Showing posts with label Transylvania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Transylvania. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Medieval Fresco Cycle of St. Ladislas Uncovered in Transylvania

Figure of the Cuman chased by St. Ladislas, detail from the fresco cycle at Somogyom

News of a spectacular discovery in Transylvania was reported by Hungarian media yesterday: a previously unknown cycle depicting the legend of St. Ladislas was partially uncovered in the church of Somogyom in Transylvania (Șmig, Romania, germ.: Schmiegen).

The village of Somogyom (Schmiegen) was a Transylvanian Saxon community, near the town of Medgyes (Mediasch/Mediaș), established probably in the 13th century - although it was first mentioned only in 1317. Its parish church was built in the 14th century, and was rebuilt during the 15th century. The winged altarpiece of the church was painted some time between 1510-1520 (it is now on permanent loan in the National Museum of Art of Romania, in Bucharest, click on Room 3 in this panorama). Like all of the Saxon communities in the area, Somogyom became Lutheran during the first half of the 16th century, and over the following centuries, the original medieval decoration of the church was slowly covered over. We know that the church was rebuilt and redecorated in 1859, and again in 1909, when a new altarpiece was erected in place of the medieval one. By this time, the medieval frescoes of the church were long forgotten. As both the Hungarian and Romanian population of the village increased, the Saxons slowly diminished, and the Lutheran church has been out of use for decades now. It is thus one of dozens of important medieval churches in Transylvania where urgent actions of protection would be necessary. I've reported on this endangered heritage several times - for example when a medieval copy of Giotto's Navicella was discovered in the ruinous church of Kiszsolna (Senndorf, Jelna) or when two church towers collapsed after last year's winter.

Somogyom, scenes from the Legend of St. Catherine (2 rows), the Crucifixion of St. Peter, etc.
At Somogyom, restorer Loránd Kiss and his colleagues have carried out surveys and smaller interventions of preventive conservation during the last few years, in an effort to save the building. Examination of wall paintings were carried out in the course of a general survey of Transylvanian Saxon churches, and attention was focused on Somogyom after a few scenes were accidentally found there during repairs. Loránd Kiss partially uncovered the medieval frescoes in the nave of the church  a few years ago, revealing a high-quality cycle of the Legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria (these were published in 2013). It was established that the entire north wall of the church, as well as the entire sanctuary was once fully painted - meaning an estimated painted area of about 250 square meters. Research continued this October, when wall paintings in the top register of the north wall of the nave were surveyed. As Loránd Kiss reports, here the Legend of St. Ladislas was uncovered. So far, only parts of a largely intact cycle were freed, as seen on the photos below - with the scene of Ladislas chasing the Cuman being the most clearly visible. The wall paintings can be dated to the beginning of the 15th century, a high point in the popularity of the Ladislas cycle.

Somogyom - Frescoes of the nave, with the newly uncovered Ladislas-cycle in the top row (photo: Tekla Szabó)


Saturday, November 11, 2017

New Websites on Saint Ladislas

The reliquary of Saint Ladislas from Várad cathedral, early 15th century (Győr, Cathedral) 

2017 has been declared the Saint Ladislas (László) memorial year, to mark the 940th anniversary of Saint Ladislas (1077-1095) becoming the king of Hungary and the 825th anniversary of his canonization. One of the most popular Hungarian saints, Ladislas was the embodiment of the ideal Christian knight. He was canonized in 1192; his feast day is June 27.

Ladislas I belonged to the Árpád dynasty and was the son of King Béla I and the Polish princess Richeza. He was born around 1040 in Poland and ascended the throne of the Hungarian kingdom in 1077 after decades of internal power struggle within the newly founded Christian monarchy. He died in 1095, and the two decades of his rule brought consolidation and relative peace, which was further preserved with the introduction of several new laws regarding the protection of private property and the judiciary system. The new cathedrals (Várad [Oradea] and Zagreb) and monasteries he founded, along with the canonization of his predecessors, King Stephen I and his son Emeric in 1083, strengthened the position of Christianity in the country.  He died in 1095 and was buried at the cathedral of Várad. After the death of Ladislas, many healing miracles were associated with him and his burial place, and as a result, he was officially canonized in 1192, and shortly thereafter at the beginning of the thirteenth century his legend was written. Várad became the center of his cult and his head relics were put on display there in a marvelous reliquary bust. Apart from individual cult images, the most characteristic medieval depiction of Ladislas shows him in the 1068 battle of Kerlés against the Petchenegs (Cumans), in which Ladislas saved an abducted Hungarian girl. The painted narrative of this heroic struggle is found on the walls of countless Hungarian churches as well as in manuscripts. After the cathedral of Várad was destroyed during the Reformation and the Turkish wars, the relics of Ladislas were transported to Győr (1607), where they are kept today. A number of popular stories and legends are associated with his name, and László is still a popular given name in Hungary.

 The battle of Saint Ladislas with the Cuman, initial from the Illuminated Chronicle
 (Budapest, National Széchényi Library) 

The memorial year of 2017 provided an opportunity for numerous conferences, smaller exhibitions and a variety of other events, which are listed on the Facebook page of the year. Now as the year is coming to a close, the results of other projects carried out in the framework of the memorial year have also become available. I would like to call attention to two new websites, which provide further information about Saint Ladislas and his cult.  


Bögöz (Mugeni), frescoes of the church, with the Legend of Saint Ladislas in the top row



The website dedicated to Saint Ladislas, the knight king features various locations from Hungary and Transylvania with a connection to the Holy ruler. At the time of the launch, 44 locations connected to the history and legend of Saint Ladislas are featured. The project is an ongoing one, and will be developed to include other regions from within the Carpathian Basin. The website, which is available in English and Romanian as well, features a number of important medieval churches which are either dedicated to Saint Ladislas, or contain his depictions. It provides information and photos about the monuments, as well as practical information for visitor of the route of Saint Ladislas. There is even a route planner, where you can select medieval wall paintings, for example. The information provided about medieval monuments is well-researched and the image galleries provide great material on the churches. You may want to have a look at Bögöz (Mugeni), Gelence (Ghelinţa) or perhaps Türje - or just keep browsing.

http://www.knightking.org/

Detail of the Legend of Saint Ladislas at Homoródkarácsonyfalva (Crăciunel)


The other website, titled Szent László, focuses only on medieval paintings depicting the Legend of Saint Ladislas, more specifically the story of his battle against the invading Cumans, and the rescue of an abducted Hungarian girl. The painted cycle of this battle is perhaps the most significant contribution of medieval Hungary to the common heritage of the European Middle Ages. The complex and extensive cycle appeared within a short time all over the territory of the Kingdom, and was especially common in wall painting. For well over a century – during the reign of the Angevin kings Charles Robert and Louis the Great, as well as their successor, Sigismund of Luxemburg – the cycle was the most popular painted narrative in Hungary. If we count surviving monuments today, as well as a few examples only known from 19th century copies, we know just about 45 cycles of wall paintings with this narrative – and there are several other documented examples which have disappeared from the walls of churches. This website - developed by the Arany Griff Association (Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania) - aims to collect images of these painted cycles. So far, they provide information on and photos of 32 painted cycles, which makes it the most comprehensive website on the legend. You can find images of the painted cycles from all over the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. 

http://www.szentlaszlo.com/

Detail of the Legend of Saint Ladislas at Szepesmindszent (Bijacove)




Saturday, January 28, 2017

Protection of Medieval Monuments

The Roman Catholic church of Nyírbátor, restored in 2011 
Over six years ago, in August 2010, I started this blog with a brief announcement about changes in the organizational structure of national monument protection in Hungary. That was a time when it seemed that attention to monuments would increase in Hungary, and a stronger national office would take care of the protection, research and restoration of historic monuments. A lot has happened during the last six years - I decided not to report on institutional changes, as there was some kind of reorganization almost every year. The National Office for Cultural Heritage was transformed into the Forster Center for Cultural Heritage in 2012, but its responsibilities changed several times, various tasks were transferred to other agencies, and its presidents came and went several times. Finally, in a decision made last year, the Forster Center was completely closed as of January 1st, 2017. The tasks of cultural heritage management (such as listings, inventory, and archival collections) were transferred to the Prime Minister's office or to regional government offices, while the historic buildings in the direct care of the Center were transferred to a separate state-owned company. It is still too early to tell how this new system will work, but it clearly appears to be a sign of the weakening role of monument protection in Hungary. Work is now largely on hold as the new offices are still being set up and everything is being moved to new locations (this is not transpiring without trouble: it was revealed last week that part of the historical documentation of monuments was damaged when a broken water pipe flooded material waiting to be moved).

Former headquarters of the Forster Center in the Buda castle area
When it comes to the restoration of medieval monuments, it appears that in Hungary, the interests of the tourism industry already outweigh the requirements of historical authenticity. Take the example of medieval castles: thanks to EU funds pouring into the countryside, a lot of touristic developments are being carried out all over the country. These often aim to develop castles and mansions, sometimes with disregard of international standards of monument preservation (think of the Venice Charter). This process started a while ago, with the large-scale rebuilding of the former royal palace at Visegrád, but by now it has reached a new level. Castles are reconstructed from knee-high ruins, their interiors embellished with wall paintings and fake medieval altarpieces. The castle of Füzér, rebuilt and reopened in 2016, is a good case in point - here is how it looked before and after this most recent restoration:



And have a look at its brand-new castle chapel, rebuilt and decorated, embellished with a newly made (fake) altarpiece:



Several other, similarly fantastic reconstructions of medieval buildings are planned - these usually start as 3D models called "theoretical reconstructions," but are then eventually built. There is talk of rebuilding the former royal basilica of Székesfehérvár, for example. This former coronation church of the Hungarian kings was completely destroyed; it would be hard to decide which of its former states from the 11th to the 16th centuries should be rebuilt (see various reconstructions of the church in this blog post by the Székesfehérvár museum, and details about the reconstruction of its late Gothic vault). It would also be a pointless exercise. 

Ruins of the former coronation church at Székesfehérvár 

There are, however, some promising developments as well. After a break of almost a decade, the Hungarian government last year restarted a program aimed at the preservation, research and restoration of Hungarian historic monuments located outside the borders of modern Hungary. This program largely focuses on the restoration of churches in Transylvania and in the Transcarpathian region of the Ukraine, although monuments in Slovakia, Serbia and Croatia are also included. More often than not, the monuments in question are medieval churches, quite often with significant fresco decorations. The first such program, which ran from 1999 to 2006, brought significant results and contributed to saving a large number of historic monuments. Numerous publications chronicle the results of the program - and a book titled Common Space, Common Heritage (edited by József Sebestyén, Budapest, 2013) describes all the monuments involved. In addition, two books co-authored by me also examined wall paintings restored within the framework of that project. In 2016, a similar program was started under the name Rómer Flóris Project. The project is carried out in cooperation with the Teleki László Foundation, which already proved successful in this field during the 1999-2006 period. After the recent organizational changes, the project now runs under the umbrella of the Prime Minister's office, and after the pilot year of 2016, larger sums have been dedicated to the project in 2017. These sums are usually divided among dozens of monuments, contributing to their research, restoration or - in several cases - to their bare survival. The website of the project provides up-to-date information about work carried out, and even more information can be found on the website of the Teleki Foundation. As in the past, you can expect to hear about results on this blog as well. Let me just link to a few earlier posts: There will be a project to protect and make accessible abandoned medieval churches in Transylvania, hopefully also in the Saxon areas. More work is foreseen on the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár and on the churches of Magyarlóna and Kiszsolna - as the latter was finally saved from certain destruction at the end of 2016. In my mind, this wide-ranging project consisting of numerous small-scale local interventions aimed at preservation and research, is much more meaningful and necessary than over-ambitious recreations of lost medieval buildings. 

Putting a protecting roof over the sanctuary of the church of Kiszsolna, just before Christmas, 2016


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Heritage in Danger - A Medieval Copy of the Navicella in Transylvania

Kiszsolna, the church around 2010
In last week's post, I already called attention to the precarious state of medieval churches in Transylvania, especially in the areas previously inhabited by Transylvanian Saxons. Among these areas is the vicinity of Beszterce / Bistritz / Bistrița in Northern Transylvania and also the northern part of the Transylvanian Plain. In many villages here, the German population left Transylvania at the time of the Soviet advance during World War II in 1944, and they never returned. After this, the churches lost their former function and the communities which had maintained them. Although the Orthodox church took over most of the abandoned buildings, the new occupants of these villages often did not take over the churches, but rather built new ones. After decades of neglect, there are now a large number of medieval churches in the area around Beszterce in the final stages of their existence. Vermes (Wermesch, Vermeș) and Sajómagyarós (Ungersdorf, Șieu-Măgheruș, in the Transylvanian Plain) are just two examples of buildings with collapsed roofs. 

At a conference last week, a new research project was announced, aimed at surveying, documenting and studying the churches of Central and Northern Transylvania - the area of the Mezőség especially, but also the region of Beszterce. The research project is coordinated by the István Möller Foundation, and a number of buildings were already surveyed and documented. In several places, restorers also surveyed the walls of the churches, looking for medieval wall paintings, which have not yet been uncovered in these churches.


The most interesting announcement at the conference was made by one of the art historians involved in the project, Szilárd Papp. It concerns the wall paintings of the church of Kiszsolna (Senndorf, Jelna), located near Beszterce. The frescoes have been known for some time, but their true significance was only revealed now - perhaps finally prompting the authorities to action. Some time ago, the roof of the church collapsed, leading to quick decay (even the vault of the nave collapsed). Thanks to weather damage, the plaster peeled off from the walls, revealing frescoes beneath. These were documented, and some details - especially intact heads of figures - were removed and transported to the Bistriţa - Năsăud County Museum back in 2007. A few articles - including a Hungarian-language overview of the church and an English-language study on medieval frescoes of the region - called attention to the find, but to this date, not much has been done to actually save them.

Fresco fragments in the church of Kiszsolna (photo: Kinga German)
The most interesting frescoes are on the north wall of the sanctuary. One scene, in particular, is of great importance: it depicts the Navicella, based on the famous mosaic of Giotto once in the atrium of Old St. Peter's basilica in Rome. This celebrated mosaic is known from a number of later copies. In monumental form, the earliest copy dates from the 1320s, and is in Strasbourg - other 14th century painted copies are in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence as well as in Pistoia. Dating from the third quarter of the 14th century, the fresco at Kiszsolna is the fourth known painted copy of the Navicella from that century in all of Europe. It would be very important to fully uncover and restore it, along with all the other frescoes of the church - the ensemble could likely contribute to the studies of Italian Trecento painting, and thus is not only of a local significance. For decades, we have watched the decay of this - and many other - churches: it is now time to act, before these works of art are completely destroyed. Kiszsolna demonstrates, that even a modest village church can preserve unique and important works of art - it shows that this region of Transylvania still preserves a lot more worth saving and studying.

Fragments of the Navicella at Kiszsolna (note the mast of the ship on top)

Parri Spinelli's drawing of the Navicella, c. 1420 (Metropolitan Museum)
Kiszsolna, a few decades ago
The frescoes these days (Photo: Attila Mudrák)

A fragment of the Navicella scene, now at the Museum of Bistrița
The conference of the István Möller Foundation created quite a stir in the Hungarian press, see this article in Népszabadság, for example. The ruins of the church cannot survive another winter - spread the news, help save the frescoes!
Photos by Szilárd Papp, Kinga German and Attila Mudrák.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Heritage in Danger - Saxon Fortified Churches in Transylvania

 88 year of Erwin looking at the destruction at the church of Rotbach/Rotbav
Photo: Inquam Photos / Attila Szabó / Facebook
Despite being on the Unesco World Heritage list and despite funding from various European projects, recent dramatic events have called attention to the fact that the Saxon fortified churches in Transylvania are in real danger. This is very often the case with historic monuments without communities supporting them. The Saxons (Germans) of Transylvania - who originally settled there in the 12th-13th centuries - have largely disappeared during the 1980, due to the policies of Ceausescu - have left behind a unique built heritage from the late Middle Ages. Not only the Saxon towns of Transylvania - such as Hermannstadt / Sibiu / Nagyszeben or Schässburg/Sighisoara/Segesvár - but small villages as well preserve large medieval churches, surrounded by walls and towers. Many of the buildings date originally from the 13th century, and most were enlarged and fortified during the 15th-16th centuries. The churches also preserved their wall paintings (usually under layers of whitewash) and much of their medieval liturgical furnishings, including altarpieces, baptismal fonts, and goldsmith works. As a result, southern Transylvania is one of the richest and most dense regions of medieval village church art in all of Europe. It is a common European task to preserve this rich and unique heritage.

Most of the churches are now not in use. Their treasures have been transported to the bigger churches of the region, and their maintenance is not duly carried out. Many stories are known of valuable furnishing stolen from the churches, or damaged. In fact, several of the buildings themselves are in danger of collapsing. Here are two recent examples:

Radeln/Roadeș/Rádos, tower



1. On February 14th, 2016, the late medieval tower of the fortified church of Radeln/Roadeș/Rádos partially collapsed. There is an imminent danger that the tower may collapse entirely, likely damaging the church itself. The church had most recently been in the news in 1998, when panels of its late Gothic altarpiece were stolen. Luckily, the damaged panels were recovered a few years later, and the altarpiece now stands in one of the churches of Hermannstadt/Sibiu. Most recently, it was reported that medieval frescoes - most likely painted by the workshop of the Székelyderzs/Dirjiu master, and thus dating from around 1420 - were found under the plaster on the walls (see on the right). No doubt, the church still holds many treasures and has to be saved. 

Several foundations took up the task of preserving the church - Wikipedia reports on the Peter Maffay Stiftung, among others - but apparently not much has been done to actually structurally protect the building.



2. On February 19th, 2016, one of the most monumental church towers in southern Transylvania, the tower of Rotbach/Rotbav/Szászveresmart collapsed entirely. The tower had been an important sight on the road towards Kronstadt/Brasov/Brassó. It dates from the Middle Ages, although it had been enlarged and rebuilt in later centuries. It was reported that at 9 PM, the bell was only struck twice, and then the entire tower collapsed, burying part of the nave under the rubble. I am not aware of any reports about the state of the tower prior to the collapse - it is not clear when the building was last surveyed. But in any case, a significant landmark was lost forever, an the fate of the remaining church building is uncertain at best.

Rotbach/Rotbav/Szászveresmart - Before and after


Rotbach/Rotbav/Szászveresmart - Bell under the rubble
3. ? - The above two are not the only medieval churches in danger in Transylvania. On this page, you can see a selection of photos of similarly important monuments. I have already reported on abandoned churches in Transylvania, and my next post will also be on an important find inside an abandoned church. Please share this post, share these news - help put pressure on the government of Romania to take the task of monuments protection seriously. So far, even when EU-funds have been used for restoration, the results were almost as catastrophic as the results of neglect - see this detailed report. So for now, it remains to be seen how far the emergency funds announced by Cultural Minister Vlad Alexandrescu will go.


Ministerul Culturii propune constituirea „Fondului de urgență pentru patrimoniu”Reprezentanți ai Ministerul Culturii...
Posted by Vlad Alexandrescu on Sunday, February 21, 2016

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ostrich egg cup of Christopher Báthory at the Ashmolean Museum - Updated

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has recently called attention to a magnificent ostrich egg cup on Twitter:

The object is part of the Wellby bequest, which entered the Ashmolean collections in 2012, and has recently been put on a new, permanent display. The objects can be browsed on the website of the museum, where the following information is given about the ostrich egg cup:

"Silver gilt cup and cover enclosing an ostrich-egg. The body has embossed and enamelled decoration in red, blue, green and white, three vertical straps, surmounted by masks. The cover has three pierced straps enamelled decoration with crosses and fleur-des-lys. The finial is an ostrich-egg holding up a shield with a crowned coat of arms [...] Made for the prince (waivoda) of Transylvania, a member of the Habsburg family, who ruled as a vassel of the Ottoman Empire. The inside of the egg has silver-gilt meticulously decorated with intersecting curving lines. The egg has been replaced or stripped."

The website also gives the insciption around the coat of arms on top of the lid of the cup:
CHRIST BATHORY WAIVODAE. TRANSYLVANIAE. COMITIS SICULORUM 1576
This inscription enables us to identify the owner of the cup more precisely: it was not made for the Prince of Transylvania - who in 1576 was Stephen Báthory - but for his brother, Cristopher (Krisfóf) Báthory. 


Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland
 (Giulio Ricci, 1586 - Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest)
Christopher Báthory





















Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Catalogue of Liturgical Vestments of the Black Church in Brasov

The Abbeg-Stiftung (Riggisberg, CH) published an exhaustive catalogue of the liturgical vestments of the Black Church of Brașov / Brassó / Kronstadt in Transylvania. Regarded as the most important ecclesiastical collection of the Transylvanian Saxon churches, interest in the collection started already in the 19th century, but the present book, edited and largely written by Evelin Wetter, is the first systematic catalogue of the medieval and renaissance textiles preserved in the church. Several objects date back to the 15th and the early 16th century, and these remained in use even after the community and its church turned Lutheran in 1543.

The origins of the town of Brassó / Kronstadt go back to the early 13th century, when as part of King Andreas II's policies, it was established by German settlers (known in later sources generally as Saxons). Along with Nagyszeben / Hermannstadt (Sibiu), Brassó became one of the most important Saxon towns of Transylvania, and developed greatly due its favorable position near the border of the Hungarian Kingdom and along key trade routes. The present parish church of Brassó /Kronstadt, dedicated to the Virgin, was built from around 1380 until about 1470, and it is the easternmost major Gothic building of medieval Europe (it is also the largest medieval church in all of Transylvania). The original fabric of the church was heavily damaged in a fire in 1689 - hence the name of "Black church." After the fire, a slow rebuilding process started, during which the entire church had to be re-vaulted, which was carried out in a Gothicising spirit.

Black Church in Brasov, by Vlad Moldovean, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the fire, the church has preserved a remarkable array of its treasures. The treasury holds medieval chalices and other goldsmith works, and the church also preserves one of the largest collection of historic Ottoman Turkish carpets in the world. The subject of the present book is another ensemble, that of the liturgical vestments. The catalogue includes 21 objects, a few of which have been brought to Brasov from smaller communities. There are six copes in the collection (cat. 1-6), originally stemming from the late 15th - early 16th century, and made from the finest Italian (and in one case, Ottoman Turkish) velvets. There are also five Baroque chasubles (ca. 9-14), preserving outstanding late medieval or early Renaissance embroideries, along with two further separate cross orphreys.

Cope, mid 15th century, with later transformations. Brasov, Black Church (cat. 1.)

The book has been produced in an exemplary manner. I mean this in many senses of the word: first of all regarding the nature of scholarly collaboration. Evelin Wetter, the editor of the the volume, and a noted expert of medieval liturgical objects, started researching the collection in 2001. She has worked together with Ágnes Ziegler, who has worked as the art historian assigned by the church next to the collection for several years now. A study tour was made to Brasov from Riggisberg each year, where the third author of the volume, textile conservator Corinna Kienzler was also regularly present. The result in an exhaustive work, which examines and publishes the textiles in great detail. After the introductory essay by Evelin Wetter, there are 6 long studies in the first part of the book, dealing with the history of the church (Ágnes Ziegler), the history of the collection as well as with the later use of the medieval vestments (Wetter and Ziegler together). Corinna Kienzler authored important studies on later changes carried out on the vestments, as well as on the subject of the Italian or Turkish origin of the velvets. After the studies, comes the catalogue part, with detailed descriptions of the technical, historical and art historical aspects of the objects. Drawings and excellent photographs present the material as well. The book is in German, but a separate volume contains exhaustive summaries of the essays in Romanian, Hungarian and English. All of this was produced according to the very high techological standards we have come to expect from the Abbeg-Stiftung. Overall, the book is not simply a catalogue of a significant collection of liturgical vestments, but a major contribution to the study of the history of a most important Transylvanian town and community, with major implications for the medieval art history of Hungary in general.


The book was presented in Brasov by the authors on the 6th of June, along with a lecture by Ernő Marosi on the subject of communal memory. On this occasion, the vestments were presented to the public - see the photo on the left, and the accompanying article from the Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung für Rumänien








Biblographical data: 

Evelin Wetter: Liturgische Gewänder in der Schwarzen Kirche zu Kronstadt in Siebenbürgen. Mit Beiträgen von Corinna Kienzler und Ágnes Ziegler, Vol. 1-2. (Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 2015), 484 and 160 pp. More information of the website of the Abbeg-Stiftung. 
A Hungarian-language overview of the new publication can be found on the website of Obeliscus, an online journal of Early Modern Studies.


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: pbs.org


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Medieval frescoes at Bögöz restored

One of my favourite medieval churches is at Bögöz (Mugeni, RO), in Transylvania. The north wall of this church is covered with a rich ensemble of 14th century mural paintings, which were discovered in 1898. Fur much of the last 100 years, these frescoes were in a very bad condition: dirty, discoloured and crumbling. Finally, by the end of last year, the frescoes were cleaned, conserved and restored. Despite their somewhat fragmentary state, they are now much more visible. 
I wrote a small book on the church and its frescoes in the middle of the 1990s. In the following, I will give a brief overview of the monument, based on my earlier text. The text is illustrated by new photographs of the frescoes, most of which I received from the restorer, Loránd Kiss.

Before we start, have a look at the pre-restoration state of the church, on the Treasures of Szeklerland website. Select 'Mugeni' from among the churches - and take a virtual tour of the exterior and interior of the church.

Bögöz, view of the church

The village of Bögöz is in the middle of Udvarhelyszék, on the left bank of the river Nagyküküllő. The village was first mentioned in the sources in 1333 and 1334, as part of the Archidiaconatus Telegdiensis. The settlement at that time was one of the larger villages of the area, and it maintained an important role in later centuries as well. During the fourteenth century, several noble families from the village were mentioned in documents. The sources between 1481 and 1505 often mention a certain John of Bögöz, later captain of Udvarhelyszék, who certainly must have played an important role in the late Gothic rebuilding of the church.

The church is now Calvinist, and its building is surrounded by a simple wall. The church consists of three main parts: a large western tower, nave and sanctuary. The simple nave and the bottom parts of the tower are still from the Romanesque period, and the foundations of the original, semicircular apse were discovered inside the present late Gothic sanctuary. Thus the original church must have been built in the 13th century. The nave had been vaulted with a net-vaulting probably at the end of the fifteenth century, but this vaulting was later destroyed, and only the corbels in the wall survived. The nave is now covered with a painted coffered ceiling from 1724. The elaborate stone-vaulting of the sanctuary and its sculpted corbels have survived up to the present day.


The wall-paintings of the church are preserved on the north wall of the nave. József Huszka discovered them in the summer of 1898, and published his results and copies in the same year. The present condition of the paintings can be compared with the two sets of Huszka’s copies - the sketches in the Ethnographic Museum, and the final versions in the collection of the OMvH.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Medieval manuscripts of Batthyáneum available online

The Batthyáneum Library of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia, Romania) is one of the most important historic libraries in Transylvania. It was founded in 1798 by Ignác Batthyány, the bishop of Transylvania. The library was housed in the former church of the Trinitarian order - first an observatory was created here, and later the library was established in the building (all this was modeled on the Archdiocesan Library of Eger). The library of Batthyány grew from many sources, but the most important among these was the library of Christoph Anton von Migazzi, the bishop of Vác and also the bishop of Vienna. Batthyány bought the 8000 volume library of Migazzi, which included a lot of medieval manuscripts. When established at Gyulafehérvár, the Batthyáneum held about 20.000 volumes - a number which continued to increase throughout the 19th century. In addition to simply being a library, the institution worked as a museum, holding Batthyány's collection of minerals and naturalia, as well as a collection of ecclesiastical art. Finds from the excavations of Gyulafehérvár cathedral carried out by Béla Pósta in the early 20th century are also kept here.

The 20th century history of the library was not free from controversy: some books were sold in the 1930s, but the institution continued too function as a public library even after the Trianon peace treaty awarded Transylvania to Romania. However, in 1949 the collection was nationalized, and later became part of the Romanian National Library. Access to the collections became very limited - a situation which continues to this day. Even though a government decree returned the building and collection of the library to the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Gyulafehérvár, the Library still functions as part of the state library system, and the court cases going on have so far not clarified the situation.

The library holds today altoghether 927 manuscripts and 565 incunabula, making it the richest collection of this kind of material in all of Romania. The medieval manuscripts are of various origins: Migazzi's library included all kinds of western manuscripts, but Batthyány also bought complete medieval libraries from Hungary, including the holdings of the ecclesiastical libraries of Lőcse (Levoča / Leutschau, Slovakia, see this Hungarian language study with German summary: Eva Selecká Mârza: A középkori Lőcsei Könyvtár, Szeged, 1997.). Several Transylvanian collections were also incorporated into the library, and there are rich holdings of orthodox Romanian manuscripts in the collection. In the framework of a European digitization project, a large number of manuscript are now available in the Manuscriptorium platform. In fact, there is a special section dedicated to manuscripts from the Batthyáneum.

The library holds a large number of first class illuminated manuscripts - many of which can now be consulted online. The following is a selection of a few of the most important of these (providing direct links to pages of this dynamic website is quite complicated. I managed to make direct links to the digital facsimile pages below - but you may start to browse or search from the start page, to get to object descriptions, etc.)

Ms II 1, first part of the Lorsch Gospels (Codex Aureus of Lorsch), from the Palace workshop of Charlemagne, dating  around 810 (on the history of the whole manuscript, see also this overview)










Ms III 87, a nicely illustrated early 15th century Franco-Flemish Book of Hours












Ms II 134, A Missal from Pozsony (Bratislava / Pressburg), dating from 1377, with explicit by Henrik of Csukárd












There is a lot more there - you can start browsing from the start page, Manoscriti qui in theca batthyanyana. Furthermore, you can find some more illuminated manuscripts from the Europeana database - not all of which have been made available in the current digitization effort.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Library of Medieval and Renaissance art in Transylvania

Rather than being a proper post, this is more like a collection of links - links to full-length books on medieval and Renaissance art in Transylvania. New databases, especially the Transylvanian Hungarian database maintained by transindex.ro and the newly opened Transylvanian Digital Database of the Transylvanian Museum Society, have made a number of old and new publications available, which - together with other resources - provide a good overview of art historical research in Transylvania. As most of these publications are in Hungarian, the following links will be mainly of use to my Hungarian readers - but others may find something useful as well (as some publications are in English or German). The focus of these publications is architecture, but a few other things are also available online. I'd be glad to add more resources to these - let me know if you've spotted something relevant!


I. Historical overview

History of Transylvania, ed. by László Makkai and András Mócsy, General Editor: Béla Köpeczi
Volume I. - From the Beginnings to 1606. English edition from 2001.

István Lázár: Transylvania - A Short History. 1997


II. Period of Hungarian Conquest

Gyula László: A honfoglaló magyarok művészete Erdélyben. Kolozsvár, 1943.
Art of the Hungarians at the Conquest period in Transylvania


III. Romanesque architecture

Géza Entz: Erdély építészete a 11-13. században. Kolozsvár, 1994.
Monograph and database on architecture in Transylvania in the 11-13th centuries.

Géza Entz: A gyulafehérvári székesegyház. Budapest, 1958
Monograph on the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).
Monograph on archaeological research at Gyulafehérvár.



IV. Gothic architecture
Géza Entz: Erdély építészete a 14–16. században. Kolozsvár, 1996.
Monograph and database on architecture in Transylvania in the 14-16th centuries.

Database of medieval churches in Transylvania.

Victor Roth: Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte Siebenbürgens, 1914

Edit Grandpierre: A kolozsvári Szent Mihály templom története és építészete. Kolozsvár, 1936.
Study on St. Michael's church in Kolozsvár (Cluj).

Géza Entz: Dési református templom (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1942.
The church of Dés (Dej).

Géza Entz: Szolnok-Doboka középkori műemlékei (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1943.
Medieval monuments in Szolnok-Doboka county.

Géza Entz: A középkori székely művészet kérdései (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1943.
Study on medieval art in the Szekler territories. 

József K. Sebestyén: A középkori nyugati műveltség legkeletibb határai (link 2). Kolozsvár, 1929.
Study on medieval art in the Szekler territories. 

József Köpeczi Sebestyén: A brassai fekete templom Mátyás-kori címerei. Kolozsvár, 1927.
Coat of arms at the Black Church of Brassó (Brasov).

László Dávid: A középkori Udvarhelyszék művészeti emlékei. Bukarest, 1981.
Monograph on medieval monuments of Udvarhely county.

András Sófalvi: Székelyföld középkori várai. In: Castrum 3, 2006.
Study on medieval castles in the Szekler territories.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Inaugural Lecture of András Kovács at HAS

András Kovács at Szászrégen (Reghin), 2009

65 year old art historian András Kovács will deliver his inaugural lecture to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences tomorrow, on October 20th (he is an external member of the Academy). The title of his lecture, to be delivered in Hungarian, is: The Gyulafehérvár palace of the Princes of Transylvania.

András Kovács's primary field of research is the architecture of 16th-17th century Transylvania. Based on a careful reading of the sources (many not even studied before) and a detailed analysis of existing building and their ruins, he fundamentally altered our knowledge of this period - the new overview of the field is now provided by his magisterial survey of the period (Késő reneszánsz épí­tészet Erdélyben 1541-1720, which is available online, either chapter by chapter or as a full pdf-version). He also wrote on medieval architecture, in particular about the cathedral of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia).



András Kovács is professor of Art History at the Babeș-Bolyai University at Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), and during the last twenty years he has raised a new generation of Hungarian art historians in Transylvania. His pupils have just dedicated a volume of studies to him: the 23 studies represent that high level of scholarship and keen attention to detail that he always required of himself and of his students. (Liber discipulorum: Tanulmányok Kovács András 65. születésnapjára. Edited by Zsolt Kovács, Emese Sarkadi Nagy, Attila Weisz. Kolozsvár, 2011.) This in itself shows the success of his work, not to mention everything that he did in order to preserve historic monuments and to organize the field of Hungarian-language art historical research in Romania. An (incomplete) list of the publications of András Kovács can be consulted on the University's website as well as in the Transindex database (with some further works available online), and also on the website of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

With this brief post, I, too would like to congratulate András Kovács, and look forward to hearing his lecture tomorrow!