Showing posts with label Gothic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gothic. 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)


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Online Catalogue of the Christian Museum of Esztergom

Reliquary bust from Cologne. Around 1350
The Christian Museum of Esztergom is the largest ecclesiastical collection in Hungary and is one of the oldest public collections in the nation. It was established in 1875 by Archbishop and Prince Primate János Simor (1813-1891) and was based on his private collection. The intention of the Archbishop was to make known to the general public old and new treasures of art, and thereby cultivate the aesthetic taste of the visitors. Archbishop Simor purchased works of art primarily from legacies and during his travels abroad. He also had parts of medieval altarpieces collected from the territory of the Archdiocese of Esztergom. Following Primate Simor’s death in 1891, the Museum’s collections grew significantly when the bequest of Arnold Ipolyi, Bishop of Nagyvárad/Oradea (1823-1886), which consisted mainly of late medieval Italian, German, Austrian and Hungarian paintings and sculptures, finally arrived to Esztergom in 1920. The resulting museum is the third most significant historic picture gallery in Hungary, on account of its Hungarian, Italian, Netherlandish, German and Austrian paintings.

As one of the results of a research project financed by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA PD 104215), an exhaustive online summary catalogue of the Hungarian, German and Austrian Late Medieval Collection of the Christian Museum was published online. This is one of the most famous parts of the collections, containing among others the altarpiece from Garamszentbenedek, painted by Thomas de Coloswar in 1427, or four panels depicting scenes from the Passion and painted by the enigmatic Master MS in 1506. Already in the middle of the 19th century, both János Simor and Arnold Ipolyi recognized the significance of these medieval works of art, most of which were not in use any more. Simor brought to the museum painted fragments of winged altarpieces that had been dismantled, primarily from the Benedictine Abbey of Garamszentbenedek (Hronsky Benadik). Sculptures in the museum mainly come from the Ipolyi collection, along with the majority of medieval Austrian and German works of art.

The Calvary altarpiece of Thomas of Coloswar, 1427 
The research project and the online catalogue was realized by Emese Sarkadi Nagy, who explained to me that in the present catalogue there was no intention to separate objects originating from the Hungarian Kingdom from those of the German and Austrian territories. This is partly due to the fact that these groups of objects can be considered as a unit, based on numerous art historical and stylistic relations that can be observed among them. Mid-15th century Netherlandish art had a very strong impact on the painting and sculpture of German and Austrian regions as well as in Hungary, and the migration of masters among these regions is also a well-known phenomenon. Moreover, most of the works coming from nineteenth-century collections have lost their original, medieval context and thus the original provenance of a number of objects is uncertain. Attribution and localization based on stylistic analysis alone is often impossible  - for example it is hard to decide if a work of a Viennese-schooled master was created in Hungary or the work was imported at a later time. Therefore, the new online catalogue offers an overview of all (ca. 150) objects originating from these Central European regions. It is aimed not only for specialists, but also to the wider public; at the same time, it will hopefully represent a starting point for further research on the topic. Each entry is accompanied by an up-to-date bibliography and other information, as well as high-quality photographs (individual panels and statues of altarpieces are each photographed and described separately). So far, the catalogue is only available in Hungarian, but an English version is to be published online soon. The catalogue is accessible through the website of the museum at the following link: www.keresztenymuzeum.hu

Master MS: Crucifixion, 1506 

Key objects from the collection are also available in the general part of the website, with English descriptions, but for new and up-to-date information, as well as for the entire material, head to the online catalogue. Links below:

Sarkadi Nagy Emese: A Keresztény Múzeum középkori magyarországi, a német és osztrák tartományokból származó tárgyainak online katalógusa. Keresztény Múzeum, 2017. (Online catalogue of medieval objects in the Christian Museum originating from Hungary as well as German and Austrian territories. Christian Museum, Esztergom, 2017.)

The text above is based on the website of the Christian Museum and on a short report by Emese Sarkadi Nagy. Photos by Attila Mudrák © Christian Museum





Austrian painter, c. 1440: Triptych with the Death of the Virgin

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.

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.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Remains of Bonyhád church covered over

Virtual reconstruction of Bonyhád church 
I wanted to give an update about the situation with the excavation of the medieval church of Bonyhád. Unfortunately, the excavations could not be completed fully. Once the very short-term permit ran out, work on the excavations had to stop on October 7th. More than a month passed until the possibility of continuation was debated - a precious month with good weather, during which a lot of progress could have been made. Starting from mid-November, 2015, the excavated ruins of the medieval church were covered up and filled with concrete, so the new road could be built over them. As a results of this, unfortunately a lot of the questions surrounding the church could not be answered. I talked to the chief archaeologist, Géza Szabó, and he provided some information about the church. He explained to me that it is plain to see - even without a full excavation going down to sufficient depth, that the church had at least two phases of construction. The earlier phase can be dated to the period of King Sigismund, and is probably connected to the men found buried in front of the main altar. He was a strong, well-to-do man. Although no tombstone was found, a coin from the rule of Wladislas I. dates the burial to this period (1440-1444), and places the construction of the church to the Sigismund period. The church was later rebuilt, most likely in the early 16th century - this is the date of the late gothic net vault, the fragments of which were found during the excavations. Unfortunately, earlier phases of construction could not be adequately explored, and the area of the church also could not be excavated.



The excavation site during my visit in late October

Because of the very short period available for archaeological excavation, and the impossibility of examining the site in the future, documentation was of paramount importance. In the following, I would like to illustrate some of the techniques used during the work carried out. The site itself was documented in a 3D photogrammetric survey, recording all details by Interspect Research Group. 3D modelling company Pazirik also scanned the site, and carried out 3D scanning of the architectural fragments, which then served as the basis of a theoretical 3D reconstruction of the early 16th century phase of the building. 
Virtual reconstruction of the church at Bonyhád
Based on a keystone and several vault fragments, the intricate late Gothic net vault of the church was also reconstructed. These reconstructions, and initial results of research were published by Archeologia.hu. The articles published in this collection not only make preliminary results and wonderful illustrations available, but also reveal that there are still several questions surrounding the remains - questions, which largely could have been answered via a thorough and complete archaeological excavation. Current legislation in Hungary unfortunately makes it possible that the construction of a road could proceed, without the completion of this archaeological survey.

The site being covered over (mid-Novermber, 2015)

Sources:
A középkori templom feltárása Bonyhádon - article (pdf, in Hungarian), Archeologia - Altum Castrum Online Magazin. 


Sunday, October 11, 2015

The lost medieval church of Bonyhád

It is rare that the excavation of a simple medieval parish church makes national news in Hungary. However, this is precisely what is happening these days with the remains of the medieval church of Bonyhád in southern Transdanubia: largely because there seems to be no time and no way to fully excavate and preserve the ruins. This is because of recent changes in Hungarian heritage laws, which favor construction and development instead of heritage protection.


The remains of the church of Bonyhád were discovered during the construction of a new exit from route 6. Current legislation only gives 30 days for any archaeological investigations in such situations, with a possibility of further extension granted by the Ministry of Culture. This extension has to be given by the Minister himself within 8 days - if he does not grant it, construction can continue without delay. The remains of the church of Bonyhád were discovered in late September. Thanks to the cooperation of a team of Hungarian archaeologists, the excavation was carried out during the last two weeks - but now work is coming to an end, as the construction of the road will commence on Wednesday.
Photo: István Huszti / Index
So let's see what was found: excavations have brought to light the nave of a medieval church (the sanctuary lies under the main road built a long time ago). It seems that the edifice was the medieval parish church of Bonyhád, which in the Middle Ages was located at some distance from the current center of the settlement. The church must have been destroyed in 1542 when the Ottoman Turkish army pushed through this area. The church burnt down, its walls were torn down some time later, and the site was abandoned. The site soon filled up with mud - thus the remains were preserved in good condition. A keystone and other fragments of the late Gothic vault of the church were found, along with the remains of the bell, as well as stone carvings from the portal of the church and other structural elements. Here are some photos of the stone carvings:




The excavation was one of the first times when the new heritage laws of Hungary were applied in a real-life scenario, and it became obvious that the regulations are not sufficient to protect archaeological heritage. Despite protests from the Association of Hungarian Archaeologists and even a statement by the ombudsman, it seems that the site will have to covered over before the excavations can fully be completed, as construction will resume as early as next week. Maybe the ensuing debate and national attention will help lawmakers rethink the current regulations.


Photo: István Huszti / Index

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 academia.edu.

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, May 05, 2015

Books on Medieval Visegrád

Visegrád in 1595, print by Joris Hoefnagel 
Visegrád was one of the most important towns of medieval Hungary, serving as a royal residence for much of the 14th century. The town is ruled by a majestic castle on top of a hill overlooking the Danube, while a monumental 13th century keep guards the road under the hill, by the river. Even more famous is the large royal palace, expanded and embellished by King Matthias Corvinus. However, until recent times, relatively little information has been available on Visegrád in English. One should mention the volume edited by László Gerevich, titled Towns in Medieval Hungary (1990), where Gerevich himself briefly considered Visegrád in the framework of a general study. The other book to be mentioned – titled Medium Regni – dealt with Hungarian royal centres in the middle of the Kingdom, and here Gergely Buzás provided an overview of Visegrád, focusing on the royal residences. the history and topography of the settlement itself. In 1995, an English-language volume - titled Medieval Visegrád - was published about the royal palace and the Franciscan monastery standing next to it, and the royal palace was also featured in a number of exhibition catalogues and study collections. In addition, a book is available on the Hercules fountain attributed to Giovanni Dalmata.

Visegrád, aerial view of the Upper Castle 

Archaeolingua publishers in Budapest started a new series about medieval Visegrád, of which so far two volumes have been published. The books provide up to date information about this important royal centre. The first volume in the series was dedicated to the most important monument in town, the medieval royal palace and the neighbouring Franciscan monastery. While a lot has been published on the royal palace in Hungarian, this volume is the first extensive treatment of the subject in English. You can read a review of the book by Pál Lővei in Hungarian Archaeology (2014 Spring). The second volume is dedicated to the town itself, which has always been overshadowed by the royal residences located there. Yet, for extended periods during the 14th century, Visegrád served as the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary, and thus is worthy of our attention. The neglect of previous decades has been redressed by extensive archaeological research during recent years and now by this very important publication. The book relies on the results of new excavations and the research of one of the authors, Orsolya Mészáros. She is joined by a number of well-known experts of medieval archaeology and history: including the two other editors of the volume, Gergely Buzás and József Laszlovszky. Both have dedicated a considerable number of publications to Visegrád before, and Buzás has worked at the King Matthias Museum of Visegrád for a long time, serving as its director since 2011. The fourth author is Katalin Szende, a noted historian working on late medieval Hungarian towns.

Virtual reconstruction of the Royal Palace in the late 15th century, via
From their analysis presented in this volume, the special character of Visegrád emerges. Although regarded in the Late Middle Ages as one of the most important towns of the kingdom, the settlement in fact was not significant when the court was away. It had no (or only regional) economic significance, no ecclesiastical institutions of national significance, no serious fortifications (apart from the fortifications of the royal residences). The presence of artisanal guilds cannot be demonstrated and only a very small number of the town’s citizens are known to have studied at foreign universities. Even when the court was at Visegrád during several decades in the 14th century, Visegrád was not regarded as the capital of Hungary – that role was reserved for Buda. The main reason of its emergence during the 14th century was that high-ranking nobles and court officials owned houses there, which also served as their offices. No wonder then, that when the court left in the early 15th century, Buda (and Pest on the opposite side of the Danube) far surpassed Visegrád in importance. Although Visegrád retained its privileges until the end of the Middle Ages, during the 15th century it was only a small settlement next to an important royal residence, the royal palace.

Visegrád, Upper and Lower castle, with the town below


These books provide a welcome addition to the growing library of books on medieval Hungary available in English. It is to be hoped that the series will continue: the Árpád Period settlement of Visegrád – with the bailiff’s castle, the archdeaconal church as well as the 11th century monastery of St. Andrew – and the Upper and Lower Castle certainly provide ample material for future volumes in the series, and I hope we can see these soon.  

I wrote a more extensive review of the second volume, dedicated to the town, which can be read in English or in Hungarian in the Spring 2015 issue of Hungarian Archaeology.

Series title: 
Medieval Visegrád. Archaeology, Art History and History of a Medieval Royal Centre


The Medieval Royal Palace at Visegrád. Edited by Gergely Buzás and József Laszlovszky. Budapest, Archaeolingua, 2013.










The Medieval Royal Town at Visegrád – Royal Centre, Urban Settlement, Churches. Edited by Gergely Buzás, József Laszlovszky and Orsolya Mészáros. Budapest, Archaeolingua, 2014.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Exhibition about the Matthias Church

A major new exhibition about the building and the history of the Church of Our Lady (Matthias Church) of Buda Castle opened at the Budapest History Museum. The Church is a major historic monument of Budapest, part of the Unesco World Heritage site of Buda Castle. Established after the Mongol invasion of 1241-42, the church became the most important ecclesiastical institution of Buda, and finally served as a coronation church in 1867 at the coronation of Franz Joseph I. Soon after that, it was completely remodeled by Frigyes Schulek in Neo-Gothic style, with the addition of it landmark spire. 

During the Middle Ages, the Church of Our Lady served the purpose of a parish church for the town's German citizens. It was built and rebuilt in many stages. A royal charter from 1255 refers to the church as yet to be completed, while another document from 1269 calls it newly erected. The original, 13th century building was turned into a hall-church and rebuilt overall in the first half of the 15th century, at the time of King Sigismund. Its southern tower was built at the time of King Matthias. During the Turkish occupation of Buda it was converted into a mosque. During the 18th century, it was rebuilt in Baroque style, and used by the Jesuits, and later as parish church again. The present building originates from the rebuilding of Frigyes Schulek carried out between 1874-1896. The building was extensively renovated after World War II and most recently between 2004-2014. The current exhibition thus presents not only the history of the building, but also findings of this most recent period of research and renovation.

The church before the reconstruction of the late 19th century, painting by A. Schikedanz

After an introductory part focusing on the church as the site of the 1867 coronation, the exhibition is arranged chronologically. One room is dedicated to the two major phases of the medieval building. At the time of the rebuilding by Schulek, a large number of details of the medieval church fabric - including the portals - came to light. These finds provided a starting point for Schulek, who aimed to return the church to its "ideal," 13th century state. This meant for example the dismantling of the late gothic lateral sanctuaries of the church, to rebuild the side apses along their 13th century lines. Many late gothic elements were preserved and restored, however, including the monumental southern portal of the church or the chapel of the Garai family situated alongside the northern apse. The southern tower was rebuilt according to how Schulek imagined it should have looked like at the time of King Matthias in the 15th century.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Corvinian manuscripts digitised

The very exciting digitisation process at the Vatican Library is going ahead at full speed, and the Library has made available online two manuscripts from the famous Bibliotheca Corviniana, the library of King Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490). The manuscripts are the following:


Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ms. Urb. lat. 110

The Missal of Matthias Corvinus, 1488-1489

The manuscript was made for King Matthias in the Buda workshop. The coat of arms of Matthias and his wife Beatrice of Aragon can be found on several pages.
It is a richly illustrated volume, with stylistic connections to Lombardy.
See also the catalogue page with bibliographic references. 




















Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
Missale fratrum minorum secundum consuetudinem Romanae curiae

This is a Franciscan Missal commissioned by King Matthias, and given to a Franciscan friar named Thomas (so technically, this is not a Corvinian manuscript, as it was not part of the Biblioteca Corviniana). The book was illuminated by an Austrian painter active in Vienna.




















With the two books above, the number of Corvinian manuscripts online now exceeds 100. On this occassion, I decided to move my checklist of digitised manuscripts over to this blog - you can reach it any time from the menu above. The version on my website is now obsolete - links have been checked and fixed on the version here in the blog. I also added links to two manuscripts digitised at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna.

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)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

New medieval exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery


Maria gravida, Vienna, 1409
see in high resolution 
I haven't had time to upload anything here for over a month - but a lot has happened in Hungary in the field of medieval art. I will try to catch up with a series of brief posts. First, I would like to report on the new medieval exhibition of the Hungarian National Gallery, which was completely reinstalled and opened at the end of September. This part of the permanent exhibition focuses on painting and sculpture from Hungary and neighboring areas in the 14th and 15th centuries. Some of the highlights of the collection can be seen here, including two statues of the Virgin of Child from Toporc, the two beautiful statues of female saints from Barka, or a painting originally showing the St. Joseph's Doubt (now cut down to only show the Virgin, see left). The exhibition was reinstalled to focus on the original liturgical context of these artworks, and therefore also includes a number of other liturgical objects - mainly goldsmith works on loan from the Hungarian National Museum. The new exhibition presents the material in a chronological-regional arrangement. The last section includes several complete altarpieces, thereby preparing the visitor for the next section of the permanent exhibition, where the monumental late Gothic altarpieces can be seen. That section has also been slightly rearranged recently, with the new installation of the main altar from Kisszeben.

The new exhibition, which provides a greatly improved space for the objects and a clear narrative for visitors, is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in medieval art. Organized by curator Györgyi Poszler, the exhibition also includes a number of works previously never shown, This was made possible by the continuous work of restorers during the last few decades. Readers familiar with Hungarian are encouraged to consult a new publication by the Hungarian National Gallery, which is dedicated to the most important restorations carried out between 1957-2011. The publication is available online from this link. In addition, you can see selected objects from this part of the collection on the website of the Hungarian National Gallery. The exhibition of Renaissance stone carvings (the area of which was unfortunately partially taken over by the museum shop) was also reinstalled - but the medieval stone carvings are still not on view (following the theft three years ago).

Here are some images of the new exhibition, provided by the Hungarian National Gallery.