Sunday, October 15, 2017

Exhibition dedicated to Master of Okolicsnó

Presentation in the Temple from the main altar of Okolicsnó
(Hungarian National Gallery) 
A new exhibition dedicated to Master of Okolicsnó has opened recently at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava (Esterházyho Palac, open from 7. September - 26 November, 2017). The Master was named after the former high altar from the Franciscan monastery in Okolicsnó in Upper Hungary (Okoličné, Slovakia), and he was active around 1500. The most important patron of the Franciscan monastery of Okolicsnó was John Corvin, natural son of King Matthias Corvinus, who died in 1504.

The Master of Okolocsnó is regarded as one of the best painters of Central European Late Gothic. His paintings show the influence of Flemish painting, as well as that of the Italian Renaissance. He led a prolific workshop, creating altarpieces in the eastern region of Upper Hungary during the first decades of the 16th century (including two side altars in the parish church of Szmrecsány/Smrečany, 1510).

The altar of Okolicsnó, which gave the name to the painter, was dismantled back in the 18th century, but its parts have been preserved in several collections in Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. The Slovak National Gallery acquired one of the panels in 2010 – showing the Crucifixion – from the former altar. The current exhibition coincides with the restoration of this panel. The exhibition, which was curated by Dušan Buran, is accompanied by a catalogue about the painter, listing all of the surviving works by the Master of Okolicsnó. A digital version, where you can browse the material of the exhibition - including all works of the Master - is available on the webumenia.sk website (this includes prints and sculptures related to the paintings as well).

Master of Okoličné and Gothic Art of Spiš around 1500 - exhibition at the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava, on view until November 26, 2017. Source: website and facebook page of Slovak National Gallery

Crucifixion  from the main altar of Okolicsnó (Slovak National Gallery)


Altar of Saint Anne from the church of Szmrecsány

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Second part of Seuso Treasure returns to Hungary

Three years after first part of the Seuso Treasure returned to Hungary, the second half of the Roman-era silver objects were acquired by Hungary, it was announced by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and László Baán, director of the Museum of Fine Arts on July 12th. Over the past few years, the government had negotiated with two family foundations on compensation for handing back the treasure, which Hungary claims rightfully belongs to the state. The government paid 28 million euros for the second tranche, paid as "compensation fee" rather than a purchase price.


The 4th century Seuso Treasure was found in the 1970s near lake Balaton, and then smuggled abroad. You can read more about its history in my post from three years ago. For more information, read this two-part overview written by Mihály Nagy for Hungarian Review, published after the return of the first half of the Treasure: Lifting the curse on the Seuso Treasure, Part I. and Part II.


The second batch recovered by Hungary consists of seven objects, including the so-called Achilleus and the Meleagros plates, the animal-figure ewer, the Hyppolytos-ewer and two buckets with similar decoration, as well as an amphora. Now that all 15 known objects from the treasure are in Hungary, more research will commence on this unique ensemble. This will include archaeological excavations on the site where it is suspected the objects were originally found. The full treasure is believed to have consisted of a lot more pieces. The recovered pieces are currently on view at the Hungarian Parliament building, and will be shown later at the Hungarian National Museum.

Photos: Kormany.hu





Monday, June 26, 2017

Grammar and Grace - Exhibition on the Reformation at the Hungarian National Museum


Perhaps the most important event of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is the major exhibition organized by the Hungarian National Museum, titled Grammar and Grace - 500 Years of Reformation. The exhibition, which will be on view until November 5, 2017, offers a look at the ever-changing, complex relations of the Hungarian Reformation, and includes a series of unequaled treasures. The exhibition was brought to the audience by the exemplary collaboration of museums, collections and parishes in and out of Hungary, and its co-curators represent the most important ecclesiastical collections in the country. 

While the topic of the exhibition is post-medieval, the exhibition itself provides a wide range of medieval objects as well. This is partly because the narrative focuses more on continuity and connections rather than on radical breaks and destruction. Thus topics of the exhibition include the survival and reuse of medieval liturgical objects in a Protestant context, as well as the transformation of some pre-reformation artworks for later use.




The introductory part of the exhibition specifically focuses on medieval art: it provides an overview of European religious beliefs and practices of the late 15th century, so the eve of the Reformation (see image on the right). As explained in the overview of the exhibition, "Europe in the 15th century was bursting with anticipation, fear and hope. The plague epidemics – the evil feasting in the world – decimating the secular society and the church alike, the evil feasting in the world made the majority of the Christian community find new ideas to follow. Searching for salvation created forms of piety never seen before and launched new social-spiritual movements. Prophets popped up everywhere preaching about the end of the world closing in, encouraging conversion and purification of the church and declining the practice of paying money instead of acting in the right Christian way." This is illustrated in the exhibition with a series of late medieval altarpieces, statues, devotional books and prints and other objects.

Following the introduction, the exhibition surveys the appearance and rapid spread of the Reformation in Central Europe, specifically in Hungary. The theses of Luther made it to Hungary and to the royal court in Buda itself as early as the 1520s by merchants, German noblemen and Humanists. The Kingdom of Hungary fell at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, and starting from the 1530s Protestant preachers had been wandering about in the country, and new churches and religious communities came into life. By the second half of the 16th century the country was lost in the political sense due to the Turkish occupation and being torn into three parts. The permanent and threatening presence of the Turkish power, the cooperation they forced with Hungarians in the occupied regions and the power vacuum all led to an unprecedented level of freedom of speech and religion resulting in the Carpathian Basin turning into the most diverse parts of Europe in terms of denominations. The exhibition surveys these historical developments, focusing on different Protestant churches, and also chronicling religious debates and conflicts. Later parts of the exhibition tell about the role of Protestant churches in various communities: in cities, smaller towns and villages, and also focus on the role of these churches in the cultural life of Hungary. 


Loans from all over the Carpathian basin, as well as from western Europe result in one of the largest historical art exhibitions of recent year, the organization of which was no small feat for the National Museum and for its chief curator, Erika Kiss. Just as units of the exhibition focus on community and cooperation, the exhibition itself is the result of the cooperation of curators and collections. A lot of objects come from the National Museum itself, and the Széchenyi National Library was also one of the major lenders, but there are objects from about 100 lenders in the exhibition. This includes ecclesiastical collections (the National Lutheran Museum in Budapest, the Ráday Collection of the Calvinist Church), the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery, the Museum of Applied Arts and many others. In addition, several small ecclesiastical collections and church communities have lent their treasures, many of which have not been exhibited in decades. It is a carefully organized, beautifully installed and very interesting exhibition. It was designed by Tibor Somlai, who has already proved his talent with several other major exhibition designs.




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Connecting Early Medieval European Collections Project

Avar-period round fibula from Kölked (Hungarian National Museum)
Connecting Early Medieval European Collections (CEMEC) is an EU-funded cooperation project that aims to create a collaborative network, and a cost-effective business model, between eight European museum collections and six technical partners. The goal is to examine both the connections between Early Medieval collection objects (300-1000 AD) and the objects’ regions of origin with the aid of innovative IT solutions.

Drawing on objects from participating museum collections, the project will produce ‘CROSSROADS’, a travelling exhibition focusing on connectivity and cultural exchange during the Early Middle Ages (300 -1000) in Europe. The ’CROSSROADS, Europe (300-1000)’ exhibition will focus on the Early Middle Ages in Europe. This period is often defined as ‘the Dark Ages’, however the exhibition will shed new light on this misconception, presenting the period as a time of exchange, in objects, people and ideas. The exhibition will open at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam (October 2017-March 2018). It will then move to the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens (April- September 2018) and end at the LVR Landesmuseum in Bonn (October 2018- April 2019).

The Hungarian National Museum is a partner in the project, and already staged a small display about Avars in the Early Medieval Carpathian Basin. The exhibitions Avars Revived was on view during March 2017.

You can read more about the CEMEC project on their website. On the website of the Hungarian National Museum, you can see one of the 3D models created in the framework of the project.

View of the exhibition Avars Revived (Photo: Hungarian National Museum, Budapest)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Previously unknown image of Emperor Sigismund identified

Emperor Sigismund and the Electors,
German-language copy of the Golden Bull of Charles IV
Stadtarchiv Ulm A Urk. Ve. 1356 Januar 10, fol. 1v  

At an exhibition held last year at Neuburg an der Donau, the chief work in focus was a 15th-century Bible, the Ottheinrich Bible. Regarded as the earliest surviving illustrated manuscript of the New Testament in the German language, it was originally commissioned around 1430 by Ludwig VII, the Bearded, Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt. It was illuminated by three Regensburg painters, but its decoration remained unfinished - only to be completed by the artist Mathis Gerung in 1530–31. The manuscript was later split up into eight volumes, and after a rather complicated history, now all of its parts are at the Bavarian State Library in Munich - on their website, you can browse the digitized volumes of the Bible. 
The exhibition, titled Kunst und Glaube, contained lots of interested objects, as far as I can tell based on the catalogue. I was most interested in objects dating from the period of Ludwig VII of Bavaria (Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt between 1413-1447), a contemporary of King and Emperor Sigismund, and a noted patron of the arts. Perhaps the most well-known of his commissions is the small-scale model of this tombstone, made by Hans Multscher around 1435 (Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum). This tomb was never executed in full size. The Ottheinrich Bible was also one of his important commissions, which remained unfinished. 

Double page from the Ottheinrich Bible, c. 1430 (vol. 2.)
One of the objects in this section was a fragmentary manuscript of the Golden Bull of Charles IV, which was illuminated by the workshop of the Ottheinrich Bible (the so-calle Matthäusmaler). The manuscript was executed in Regensburg, and its surviving fragment is kept at the Town Archives of Ulm (See catalogue record). The fragment was identified as dating from this period by professor Robert Suckale, who provided a study about the Ottheinrich Bible for the catalogue (and also contributed to the catalogue entry in question, cat. no. 5.18). The fragment consists of only three leafs, containing a German translation of the Golden Bull issued in 1356. On the verso of the first folio, a group portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor with the Electors is depicted (see above). As Sigismund was also the King of Bohemia from 1419, only six Electors are depicted around the Emperor. On fol. 2r, the fragment also includes the full page depiction of coat of arms of a certain Hans Kastenmayer of Straubing - an image very similar to those included on armorial letters issued by the imperial chancery at that time, and the fragment also contains a nice initial. 

Decorated page of the Ulm fragment

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, 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)