image. (See on this subject the article by Katalin Dávid, published in Ars Decorativa vol. 7 (1982), and available online here.)

Right wing of a diptych with scenes from the Life of the Virgin. Győr, Cathedral Treasury
To read about more medieval ivories once in Hungary, have a look at my previous post about the Fejérváry collection!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Collection Databases of Hungarian Art Museums

2012 represented a sort of breakthrough for Hungarian art museums in the process of putting their collections online. When I wrote about the medieval holdings of Budapest museums about two years ago, there was not much to report on in this respect. The situation is now a lot better, and keeps improving - you can now find an increasing number of medieval art objects online. I will give a brief overview of each of these  databases.

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Maso di Banco: Coronation of the Virgin
Florence, 1335-1340  
The Museum of Fine Arts launched two separate databases this year: one is a general collection database, which provides basic inventory data on thousands of artworks. Integrated into the newly rewamped museum website, the database is available in English as well - although the translation seems to have been made with a translation software, and contains a lot of peculiarities and inaccuracies. The quality of the images varies a great deal: in some departments (for example Sculpture) all the archival pictures seem to have made it into the database, while some objects are illustrated with just one image, or no image at all. You can browse the objects based on the collections and also by period, so it is fairly easy to get to the medieval and Renaissance objects. 

Florentine master: Siren in a medallion 
The Museum also launched another, more scholarly database: an online catalogue of Italian and French prints before 1620. The catalogue, containing 4.604 objects, is the first complete publication of a section from the rich collection of 100.000 prints preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts. The catalogue was edited by Eszter Seres and Zoltán Kárpáti, and provides detailed catalogue records of each print, as well as new, zoomable images. This material does not seem to be integrated into the general collection database mentioned above - so if you are after prints, you have to come to this specialized website. There are a few dozen 15th century prints in the collection as well.

Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Book of Hours for Lodovico Gonzaga.
Florence, 1469-1478
The Museum of Applied Arts also launched its collection database, which is continuously being filled up with images and records, and currently contains over 2000 objects. There are plenty of medieval objects in this rich and varied collection of decorative arts, some of which have already appeared in the database. At this point, the database is only available in Hungarian, but an English language version is currently in preparation. The interface is very easy to use, and there are various ways to browse: by collection or with virtual tours, which present the material arranged according to various topics. Medium-size images can be downloaded for personal use after registration.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Reconsecration of Pannonhalma Abbey Church

The medieval church of the Archabbey of Pannonhalma was restored over the last few months, and was solemnly reconsecrated today. The interior reconstruction of the 13th-century abbey church was carried out according to the plans of British architect, John Pawson. The reconstruction mainly focused on the main liturgical area of the church, the chancel and the monastic choir. The main goal of the alterations was to restore the simplicity of this space, and this meant the removal of the 19th century historicising decoration designed by Ferenc Storno (Storno similarly removed the earlier Baroque furnishing of the basilica, to make way for his own, 'historically correct' decorations - now his work suffered a similar fate). The Storno-reconstruction, which was completed in 1876, was the last major intervention inside the church. Storno's pulpit was moved to a chapel at Pannonhalma, while the 19th century stained glass windows - including the large rose window depicting the patron of the church, St. Martin - have been deposited at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. On the other hand, the painted glass panes of the side aisle remained there, and the vault frescoes of Storno were cleaned.

The ideas of Pawson are summarized in the following statement he made:  ‘The goal of the architectural scheme made for the reconstruction of the Basilica of the Archabbey of Pannonhalma is to develop a space suitable for harmonic reception of the community of monks and their liturgy, meeting the needs of the local community and visitors. This goal was achieved by getting rid of several makeshift elements appearing in the use of space, and the character of “storage of historic furniture” was also eliminated. The purpose of the interventions was a uniform space in the church where each part and element of space has its own role and significance, and functionally and visually contributes to the development of the space designed for prayer and meditation, which are considered the basic function of the place. The plan attempts to redefine the space of the church structured axially, ascending within its section, orienting towards the sanctuary, and finally to the rose window in order to emphasize the meaning of the space: the way of Christians. On the one hand, the key is a complex and deliberate process of catharsis; on the other hand it is a careful equilibration of the existing historic layers.’

Pawson's scheme for the reconstruction (source:
The monks of Pannonhalma took notice of Pawson when he built the Cistercian abbey church of Novy Dvur in Bohemia, and he received the commission along with a Hungarian architectural studio. Along with the reconstruction of the church, this year also marks the completion of the rebuilding and expansion of visitor service areas at Pannonhalma. in 2010 a new visitors’ center was opened on the hilltop near the abbey. In 2011, a new entrance for visitors was opened on the bastion on top of the hill of the abbey.

The Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma is one of the oldest historical monuments in Hungary, founded in 996. It is a World Heritage site. The present church of Pannonhalma was built in early Gothic style at the beginning of the 13th century during the reign of Abbot Uros, and was consecrated most likely in 1224.

You can read more about the reconstruction on the website of the Hungarian Presidency of the EU.

Photo showing the removal of the 19th century stained glass windows from the eastern wall of the church

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Nativity Tapestry from Brussels (Merry Christmas!)

I would like to wish Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all my readers with a detail from the most beautiful late medieval tapestry in the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. The central field of the tapestry depicts the Nativity, or more specifically, the Adoration of the baby Jesus - these beautiful angels hover over the scene. The Nativity image is of a type which became widespread upon the influence of late medieval mysticism: the newborn Saviour lying on the ground is adored by his mother the Virgin Mary and angels. On either side a sibyl is standing holding a scroll with the text of her prophecy in her hands. In the top left corner the Adoration of the Magi, in the right corner the Annunciation are seen. (see the full image below).

An exact analogy of the tapestry can be found in the Museo Diocesano in Trento, as the first piece of a seven-part cycle depicting Christ’s Passion. That cycle was purchased by Bernardo Cles, the prince-archbishop of Trento (1514–1539) from Joris van Lickau, a merchant of Antwerp in 1531. The tapestries were made earlier: the piece showing the Carrying of the Cross features the date 1507, and in another one the name of the leader of the Brussels weaving workshop, Pieter van Aelst (ca. 1450 – 1531/1533) can also be read.

The origins of the images on the tapestry can be traced to 15th century Flemish painting: the Annunciation follows the popular composition of Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464), while the central depiction was influenced, among others, by Robert Campin (ca. 1375 – 1444). The prototype for the Adoration is a print in Albrecht Dürer’s engraved cycle of the life of the Virgin (about 1500 – 1502). Based on the stylistic features of the tapestry, the composition can be attributed to Jan van Roome of Brussels, court painter of Margaret of Austria (demonstrable between 1498 and 1521), who is well-known from contemporary sources. The tapestry comes to the museum from the Cathedral of Győr - and probably originates from bishop Demeter Náprágyi’s (1559 – 1619) bequest in 1619. In 1914 Francis Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, purchased it and donated it to the Society of the Friends of the Museum. (Money from the sale went for the renovation of the cathedral.)

Nativity Tapestry, Brussels, c. 1510. Pieter van Aelst’s workshop, Jan van Roome’s (?) design
Wool, silk and metal thread, woven with gobelin technique, H.: 275 cm W.: 260 cm
Budapest, Museum of Applied Arts, 18328

(More details below!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exhibition of Medieval Art in Cologne

Last week I had a chance to see the exhibition "Glanz und Grösse des Mittelalters" at the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne (Splendour and Glory of the Middle Ages). The new building of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum provides a spacious and modern exhibition space right next door to the historic building of the Schnütgen (the former St. Cecilia church) for such exhibitions (this is in fact the first such show). The rich collection of the Schnütgen Museum provides a great overview of medieval art in Cologne and the Rhineland - the aim of the present exhibition was to gather other highlights stemming from Cologne but kept in various collections worldwide. The resulting exhibition and the accompanying catalogue does provide a great overview of medieval sculpture and decorative arts in Cologne, and includes a number of important paintings and illuminated manuscripts as well (although naturally it cannot match the complete overview of medieval painting in Cologne provided on the lower floor of the nearby Wallraf-Richartz Museum).

Over a decade ago, a select number of medieval objects from the Schnütgen toured the US at the exhibition Fragmented Devotion (at the McMullen Museum of Art of Boston College). Now objects from American collections in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles are shown alongside of loans from various European museums. The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest lent two spectacular late Gothic statues of the Virgin Mary and St John, which are now joined with the crucified Christ, once again forming the original group once standing at the abbey church of Grosskönigsdorf. As I was not able to take photos in the exhibition, I am illustrating this with a photo I found on Wikipedia:

Museum Schnütgen - Glanz und Größe des Mittelalters-5138
Crucifixion group from Grosskönigsdorf by Master Tilman, 1480/90

The life-size figures were carved by master Tilman - who has a sizeable oeuvre in the area - around 1480/90. It was interesting to see the group united - the sculptures in Budapest preserved much of their polychromy, while the Christ figure still in Grosskönigsdorf has been stripped of its paint layer. The two saints appeared on the art market after the dissolution of the monastery, and were purchased from a Munich art dealer in 1916. Why and how the central figure remained in its original place, is not known. Here is a link to the object description on the Museum of Fine Arts website.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Salerno Ivories

I posted an image from the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts (Budapest) on Flickr today - a nice and small ivory panel showing the Creation of birds and fish.  I detected from responses that there is some interest in the piece - hence this brief post on the Salerno ivories. Together with its companion piece at the Metropolitan Museum, the plaque comes from the cathedral of Salerno and dates from about 1080-1084.  About fifty such plaques survive, all of which once decorated a large piece of church furnishing, such as an altar or reliquary. The panels depict biblical scenes from the Old and New Testament.

The plaque from Budapest traveled back to Salerno for an exhibition in 2007-2008. Titled "The Enigma of the Medieval Ivories from Salerno", the exhibition aimed to gather as many of these original pieces as possible (most of course are preserved to this day at the Museo Diocesano at Salerno). You can learn a lot more about the ivories by visiting the website of the exhibition. Photos of the individual ivory plaques are also available on the website of photographer Roberto Bigano. A two-day workshop at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, held in 2009, launched an ongoing research project dedicated to these ivories. So, expect to hear more about them in the near future!

(If, on the other hand, you would like to know more about the Museum of Applied Arts, you can follow the new Twitter account of the museum).

Friday, December 17, 2010

A note on the Fonthill Vase

The Fonthill Vase
National Museum of Ireland, Dublin 

The so-called Gaigneres-Fonthill vase at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin is regarded as the oldest well-documented Chinese porcelain object to enter Europe. It is a porcelain vase with bluish-white (qingbai) glaze, dating from the beginning of the 14th century. The history of the vase is given as follows in almost all available English-language sources: The vase arrived in Europe probably as a gift to King Louis the Great of Hungary, given by an embassy of Nestorian Christians from China, who visited Pope Benedict XII in 1338. The piece then supposedly was mounted by King Louis, and given as a gift to Charles III of Durazzo, upon his ascension to the throne of Naples in 1381 (after the defeat of Louis' hated enemy, Queen Joan). That would explain the combination of Hungarian and Neapolitan Angevin coat of arms mounted on top of the vase. This theory, first elaborated by Mazerolle in 1897 (Gazette des Beaux-Arts), is based on a drawing by Gaigneres from 1713, which depicts the elaborate medieval silver-gilt mounting and enameled heraldic decoration of the vase (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). Mazerolle did not know that the vessel, without its mount, was purchased by the National Museum of Ireland in 1882 for about £28.

The vase had been previously recorded at the Fonthill Abbey collection of William Beckford, which was sold in 1822-23, and the piece likely entered the Hamilton collection after that (The 'Hamilton palace sale' took place in 1882). The celebrated Chinese vase still had its mount preserved at Fonthill Abbey, as the following illustration proves (the picture comes from the book: An Illustrated History and Description of Fonthill Abbey, by John Rutter, 1823 - available via Google Books.)

The mount was removed at an unknown date during the 19th century, and the object entered the National Museum of Ireland unrecognized. The vase was identified by Arthur Lane, who then pieced together the entire story ("The Gaignieres-Fonthill Vase - A Chinese Porcelain of about 1300," Burlington Magazine 103 (1961), 124-132). Lane's article is still the general reference on the object, cited by many (for example: David Whitehouse: "Chinese Porcelain in Medieval Europe," in Medieval Archaeology, 1972, see online here.). This information is also given by the National Museum of Ireland website and the piece was featured with this data in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Gaigneres drawing of the vase
with its medieval mounting  
Paris, BNF 
The study of Arthur Lane, Keeper of the Department of Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, also appeared in Hungarian in the art history journal Művészettörténeti Értesítő - sadly only after the premature death of Lane. Béla Krisztinkovich, a Hungarian expert on ceramics, published a response to Lane's article in the same Hungarian journal. It appears that his publication remained unnoticed outside Hungary (Krisztinkovich, Béla, "Hozzászólás Arthur Lane a Művészettörténeti Értesítő 1967/I. számában megjelent posztumusz cikkéhez a Gaignières-Fonthill vázáról," Művészettörténeti Értesítő 18, 1969/2, 187–192.). Krisztinkovich provides a close analysis of the Gaigneres drawing, which preserved the feature of the mount of the object, and its heraldic decoration. The heraldic decoration is that of the Neapolitan Angevin family, along with the coat of arm of the Hungarian Angevin kings. This of course gave rise to the theory outlined above. However, all branches of the Neapolitan Angevins had a claim to the throne of Hungary, and thus they used the Hungarian coat of arms in their heraldic representation as well. After analyzing the heraldic decoration and other features of the object in details, Krisztinkovich arrives at the conclusion that the vase was mounted for Queen Joan II, successor of King Ladislas at the throne of Naples (1414-1434). His father, Charles III of Naples was king of Hungary for a brief time (Charles II in Hungary) - but was murdered swiftly, making way ultimately for Sigismund of Luxemburg. Joan's brother, Ladislas, also claimed Hungary, but failed to obtain the crown. Similarly to her brother's claim, Joan used the title of Queen of Hungary until her death in 1435. The argument of Krisztinkovich is clinched by the inscription on the spout of the jug: JEHANA, clearly referring to Joan. Later, Jenő Horváth further elaborated this argument - his study is recommended as the best English-language overview of the Fonthill vase (reference below).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Medieval holdings of Budapest museums

I often find myself trying to explain the system of Budapest's major art museums to foreigners. Although it is a clear system, it can still be confusing at times. For example, you can find important medieval artworks in all major museums of the capital. In this post, I will give a brief overview of the system, and list the most important medieval holdings of Budapest museums.

1. Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum)

This is Hungary's oldest public museum, founded in 1802. The present building of the museum, designed by Mihály Pollack, opened in 1847. Originally, all kinds of collections were housed here, a lot of which formed the basis of later museums. Today, it is basically a museum dedicated to the history of Hungary. The museum houses a large number of medieval objects from the territory of historic and modern Hungary. Various objects - including stone carvings, pottery, etc. - are held in the Archaeological Department and are on view in the Medieval Lapidary. Departments of the Historical Repository hold all kinds of medieval objects - furniture, textiles, weapons and ceramics. Of particular note is the Collection of Metalwork, with the best selection of Hungarian goldsmith works. Highlights of these collections are on view in the permanent exhibition. Until 2000, the Coronation regalia were kept here, too - today only the Coronation mantle remains in the Museum. The museum has a useful website, with lot of English language content - although not every page is translated from Hungarian. Start browsing here.

2. Museum of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Múzeum)

Founded in 1872 and modeled after the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Applied Arts was the second major public museum in Hungary. It is housed in an Art Nouveau building designed by Ödön Lechner, opened in 1896. The collections of the museum include all fields of decorative arts - metalwork, furniture, ivories, textiles, ceramics. This is the only major national museum in Hungary where objects of Hungarian origin are side-by-side with other European works. When it comes to medieval objects, the collection is stronger in general European art (most Hungarian objects can be found in the National Museum). Particular highlights include medieval ivories, important goldsmith works from the Esterházy-treasury, chasubles and other medieval textiles, etc. Some of the highlights are on view in the permament exhibition of the museum, but the website only provides information on them in Hungarian. You can still browse the collection and picture galleries of highlights here. The museum's permanent exhibition of the history of furniture is located in the Nagytétény mansion on the outskirts of Budapest, and includes a number of medieval and renaissance objects.

3. Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum)

Officially founded in 1896, the Museum of Fine Art is based on the Esterházy-collection, purchased by the Hungarian state in 1871, and on numerous other acquisitions carried out during the last decades of the 19th century. The main building of the museum opened in 1906. The museum is basically dedicated to monuments of western art, including Egyptian and ancient art, stretching all the way to the present day. Focus is on paintings, drawings and sculpture (for other fields, see the Museum of Applied Arts above). Hungarian works have been transferred to the Hungarian National Gallery (see below). In terms of medieval art, The Collection of Old Master Paintings is particularly strong in Italian Trecento works as well as German/Austrian Late Gothic paintings. There are a number of outstanding medieval drawings in the collection as well, and there is a large collection of medieval sculpture - the latter presently not on view. For information and highlights, visit the website of the museum. In 2006, the Museum of Fine Arts organized and housed the great international exhibition dedicated to Emperor Sigismund.

4. Hungarian National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria)

The National Gallery was created in 1957, with the intention of providing a separate museum dedicated to Hungarian art. It is primarily based on material transferred from the Museum of Fine Arts. When the new museum was transferred to its present building - in the former royal palace of Buda - the Old Hungarian Collection was also transferred there. This is a rich repository of Hungarian medieval art, consisting of medieval stone carvings and sculpture, panel paintings and a large number of complete altarpieces. The collections can be browsed on the website of the museum.

5. Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Museum)

The main site of this museum  - the Castle Museum - is also located in the building of the former royal palace of Buda (this site opened in 1967). Lower levels of the museum incorporate the remains of the medieval royal palace. The museum is an archaeological and historical collection - similar to the Hungarian National Museum - focusing on the territory of Budapest. As the Buda side of present-day Budapest was the medieval seat of Hungarian kings, the museum is particularly rich in medieval objects, most of them archaeological finds. The famous statue-find from the period of King Sigismund is also on view here. New excavations keep adding significant material to the collections. The English version of the website is not quite complete, but you can read about the permanent exhibitions here. In 2008, the museum organised and housed the exhibition titled Matthias Corvinus, the King.

6. Museum of Ethnography (Néprajzi Múzeum)

Started in 1872 as a unit of the Hungarian National Museum, and becoming an independent institution in 1947, the Museum of Ethnography moved into the former Palace of Justice in 1873. It might be surprising that I am listing it here, as the museum has no medieval collection - but it does include a number of medieval objects in its collections of European furniture, ceramics and textiles. The website of the museum is available in English, but the collection database is only in Hungarian. The Ethnological Archives also contain a lot of material about medieval buildings and wall-paintings.

I did not add pictures of actual medieval objects to this post - but you will find plenty to look at by following the links above. Of course, it is best to come and see these museums for yourself! If you would like to know even more about museums in Hungary, visit the central website for Hungarian museums.