Showing posts with label Slovakia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Slovakia. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Restoration of the wall paintings of Torna / Turňa nad Bodvou

Detail from the Arrest of Christ (cleaned state, 2008)
One of the largest restoration projects in Slovakia was completed in 2014: the restoration of the wall paintings in the sanctuary of the medieval church of Torna (Turňa nad Bodvou). The frescoes, found in 2006, were uncovered starting from 2007, and their full restoration is now completed. I contributed as an external art historical consultant to this work, and wrote a preliminary study about the wall paintings for the scholarly documentation of the frescoes. Although my study has not yet been published, I am now providing here a brief overview of the frescoes and their restoration.

Torna is a medieval village in southern Slovakia, just north of the Hungarian border, not far from the town of Kassa/Košice. In 1357, the owners of the property received permission from the king to build a castle on top of the hill overlooking the village. The castle still dominates the landscape. It was the same family - the Tornai family - who had the parish church of the village built, in the second half of the 14th century. The last member of the family, János Tornai, passed away in 1406, his tombstone stands to this day in the sanctuary of the church. Although the sanctuary of church, intended as a family burial site for the Tornai family, was clearly completed before 1406, it was only decorated some time later, as I will discuss below.

First details to emerge (2006)

Until 2006, a nondescript neo-Gothic ornamental decoration covered the walls of the sanctuary, painted to harmonize with the neo-Gothic main altar of the church. The frescoes were first found on the back wall of the Gothic sitting niches on the south wall of the sanctuary. As research and recovery progressed, it became clear that the entire sanctuary (including the vaults) was once painted according to a unified system. Although the first details to emerge from this painted cycle were very promising, unfortunately it turned out that the decoration is largely lost: large surfaces of the original painted decoration were destroyed during the centuries. The original decoration survived mainly on the eastern walls (behind the altar), on the lower zone of the wall as well as on the window splays. What was once an elaborate narrative cycle on the uninterrupted north wall of the sanctuary, however, is now lost almost without a trace. 

Work in progress (2008)

Still, enough remains from the painted decoration to establish its original arrangement, and surviving scenes attest to the high quality of this decoration. The most significant part of the decoration was a large, multi-zone narrative cycle, depicting the Infancy and Passion of Christ. Only a few of the scenes can be identified today, including the Nativity, and from the Passion: the scenes of Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Arrest of Christ. The scene of the Nativity belongs to the type of representation, in which Mary prays before her newborn son, who is lying on the ground. The region of Gömör county contains a large number of comparable cycles depicting the Life and Passion of Christ - for example Gecelfava/Koceľovce or Ochtina/Ochtiná but the quality of the frescoes at Torna is much higher.

Detail of the Virgin Mary from the Nativity (cleaned state, 2008)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Medieval Wall Paintings uncovered at Kövi/Kameňany

Saint Anne with the Virgin at Kövi
The village of Kövi (Kameňany, SK) lies in the vicinity of Rimaszombat (Rimavská Sobota) and Rozsnyó (Rožňava), just north of the modern border between Hungary and Slovakia. In the middle ages, the settlement had an important castle, the ruins of which can still be seen above the settlement of Gömörrákos (Rákoš). The castle was built by members of the Ákos clan in the late 13th century, and it was later owned by descendents of the family, the Bebek and Csetneki families. In 1367, it was described as a ruin, but was rebuilt by about 1400, when the Bebek family alone obtained possession of it.

The parish church of Kövi dates also from the late 13th or only 14th century, and it has been known for some time that its walls preserve important medieval wall paintings. Parts of them were uncovered in 1977, but this work stopped soon afterwards. During the last few years, starting from 2011, the uncovery of these frescoes began again, and research so far has already yielded very important results. The frescoes have been uncovered on the walls of the semi-circular apse of the church, particularly on the northern wall. Here a series of the apostles can be seen, while the insede wall of the triumphal arch is decorated with female martyrs. Higher on the arch, the Wise and Foolish Virgins can be seen. More recently, restorer Peter Koreň has uncovered additional frescoes on the north wall of the nave. Here an impressive composition the Virgin and Child with St. Anne (Mettercia) has been found, which shows the extended family of the Virgin. More frescoes are to be found in the attic of the church, above the Baroque vault built into the nave. Here details of a Last Judgement scene can be seen. Photos of the frescoes can be seen on the very useful Slovakian portal of medieval churches, However, a picture of the St. Anne can be seen first on this blog, along with other images uncovered in the nave (I thank the restorer for providing me with images).

The finds at Kövi are of great importance. Although the frescoes appear to be somewhat fragmentary, their high quality can be seen, especially in some of the faces. A full uncovery of the ensemble and a careful restoration of the frescoes would result in a spectacular monument. The locality is important, because it is in a church which is right next to the medieval castle, which was one of the administrative centers of the region. The patrons of the frescoes were most likely the lords of the castle, so members of the powerful Bebek family. In the present state of research, the frescoes can be dated to the late 14th century or to around 1400 - but it has to mentioned that the frescoes of the nave and sanctuary date from two different painting campaigns. Overall, they appear to be related not only to nearby Gömörrákos, but also to the frescoes of the somewhat more distant Torna/Turňa nad Bodvou, a settlement near Kassa/Košice, the frescoes of which have also been recently uncovered. The full restoration of the Kövi frescoes will definitely considerably alter our knowledge of medieval wall painting in the region. It has to be mentioned that the historical region of medieval Gömör County preserves the richest ensemble of medieval wall paintings from the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Along with the countless impressive painted monuments in the region - places such as Csetnek/Štítnik, Karaszkó/Kraskovo, Gecelfalva/Kocelovce, Gömörrákos/Rákoš, Ochtina/Ochtiná and others - research during recent years uncovered even more, such as the frescoes of sanctuary of Pelsőc/Plešivec. The churches can be visited along the Gothic Route of churches. It is to be hoped that within a short time, Kövi will become an important stopping point on this route.

Here are a few pictures of the frescoes in the sanctuary, where the high quality of the apostle frescoes can be observed:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Late 14th century frescoes discovered at Nitra cathedral

The cathedral of Nyitra (Nitra, Slovakia) is one of the oldest, most complex, and - until quite recently - least known cathedral building of medieval Hungary. Located north-east of Pozsony/Pressburg/Bratislava, the bishopric of Nyitra was founded before the Magyar Conquest, at 880. The bishopric was established at the seat of the Principality of Nyitra, on the eastern fringes of the Carolingian Empire. After the Conquest, the settlement became a ducal residence, and king Koloman I reestablished the bishopric some time before 1113. The cathedral was dedicated to St. Emmeram, as well as to the canonized local hermits, St. Zoerard and Benedict. The cathedral has a dual church: one dating from the Romanesque period, while the other Gothic, from the middle of the 14th century. However, the entire ensemble was rebuilt in Baroque style. The restoration and research of the buildings have been going on since 2007. Already, this research has yielded spectacular results: especially with the uncovering of a large Renaissance red marble tabernacle (with a frame of white marl from Buda), similar to the ones known from the parish church of Pest and from the cathedral of Pécs. Dated 1497, the Renaissance tabernacle at Nyitra is earlier than these, being a very significant example of Florentine-style early Renaissance carving in Hungary.

Tabernacle from 1497 at Nyitra (Photo: Roznava24)
As restoration of the church continued this summer, work progressed in the southern church building of the cathedral. This is the building with a Romanesque apse, which has been extended/rebuilt towards the west in the 14th century. This construction likely dates to 1378, when such work carried out by bishop  Dominic was recorded. Already at the beginninf of the year, parts of a Late Gothic fresco have been spotted behind a Baroque stone altar dating from 1662. Now, however, the entire altarpiece has been temporarily dismantled, and the entire fresco can be seen and studied. The find is of major importance: it comes from a cathedral church, and the centuries behind the altarpiece saved the fresco from any repainting or earlier restorations. The condition of the painted surface is thus fully intact - and this surface is of a considerable size. The quality of the paintings is also very high - along with the recently uncovered frescoes of Torna (Turňa nad Bodvou, near Košice) they are defitinely among the finest wall paintings from the decades around 1400 from Upper Hungary. The theme of the frescoes is a Marian cycle, with the Last Prayer and the Coronation of the Virgin.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Medieval castle of Krasznahorka burned down

In a tragic event today, the medieval castle of Krasznahorka (Krásna Horka, Slovakia) completely burned out today. The roof of the castle caught fire, and the fire spread to all areas of the castle, burning all the roofs - and, presumably, everything under them. Firefighters battled the blazes for several hours, and finally managed to stop the fire, but the castle is still engulfed in smoke. There are no reports yet of damage to the artworks and other objects in the castle - but it is no doubt very serious. The cause of the fire has not yet been established.

Krasznahorka castle, before the fire

Krasznahorka, located near Rozsnyó (Rožňava) in south-eastern Slovakia, just north of the Hungarian border, was one of the most intact medieval castles of Upper Hungary, built by the Bebek family and later owned for centuries by the Andrássy family. You can read about the history of the castle on the official website. Krasznahorka managed to escape war damage both during the Turkish wars and later, in WWII. It burned down only once before, in 1817. The castle has been operated as a family museum and mausoleum since about the mid-19th century. Exhibitions inside the castle included valuable paintings, furniture and weapons. One of the large bastions has been turned into a Baroque chapel - famously holding the mummy of Zsófia Serédy, the wife of István Andrássy. Photos taken after the fire show that the roof of the chapel also burned down.

Here is a video of the fire, and a photo taken after the fire was put out - both showing the scale of devastation. Krasznahorka looms large in both Hungarian and Slovak historical consciousness - a joint effort will be needed to rebuilt what has been lost today.


Update on March 11th: Preliminary reports after the fire claim that most of the exhibitions and historic objects survived the disaster. Although all the roof structures of the castle burned in the fire, the vaults did not collapse - thus the historic interiors were not completely destroyed. Objects are now gathered in safe areas inside the castle. Obviously, only a detailed survey and inventory can reveal the extent of the damage in the end. So far, no photos of the interior after the blaze have been published.