The Sculpture Collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest has been enriched in recent years with twenty-one marble portrait reliefs carved by Giovanni Bonazza (1654–1736) and his workshop. Fifteen reliefs were transferred within the institution and six were purchased from a private collection, but the identical creator and size, the uniform plaster framing and the themes of seventeen pieces – portraits of Italian rulers in the period of great migrations and the early Middle Ages – made it perfectly clear that they are pieces of a relief series scattered at an unknown date. The four “character heads” without caption, which deviate in theme from the series, are typical items of Venetian baroque sculpture.
The search for the provenance of the reliefs led the author to the collector and art patron Miklós Jankovich (1773–1846), who possessed sixty-two marble reliefs (or sixty-four in later sources) which represented – to quote the collection inventories ‘Hunnish, Goth, Longobard kings and their successors who reigned in Italy after the Roman emperors’ from Alaric to emperor Saint Henry. Jankovich probably bought the series from the heirs of István Marczibányi after his death in 1810. In 1836 it passed into the National Museum as part of the first Jankovich collection. The inventorying of the paintings and sculptures in the Jankovich collection was interrupted by the great flood of Pest in spring 1838, and that must be the cause why the relief series was not included in the stock of the museum and its provenance got gradually forgotten. In 1924 the reliefs kept in the repository of the Collection of Antiquities as “insignificant items for the museum” not belonging to its collecting profile began to be sorted out. Thirty items were auctioned off in the Ernst Museum, twenty pieces were exchanged with László Mautner, an antiquities dealer in Budapest for an array of archaeological and historical objects. In the National Museum eleven portraits of kings and four character heads remained, delivered as “remnant” of the Historical Collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in 1943, from where they were transferred to the Hungarian National Gallery in 1957. The relief series from Giovanni Bonazza’s workshop once in the Jankovich collection must have been the only complete series of kings (though only known from second-hand information) which was carved after the book of engravings by the historian Emanuele Tesauro of Turin, Del regno d’Italia sotto I barbari, published in Turin in 1664. Its dispersion is an irretrievable loss.