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The series of copper engravings representing Hungarian noblemen (Icones illustrium heroum Hungariae), which was prepared by Elias Wideman, appeared in 1652 at Vienna as the last piece of a three-part series containing a hundred portraits each. This unit of a hundred portraits, which offered a cross-sectional view of 17th-century Hungarian noble society, exerted a strong influence upon the further development of the portrait in Hungary. The three volumes were sponsored by field marshall count Johann Christoph Puchheim, whose decision probably underlay the fact that whereas the first two volumes (Vienna, 1646 and 1649) published, with only 18 exceptions, the portraits of Austrian or imperial aristocrats, the third one contained exclusively those of noblemen from the territories subjected to the Crown of Saint Stephen. This latter, “Hungarian” volume differed from the two previous ones not only with regard to the persons portraited, but also in that the full-page family coat-of-arms of Puchheim gave place to the copper engraved picture of the Hungarian Crown there.
The Wideman literature has so far regarded the volume's representation of the Crown as the exact copy of the copper engraving which was prepared by Wolfgang Kilian in 1613 at Augsburgban for the book of Péter Révay on the Holy Crown. Yet a thorough examination of the two engravings has yielded a different result: it is not a copy which was published in the volume of Wideman in 1652 but the Kilian engraving itself pressed from the original plate. The reuse of the copper plate has hitherto escaped the attention basically for two reasons. Firstly, the representation of the Crown at Wideman is already closer to reality, reproducing correctly the number of its hangers; secondly, the engraving which appeared in 1652 is not signed. The two things are probably related: it may have been a consequence of the alteration made in the representation of the Crown that the name of Révay, the inventor, and that of Kilian, the engraver, were removed in the course of the reworking. Yet the identity of the copper plate is still proved by the visible remnants of the removed details on the Crown's representation in the Wideman volume.
Consequently, the question emerges of how and where was the copper plate, prepared by Wolfgang Kilian at Augsburg forty years before, found, and by whom and why was it transferred to Wideman to Vienna to be published in the Icones? The plate, which returned to the author, Péter Révay in 1613, was consequently inherited by his grandson, judge royal Ferenc Nádasdy, who cared for the intellectual heritage of his grandfather. When the goods of the judge royal, who was tried and executed for high treason in 1671, were listed at Pottendorf, two plates representing the Hungarian Crown were inventoried, one of them with the abbreviated name of Augsburg attached. This was probably the plate prepared by Kilian in 1613, whereas the other apparently the one made for the Crown' representation in the second edition of the book which was published at the expenses of Nádasdy in 1652.
All that could so far be found out on the relationship between Ferenc Nádasdy and the portrait series published by Wideman is that the Hungarian-related representations of the two volumes (1646, 1652) were at least partially engraved by Wideman on the basis of the portrait gallery of Nádasdy which represented his contemporaries. Yet the reuse of the original Kilian plate, which can be proved to have been owned by Nádasdy, raises the further possibility that the hitherto unknown initiator and intellectual director of the third, exclusively Hungarian volume may have been (perhaps together with others) Ferenc Nádasdy himself, a hypothesis that is underpinned by the recently reconstructed relationship between Nádasdy and Puchheim. It was probably Nádasdy who ordered Wideman to modify the copper plate borrowed for the volume, and to alter the engraving of the Crown according to exact information. The source of the correction of the representation may have been Nádasdy himself, who participated to the coronation of Ferdinand IV as Master of the Hungarian Royal Court in 1647, and was thus offered the possibility of a thorough examination of the otherwise invisible Crown and could consequently give a detailed description of it to Wideman.
It was not by pure chance that the volume containing the portraits of 100 Hungarians was headed by the engraving from the book of Révay on the Holy Crown, for the latter's conceptofthecrownfocussed precisely upon the idea of the “nation of estates”. The same concept was expressed by the iconography of Wideman's Icones by collecting the representatives of the nation of estates behind Révay's representation of the Crown. The volume of portraits can thus be regarded as an example of the intensification of the national identity of the estates in the 17th century.
The work of Wideman which was published in 1652 influenced the consequent development of portrait painting in the 17th century in several regards. Painted noble portrait galleries were made in series by the adoption of the so-called Wideman type, and later even a demand emerged to supplement the painted versions with the portraits of further persons. The two most renowned series of small-scale oil paintings (one of them with 136 portraits) belonged to the Csáky family, and were in all probability prepared in the last quarter of the 17th century upon the order of judge royal István Csáky, renowned for his literary activities.
The importance and initial influence of the Wideman engravings mainly manifested itself in the transformation which took place in the iconography of the Hungarian noble portraits. The change of identity which resulted in the disappearance from the middle of the 17th century of Western European wear from the Hungarian female portraits, and in the representation of aristocratic women in Hungarian costume, is to be accounted for by the appearance of the Icones and the emergence of a united “nation of estates”. The reason was surely not a change of fashion, but the intention of representing themselves on the portraits as members of the Hungarian noble society, which, as a phenomenon, is most conspicuous in the representations of the female members of families loyal to the Habsburg court. The exclusiveness of Hungarian wear on the female portraits will wane together with the 17th century and with Ottoman rule in Hungary, and so will several other elements of traditional courtly culture.
The next phase in the transformation of the representation of the Hungarian aristocracy was connected to the Mausoleum, a series of representations of Hunno-Hungarian leaders and Hungarian kings, which was published in 1664 at Nuremberg, and sponsored by Nádasdy. On the basis of some characteristic examples it can safely be stated that the serial production of noble ancestral portrait galleries began in the decade following the appearance of the Mausoleum engravings, and was conspicuously accompanied by an effort to root the past of the individual families through these portrait galleries in the very beginnings of Hungarian history. It was then that the portrait series began to be completed with the representations of ancestors beyond one generation, for which the composition of the Mausoleum engravings was frequently put to use.
Since it is from the portrait series of the most important aristocratic families that the earliest adaptations of the Mausoleum engravings are known, the logical question arises of whether Ferenc Nádasdy himself ordered family portraits to be made on the model of the Mausoleum. The answer is no. Yet he turned with conspicuous attention towards portrait painting, his library catalogue containing six different volumes of engraved portraits, an outstanding number in this period. Likewise unique was his drive to create a portrait gallery by having his contemporaries eternalised in painting, thus establishing the virtual Hungarian royal court with the portraits of all the persons who held one of the chief offices in the period between 1645 and 1655. The beginning of his gallery of contemporaries was not unrelated to the ascending course of his public and political career, which began with his appointment as Master of the Hungarian Royal Court and his parallel accession to the chief office-holders (1646). His appointment as secret court councillor (1662) and royal lieutenant (1667), on the other hand, prompted him to give expression to his ever closer attachment to the imperial aristocracy in terms of portrait representation. Accordingly, Nádasdy, as he rose higher in the court hierarchy, and aimed at a closer integration into the Vienna elite, imitated the lifestyle of the court aristocracy and adopted their forms of representation. It was thus only natural that the artistic setting of his castle at Pottendorf in Lower Austria was characterised by the elements of imperial representation. Before all, by those series of imperial portraits of which three are listed by the castle inventory. Among the two series comntaining the portraits of Habsburg rulers, one was modelled upon the engravings of Francesco Terzio (Imagines Gentis Austriae), whereas the third was an adaptation of the popular series which followed Tizian's portraits of the Roman emperors or, to be correct, the engravings which Aegidius Sadeler made of them. The occasions which emphasised the social position of the judge royal, and offered the possibility of a close connection with the court, likewise prove that Nádasdy pursued a “two-way” personal representation, staging himself simultaneously as a member of two elites: an aristocrat of the Habsburg court and a leading office-holder of the Hungarian Kingdom. This accounts for the fact that he did not surround himself with representations of his family past embedded in national history. The message of his portrait representation spoke about himself, and reflected his real or desired status within his own social circle.