Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Books on Medieval Buda

In this post, I would like to announce three new books which contain a lot of information about the history of art in Buda, the medieval capital of Hungary (part of modern-day Budapest). Each of the books has a different focus, and neither of them can be considered a survey of the art of medieval Buda - but together they definitely provide significantly more up-to-date information than earlier publications. Previously, the most accessible English-language overview of medieval Buda was László Gerevich's The Art of Buda and Pest in the Middle Ages, published in 1971, while somewhat more recent information in German was provided by the exhibition catalogue of the Budapest History Museum and the Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum from 1991 (titled Budapest im Mittelalter). Now all of a sudden we have three new books which can be consulted by anyone interested in the art of Buda and its environs.

The first book will likely become the standard volume on the subject, given its well-known publisher and the wide circulation made possible through them. The book is titled Medieval Buda in Context, and it was published in Brill's Companion to European History series. Edited by Balázs Nagy, Martyn Rady, Katalin Szende and András Vadas, the book was published in the middle of 2016. Here is a description by the publisher: 

"Medieval Buda in Context discusses the character and development of Buda and its surroundings between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries, particularly its role as a royal center and capital city of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. The twenty-one articles written by Hungarian and international scholars draw on a variety of primary sources: texts, both legal and literary; archaeological discoveries; architectural history; art history; and other studies of material culture. The essays also place Buda in the political, social, cultural and economic context of other contemporary central and eastern European cities. By bringing together the results of research undertaken in recent decades for an English-language readership, this volume offers new insights into urban history and the culture of Europe as a whole."

Although the book has a historical focus, it contains a number of very important art historical studies as well. There are essays about the medieval topography of Buda and its ecclesiastical institutions, and on the role of Buda as a power center in the late Middle Ages. For art historians, Szilárd Papp's study on the statues commissioned by King Sigismund and the essay by Valery Rees on Buda as a center of Renaissance are perhaps the most important.

You can take a peek at the book in Google Books or, in fact, you can go straight to the full online version, if you have access.

The second book has an archaeological and art historical focus, but it treats a geographically wider region: the central part of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Titled In medio regni Hungariae. Archaeological, art historical, and historical researches 'in the middle of the kingdom', the book was edited by Elek Benkő and Krisztina Orosz and published by the Institute of Archaeology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest, 2015). The book is not in English - the bulk of the text is in Hungarian, but a long English summary of each study is included in the book. These extensive English summaries and the large number of high-quality illustrations make the book accessible even to those who do not speak Hungarian. The 764 page book contains on overview of current research about royal centers in medieval Hungary, including Esztergom, Székesfehérvár, Visegrád and of course Buda. Studies in the book are organized according to themes: thus after introductory studies by Ernő Marosi, Pál Lővei and others, material is arranged into units on ecclesiastical centers and residences, then on other castles and material remains. Given the nature of the surviving material - as well as the publisher of the book - it is no surprise that the book has a strong archaeological focus. The table of contents can be downloaded here. A review by József Laszlovszky was published in the Winter 2015 issue of Hungarian Archaeology (direct link to pdf).

Cover of the Hungarian edition

The third book is the English edition of an exhibition catalogue already discussed on this blog. It is dedicated to a comparative overview of the history and art of Budapest and Kraków in the Middle Ages. (On Common Path. Budapest and Kraków in the Middle Ages. Ed.: Judit Benda - Virág Kiss - Grazyna-Nurek Lihonczak - Károly Magyar, Budapest History Museum, Budapest, 2016.). The studies and catalogue entries in the book survey the parallel histories of Buda and Kraków from the period of their foundations to the high points of their development in the late Middle Ages.

The exhibition, shown earlier this year in Budapest, will be put on view in Kraków next year.

If you are interested in the history of Buda Castle, you should also have a look at the online database of architectural and municipal history of Buda Castle, created by the Budapest History Museum and the Research Centre for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. This well-illustrated site gives an overview of the history and monuments of the settlement on top of the castle hill, and is available in English as well.
Figure of a man with a chaperon, from the royal palace of Buda (Budapest History Museum)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

K700 - Exhibition on Emperor Charles IV and his Era in Prague and Nuremberg

Ten years after the most recent major exhibition about Emperor Charles IV and the Luxembourg dyansty (shown in New York and Prague), the National Gallery in Prague and curator/director Jiři Fajt returned to the topic, and organized a major exhibition dedicated to the Emperor. The occasion was the 700th anniversary of the birth of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor - hence the short logo-title of the exhibition: K700. The exhibition was jointly organized by the National Gallery in Prague and the House of of Bavarian History, and will be shown later this year in Nuremberg as well. I managed to catch it in Prague before it closed on September 25, 2016, at the Waldstein Riding School.

Titled Emperor Charles IV 1316-2016, the topic of the Czech-Bavarian exhibition is summarized in the press release of the National Gallery:
"Charles IV is among the most frequently portrayed medieval monarchs. Not only was he a wise and pious ruler, but also a successful collector of royal crowns. He liked to dress in the latest Paris fashion and participated in jousting tournaments. One of them was nearly fatal, permanently affecting his appearance as shown in his many portraits. The first Czech-Bavarian Land Exhibition Emperor Charles IV 1316–2016, held at the Waldstein Riding School of the National Gallery in Prague, not only gets to the heart of the traditional Charles IV themes but also focuses on the less popularised ones. About 200 precious exhibits will present the emperor’s personality, a perspective on him by his adherents and opponents, art, and Jewish pogroms." Along with other materials, this press release can be downloaded from the website of the National Gallery.

What follows is not a proper review of the exhibition - I would merely like to summarize a few of my observations about the exhibition. As the court of Charles IV was one of the most important artistic centers of 14th century Europe, it is no surprise that the exhibition was full of beautiful, even breathtaking works of art. The highlights for me were some of the reliquaries commissioned by the Emperor, as well as the statues and paintings made for Prague or Karlstein castle. Some monumental works also made it into the exhibition hall, including the tympanum relief with Passion scenes from the north portal of Tyn Church (Prague). Given the partnership with Nuremberg, one of the richest section of the exhibition consisted of works stemming from Nuremberg, including the monumental Waldstromer’s window from the hospital church of St Martha in Nuremberg, which rose over 5 meters high in the exhibition space. Further sections focused on other artistic centers in Bohemia, apart from Prague and Karlstein, as well as on artistic developments in the northern German areas of Brandenburg and neighboring territories. Special attention was given to the French upbringing of Charles, and the influence of Parisian court art at his court - high-quality loan objects illustrated the types of objects likely available in Prague, and one of the last sections focuses on the final journey of Charles to Paris in 1378.

Cat.04.08. - Ewer for the tablecloth
 of the Last Supper
A special section was dedicated to the contemporaries and opponents of Charles IV - however, I felt that rather little attention was given to his Central European neighbors in Vienna, Cracow or Buda. I would like to make a few small observations about objects with Hungarian connections. One of these was a centerpiece of the display of reliquaries: a rock crystal ewer once holding the tablecloth used for the Last Supper. The relic was a gift of Hungarian King Louis the Great before 1350. Some high-quality goldsmith works commissioned by Louis the Great are also on view: a mantle clasp and escutcheons with the coat of arms of Hungary, coming from the Hungarian chapel by Aachen Cathedral. The chapel was established in 1367, and these objects are part of a larger group donated by the ruler. Contrary to the label in the exhibition, Hungarian art historians have long disproved the identification of their makers as the brothers Martin and George of Klausenburg (Kolozsvár/Cluj). Next to these objects the wonderful Fonthill vase was on view (from the National Museum of Ireland) - which is the first documented Chinese porcelain object in Europe. Unfortunately, it has no connection either to Charles IV or the Hungarian Angevin Court - it has long been demonstrated that the object was mounted in the Neapolitan Angevin court (as I summarized it here in this blog a few years ago).

These are minor points. Another issue is a bit more significant - unfortunately, the catalogue of the exhibition has not yet been published. As far as I know, the catalogue is in preparation, and will be published for the second, Nuremberg venue of the exhibition. So far only a guide to the exhibition is available (In English, German and Czech editions), which includes the text of the exhibition labels and illustrations (Emperor Charles IV 1316-2016, Exhibition guide. Jiří Fajt, in cooperation with Helena Dáňová. Prague, 2016, 188 pp.). The exhibition, however, has its own website, and an illustrated visual and audioguide is also available, as well as additional publications.

Cat. 08.11. - Tympanum of Tyn Church, Prague

It should also be mentioned, that at the occasion of the 700th anniversary, a series of other exhibitions were organized in Prague by the Prague Castle. These include an exhibition dedicated to the Cathedral of St. Vitus, with life-size replicas of the famous triforium busts, as well as a display of the burial costumes of Bohemian rulers. Another exhibition focused on royal coronations in Bohemia. Information on these exhibitions is available on the website of Prague Castle.
Cat. 09.06. Panel from Retable of the Virgin, Nuremberg, St. Clare

The main exhibition, now simply titled Charles IV., will be on wiew at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg from 20 October 2016 until 5 March 2017. See also the website of the Haus der Bayerischen Geschichte, one of the co-organizers.

Photos in this blog post come from the websites associated with the exhibition, and linked to above. In addition, I have collected a number of objects included in the exhibition on Pinterest. Some images come with links to fully digitized manuscripts.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Monograph on the Hungarian Angevin Legendary published by CEU Press

The long-awaited English edition of the monograph on the Hungarian Angevin Legendary, written by Béla Zsolt Szakács, has finally been published by CEU Press in Budapest. 
The Hungarian Angevin Legendary is perhaps the most important illuminated manuscript connected to the Angevin rulers of Hungary. It is a painted legendary, which in its current fragmentary state presents 58 legends (including the life of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary) on lavishly illuminated pages. Each page contains four scenes from the lives of the saints, and the images are only accompanied by short captions. The largest part of what remained of the codex was bound together in the eighteenth century in a volume housed in the Vatican Library. Some of the missing pages, often incomplete, have found their way into collections from the United States to Russia - most of the pages being preserved at the Morgan Library.

As of today, altogether 142 leaves from the Legendary (some of them fragmentary) are known in six different collections of the world. Since the digitization of the codex Vat. lat. 8541 by the Vatican Library, images of every page are available online (I have collected all the pictures on Pinterest). It is possible that some other fragments will come to light, as the original number of folios is estimated at 176. The quality of its execution and its sheer size indicate that the manuscript must have been a royal commission, and its iconography – rich in Hungarian and Angevin saints – suggests it was created for the court of the Hungarian Angevin kings.

Scene from the Legend of St. Ladislas
(Vatican Library)
The monograph provides a detailed analysis of the image cycles contained in the dispersed manuscript: it provides a reconstruction of the original manuscript, analyses the different narrative of saints and their arrangement, and explains the significance of certain narratives. The book analyses the system of selecting and arranging the legend within the book, and also deals with the structure of the individual narrative cycles. Another part focuses on image types recurring in the lives of several saints.

The book was originally published in 2006 in Hungarian. The English edition has been updated, among others with additional bibliographical references, and it also contains a much higher number of illustrations than the original version. The new volume was presented by Ernő Marosi at CEU on June 23, 2016. The book is available at the publisher as well as at any good bookseller. 

Scenes from the Life of St. Alexis. The State Hermitage Museum

Scenes from the Life of St. Francis. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Béla Zsolt Szakács (PhD 1998) is head of the Department of Art History at Pázmány Péter Catholic University and associate professor of the Department of Medieval Studies at CEU, also contributing to the Cultural Heritage Program. He has been active in a CEU research project focusing on the visual resources of medieval East Central Europe in the framework of which he was extensively dealing with the Hungarian Angevin Legendary. His major research fields are Christian iconography, medieval architecture in Central Europe and the history of monument protection.

Bibliographical data: Béla Zsolt Szakács: The Visual World of the Hungarian Angevin Legendary (Central European Cultural Heritage Series, Volume I.). Budapest: CEU Press, 2016 (350 pages, 142 color illustrations, ISBN 978-963-7326-25-7)

Every surviving part of the manuscript is available online, please use the links below:

Vatican Library, Vat. Lat. 8541
New York, The Morgan Library, M.360.1-26
St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum
Paris, Musée du Louvre (more information on this leaf here)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Exhibitions of the St. Martin Memorial Year in Hungary

St. Martin and Pannonia - Poster 
A historical and archaeological exhibition titled St. Martin and Pannonia opened at two venues, in Pannonhalma and Szombathely. The exhibition is the most important scholarly element of the Saint Martin Memorial Year, held in commemoration of the 1700th anniversary of the saint's birth. The exhibition focuses on five centuries in the life of Pannonia - from the time of the Roman Empire to just before the Hungarian conquest, and provides and insight into the spread of Christianity in the region. 

Saint Martin was born in 316 in the Roman province of Pannonia near the city of Savaria, what is now Szombathely. The son of a wealthy military officer, he was required to join the cavalry when he turned fifteen. He became baptized in 339. His good deeds and his compassion and empathy for the poor became legendary and by popular demand he was appointed to bishop of Tours in 371. He was always regarded as one of the most important saints in Hungary, and now the anniversary of his birth provides a chance to have a look at the era when he lived, and also the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire. 

This twin exhibition of international significance gathers hundreds of objects, largely stemming from Pannonia (nowadays western Hungary), coming from a number of Hungarian and foreign collections. The exhibition opened on June 3rd, and will remain on view until September at both the Iseum Savariense Museum in Szombathely and the Museum of Pannonhalma Archabbey. At Szombathely, visitors can trace the history of Pannonia and Savaria back to the Roman roots of the time when Saint Martin lived, whereas in Pannonhalma the age of Saint Martin, the Christian monk and bishop is in focus, as well as the subsequent centuries.

Fondo d'oro, 4th century (Hungarian National Museum)
The exhibition features a number of unique objects: the earliest piece is beautifully executed bronze statue of Fortuna from the 1st century. A large blue glass vase from the 4th century represents the sophistication of Roman culture in Pannonia (pieces of the Seuso Treasure could represents this as well - but none of those were available for loan). 

Blue jug, glass, 4th century (Kaposvár, Rippl Rónai Museum) 

The exhibition also presents a great selection of objects from the Migration Period: finds from a hun grave of Pannonhalma from the 5th century, or a unique Early Byzantine bronze jug with hunting scenes, found in an Avar period cemetery at Budakalász (for a 3D view, click here). Objects with Christian symbols (especially the cross) are featured from several early medieval treasure finds, such as the golden Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). 

Jewelry of a Germanic woman, 5th century (Hungarian National Museum)
Bronze jug with hunting scenes, c. 500 (Szentendre, Ferenczy Museum) 

Dish 9 of the Nagyszentmiklós Treasure, 7th century (Wien, KHM)
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated scholarly catalogue, and English-language edition of which is in preparation.

Further information (and advance tickets): and on the website of the Via Sancti Martini European Cultural Route.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Medieval treasure and mass grave discovered from the time of the Mongol Invasion

Photo: Újvári Sándor / MTI

A sensational archaeological find has been announced by the Katona József Museum of Kecskemét on March 31: during excavations of a medieval village near Kiskunmajsa, a buried treasure was found, along with the burned remains of the former inhabitants, among them mainly children. The treasure includes more than 250 silver coins as well as rings and other jewels. Most of the coins date from the reign of King Béla IV (1235-1270), thus the find can be convincingly dated to the time of the Mongol invasion, which struck Hungary in 1241-42. The excavations took place by chance, after signs of the remains were found during plowing a field. Work was lead by archaeologist and museum director Szabolcs Rosta, with the help of archaeologists from Kecskemét, Kiskunhalas and Baja. It was established that the finds - including the human remains - were inside two former houses.
Similar finds have been uncovered in several places in recent years. In 2005, at the site of a village near Cegléd, the remains of a family have been found inside a burned-down dwelling. In 2010, another mass grave was found at Szank (also in the Kiskunság area): the remains were found inside a house, which the Mongols burned down. Among the remains of men, women and children, a treasure was also found.

Silver coins excavated near Kiskunmajsa (Photo: Újvári Sándor / MTI)

The Mongol invasion of 1241-42 caused the sharpest interruption in the development of Hungarian ecclesiastical structures. Especially on the Great Plains and in several areas of eastern Hungary, settlements and their early parish churches were destroyed beyond repair. 

Ring from the Kiskunmajsa treasure (Photo: Újvári Sándor / MTI)
Larger abbey churches and more important centers were also destroyed during the invasion and then abandoned. Recent archaeological research has brought to life the former abbey church of Péteri near Bugac, dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul. The abbey church (which must have been Benedictine, although it is not well documented) was first mentioned in 1219, but the large, three-aisled basilica was most likely built around the middle of the 12th century. During the Mongol invasion, the church was ruined and never rebuilt. The excavations have brought to light important remains of this once thriving monastic community: a fragment of a processional cross, remains of a reliquary decorated with Limoges enamel plaques (of which the figure of a saint survives), etc. Smaller churches were similarly destroyed and often never rebuilt.

Detail from the Szank treasure, excavated in 2010

Finds from the current excavation, as well as from Szank will be displayed in a new exhibition planned for later this year at Kecskemét.

Finds from the monastery of Péteri, near Bugac (via

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Exhibition on Buda and Kraków in the Middle Ages

 Poster of the exhibition 

A new exhibition, titled On Common Path - Budapest and Kraków in the Middle Ages opened last week at the Budapest History Museum. It is the result of a common project of the Hungarian institution and the Historical Museum of the City Kraków, and was realized in the larger framework of the cooperation of Hungary and Poland, as the first step of the Hungarian Cultural Year in Poland.

The exhibition surveys the parallel histories of Buda and Kraków from the period of their foundations to the high points of their development in the late Middle Ages. Both towns were among the major cities of medieval Europe. The exhibition presents common events in the history of the town, as well as personalities who played an important role in the history of both towns. Among other things, it focuses on the Anjou and the Jagiellonian dynasties, as well as on Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and King of Poland. Through these historical figures, the exhibition illustrated that not only the two cities, but also the history of the two nations is closely linked. The last period surveyed is the 16th century, which represents a break, especially in the development of Buda, which came under Ottoman Turkish occupation in 1541.

Most of the objects in the exhibition give insight into the everyday life of city dwellers as well as into festive occasions. A large number of archaeological finds are presented, including many objects never before shown (expecially from Buda). The parallel histories of the two cities are installed on two sides of the exhibition rooms, while showcases placed in the center of the rooms features historical figures and institutions - such as the University of Cracow - which represented points of contact for the two towns.

View of the exhibition - Buda (Photo: BTM - Bence Tihanyi)

The exhibition will remain on view until July 24 in Budapest, and later will be presented in Kraków as well, It is accompanied by a detailed and useful exhibition catalogue, which will also be published in and English-language edition.

View of the exhibition - Kraków (Photo: BTM - Bence Tihanyi)

Exhibition: Közös úton - Budapest és Krakkó a középkorban. On Common Path - Budapest and Kraków in the Middle Ages. Castle Museum of Budapest History Museum, March 19 - July 24, 2016. The poster, seen above, features the emblem of the Krakow Rifle Association, the "Rooster Company," a work of Gian Giacopo Caraglio from 1564/65. Krakow, Museum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa.

Catalogue: Közös úton. Budapest és Krakkó a középkorban. Kiállítási katalógus. Ed. Judit Benda, Virág Kiss, Grazyna Lihonczak-Nurek, Károly Magyar. Budapest, 2016, 335 pp.

Martin Kober's portrait of Stephen Báthory from Kraków, 1583

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.