In recent years, international research has turned with renewed attention to the Hungarian early renaissance and the art patronage of King Matthias Corvinus. indeed, it was in Hungary that italian renaissance art first appeared outside the italian peninsula. in 1476, he married Beatrice, daughter of Ferdinando d’aragona (Ferrante), who brought to Buda a love of books and music she had inherited from her grandfather, alfonso d’aragona. the work of Beatrice’s brother, giovanni d’aragona, previously known mainly from thomas Haffner’s monograph on his library (1997), is presented here from the viewpoint of his influence on Matthias’s art patronage. Ferrante’s children, alfonso, Beatrice, and giovanni were educated by outstanding humanist teachers. giovanni acquired many church benefices, and when Pope sixtus iv created him cardinal at the age of twenty-one, he made a dazzling entrance to rome. John was – together with Marco Barbo, oliviero Carafa, and Francesco gonzaga – one of the principal contemporary patrons of the College of Cardinals.
On 19 april 1479 the pope named him legatus a latere to support King Matthias’s planned crusade against the Porte. giovanni went from rome to Hungary via Ferrara and Milan with two noted humanists in his retinue: the encyclopedist raffaele Maffei (volaterranus) and Felice Feliciano, bookbinder and collector of roman inscriptions. He spent much of his eight-month stay in Hungary with Matthias and Beatrice, no doubt exerting a significant influence on them, particularly in the collecting of books. Matthias appointed his brother-in-law archbishop of esztergom, the highest clerical office in Hungary. leaving Hungary in July 1480, giovanni returned to rome via venice and Florence, where lorenzo de’ Medici showed him the most valuable works of art in his palace. giovanni was appointed legate to Hungary again by sixtus iv in september 1483, and – together with Francesco Fontana – he stayed in Buda and esztergom between october 1483 and June 1484. the royal couple presented him with silver church vessels, a gold chalice, vestments, and a miter.
Giovanni’s patronage focused on book collecting and building. He spent an annual sum of six thousand ducats on his library, and his acquisitions included contemporary architectural treatises by alberti and Filarete. it was around the time he was in Buda – between 1479 and 1481 – that the first large-format luxury codices were made for Matthias and Beatrice by the excellent Florentine miniaturist, Francesco rosselli. in rome, giovanni (and Francesco gonzaga) employed the Paduan illuminator gaspare da Padova, and his example encouraged Matthias and Beatrice to commission all’antica codices. anthony Hobson has detected a link between Queen Beatrice’s Psalterium and the livius codex copied for giovanni: both were bound by Felice Feliciano, who came to Hungary with the Cardinal. Feliciano’s probable involvement with the erlangen Bible (in the final period of his work, probably in Buda) may therefore be an important outcome of the art-patronage connections between giovanni and the king of Hungary.
A passion for building was something else that giovanni shared with Matthias. He built a palace for himself in the monastery of Montevergine and another near Montecassino, of which he was abbot. He also built the villa la Conigliera in Naples. Matthias’ interest in architecture is much mentioned in antonio Bonfini’s history of Hungary, but only fragments of his monumental constructions, which included the renaissance villa Marmorea in the gardens to the west of the royal Palace of Buda, have survived.
Giovanni and Matthias also had a connection through the famous Milan goldsmith Cristoforo Foppa (Caradosso), whose workshop was located in giovanni’s palace in rome. after his patron’s death in autumn 1485, he attempted to sell a – subsequently famous – silver salt cellar he had been unable to complete. it may also have been at the Cardinal’s recommendation that Matthias invited Caradosso to Buda for a several-month stay in 1489/90, during which he made silver tableware and possibly – together with three other lombardian goldsmiths who were there at the time – the lower part of the magnificent Matthias Calvary.
Further items in the metalware category are our patrons’ seal matrices. My research has uncovered two smaller seals, both with the arms of the House of aragon at the center, that belonged to giovanni d’aragona. one, dating from 1473, is held in the archives of the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. the other was made after he was created cardinal in late 1477 (it is held in Hungarian National archives). He also had an elaborate prelate’s seal matrix made in the early renaissance style, of which impressions survive on the documents in the archivio apostolico vaticano and the esztergom Primatial archive. at the center of the mandorla-shaped field, sitting on a throne, is the virgin Mary (Madonna lactans type) together with two intervening standing saint figures whose identification requires further research. Beneath it is the cardinal’s coat of arms crowned with a hat. it may date from the time of Caradosso’s first presumed stay in rome (1475–1479), suggesting him as the maker of the matrix, although to my knowledge there is no further evidence for this. the seals of King Matthias have been thoroughly studied, and the form and use of each type have been almost fully established.
Giovanni d’aragona was buried in rome, in his titular church, the Dominican Basilica of santa sabina. Johannes Burckard described the funeral procession from the palace to the aventine in his Liber notarum. Matthias died in the vienna Burg, a residence he had only just taken up, in 1490. His body was taken in grand procession to Buda and subsequently to Fehérvár Basilica, the traditional burial place of Hungarian kings. the careers of giovanni and Matthias, full of military, political and ecclesiastical accomplishments, were thus both cut short. the great works of art they engendered, however, mark them out as highly influential patrons of renaissance art and humanist culture.
The subject of the paper – a reverse glass painting (Hinterglasmalerei) – came to its current owner from a well-known private collection in Budapest. Painted on a 2 mm thick glass plate measuring 300 × 350 mm, silhouettes of figures with subtly painted details on their costumes are shown with scratched metal foil decoration in the background. The date of making around 1790 is clearly determined by the depicted scene in addition to the neo-classical late baroque style of the rendering. The Hungarian style clothing of the figures, their badges and the Hungarian coat of arms on the breast of the Habsburg eagle together with the inscriptions (“Fidelis Pannia”, “Ego Fidelis Natio Hungarica”) provide first-hand clues for interpretation. From among the rulers of the age, the “F II” monogram seen at two places must refer to Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Bohemia, who ascended the Hungarian throne as Francis I in 1792. The young man standing on the right is to be identified with him on account of the Order of the Golden Fleece and the Hungarian Royal Order of St Stephen worn on his attire. The young man sitting on left must then be the Hungarian palatine Alexander Leopold. The elderly high priest standing behind him also wearing the decorations of the grand cross of the Order of St Stephen is archbishop of Esztergom Count József Batthyány. The young female figure in Hungarian style costume is the queen, Maria Teresa of the Two Sicilies. The picture shows the most important figures of the compromise arrived at during the Diet of 1792 held in the ancient Hungarian capital Buda.
In contradistinction to the legacy of the late Joseph II (died 1790) who had imposed reforms, this political settlement promised to restore the ancient constitution of the Hungarian nobility in return for an offer of taxes and recruits needed for the Habsburgs’ French wars. This agreement was particularly well received by the rural Hungarian nobility. The choice of the language for the inscriptions – Latin – also confirms this as a conserving cultural symbol. The person who ordered the picture and first owned it must be sought in this social stratum.
The date of making must be connected to the Diet of 1792, for the significance of the compromise was soon overshadowed by the events of the French wars and other domestic political changes, so the subject of the picture had no topical significance in the mid-1790s any more. The glass picture was certainly made in Vienna. This technique was not practiced in Hungary; Vienna was a centre of silhouette painting at that time. Silhouettes already appeared painted on glass, alloyed with other techniques. The pictorial devices of the picture also point towards Vienna, reminding one of the widely disseminated silhouette scenes of Johann Hieronymus Löschenkohl (Elberfeld, 1753 – Vienna, 1807). In this circle one can find a glass painter of Linz, Ignaz Pfeilhauer (Linz, 1765 – Linz, 1843), who also worked in Vienna and several of whose signed pictures are known by research. Outstanding among them are a signed picture dated 1796 showing the chamber orchestra of the Linz civil guard in green uniform and an unidentified family scene at the breakfast table, a reverse glass painting from 1794. After a comparison with further pictures by him, it can be concluded that the Budapest glass painting displays the same peculiarities: in the group scenes set in interiors the somewhat rigidly rendered silhouette figures appear to be floating, and the lines of the floor and the symmetrically placed pieces of furniture refuse to proceed towards a vanishing point, running counter to the rules of perspective. The body and hand postures of the conversing silhouette figures with inner details also drawn in gold and other colours are similar in all paintings concerned. This is complemented with techniques of colorfully painted and scratched metal foil, canvas and paper applications. On the basis of all this the Budapest reverse glass painting may be defined as the earliest known work of Ignaz Pfeilhauer.
An interesting carved stone fragment of the mediaeval Royal Palace of Buda was found in Budapest in 1997, built secondarily in a house at No. 6 Márvány Street. On the carved prismatic red marble stone with polished surface details of an inscription in square capitals can be read in two lines: ‘… DIADEM[A]…/…TOLLII · [I]…’ This fragment can be complemented with another carved piece found during the excavations led by László Gerevich in the Royal Palace of Buda in the 1950s. The similarly prismatic stone with polished surface features the end of an inscription in two lines: “…OQUE / …VT·”. Since the type of the letters and the size are identical, it is reasonably justified to assume that the two fragments used to belong to the same inscribed frieze. It was probably included in the structure of an aperture frame (door, window, or fireplace) as the known analogies suggest. Our hypothesis is verified by a written source that registered with the authenticity of the eye-witness the inscription the fragments of which have now been found. In his description of Buda including the former Royal Palace occupied by the Ottomans, Salomon Schweigger (and in his wake Reinhold Lubenau) put down an inscription into which the fragments at issue can be fitted. The text is as follows:
ad astra Cap
It is apparent at first glance that the fragments contain parts of this text. Nevertheless, it is still important to call attention to the slight differences between the distich printed in Schweigger's book and the text in the carved stone fragment. The differences might be attributed to mistaken copying or more probably to erroneous memory, but the circumstances of neither the observation, nor the recording are known. This warns of the discrepancies or contradictions in the trinity of the surviving text, our own interpretation and the one-time reality.
The inscribed fragment unearthed in the 1950s was found outside the eastern facade of the Palace and the southern wall of the Chapel, in the debris filling the area of the inner ward. The debris originated from the former buildings on location, that is, from the demolished Chapel and the eastern wing of the Court of State. There is general consensus among scholars that the above mentioned eastern wing contained King Matthias Corvinus's library, to which this inscription and two other ones are usually connected by research. Travellers visiting the palace occupied by the Turks often gave account of the library and the neighbouring rooms. Having thoroughly analysed these accounts, a close spatial connection can be concluded between the library (and the so-called “observatory” room) adjoining the Chapel, the royal bedchamber close to the library, and the royal “dining room” (and an associated small kitchen) all on the first floor of the eastern and southern sides of the court. However, our current knowledge is insufficient to decide how to correlate the rooms with inscriptions in some accounts and the representative rooms in other accounts, except for the library.
From among the inscriptions of Buda Palace noted by written accounts the three at issue here are connected not only by their common versification, or by their one-time spatial closeness. They had also a common function: the aim of all three inscriptions was to explain the constellations depicted next to them on the walls. All three paintings had astrological subjects, showing with artistic means certain constellations at the time of certain events. King Matthias Corvinus is well known to be keen on the cultivation of astrology at a high level in his court. Beside his court astronomer Martin Bylica of Olkusz, Johannes Regiomontanus, one of the most original and active astronomers of his age, spent five years in Hungary and dedicated several important works to the king. The mural paintings showing the constellations on the days of Matthias's birth, his election as king of Bohemia and the accession of Wladislas II Jagiello to the Hungarian throne played outstanding roles in royal representation. Comparing the texts of the written accounts of the travellers visiting the Palace with contemporaneous depictions on similar themes, we tried to deduce the types and the manner of depictions of the lost paintings in Buda.
Art historians are still at fault for the interpretation of the pictures on the outer sides of the wings of the high altar of Saint John the Baptist from Kisszeben (Sabinov). Restoring work in the past decades has explored the original surface of several pictures, leading to an important insight: the reconstruction of the altarpiece in the baroque age left their contents unchanged. It can therefore be concluded that the baroque layer on the unrestored pic tures cannot hide wholly different scenes. What hinders interpretation is rather the deviation from the customary schemes. The narrative compiled from Biblical scenes is “jerky”: the episodes in some places do not follow in chronological order and while several “customary” scenes are missing seemingly without reason, certain scenes appear, however, to be repeated. Even more perplexing are the “hitches”, representations that are hard to interpret on the basis of traditional schemes, which, however, hide the key to the profound message of the high altar with an adequetely strict composition.
The first scene traditionally taken in the literature for The Miraculous catch of Fishes Christ walking on water is actually the appearance of God the Father, and in the second panel Christ's Transfiguration is shown. The two constitute a pair. With an unmistakable gesture the Creator points at Christ who assumed divine glory in the episode of the Transfiguration during his earthly life as well: “This is my beloved Son …hear ye him!”
The next pictures depict seven episodes from Jesus's human life: the Annunciation, Nativity, Ecce Homo, Crucifixion, Christ in Limbo, Resurrection and Ascension. The sequence is followed by the Holy Trinity in the company of music-making angels. Christ seems to have just returned to the Father occupying his due place on the throne after having completed his earthly life. In the next picture of the Deesis he appears as the chief Judge sent by the Father. The lily at the height of his mouth symbolizes celestial judgment, the sword stands for the earthly power of judgment over the resurrected, the living and the dead.
The pair of the Holy Trinity and the Last Judgment returns once more in the last two panels of the sequence. Christ enthroned under the celestial tent and the Father flank the Mother of God. The dove of the Holy Spirit is hovering above them with extended wings. In the lower strip kneeling figures with hands clutched in payer are turning towards them. The scene follows right after the second depiction alluding to the Last Judgment in which the graves burst open to the trumpet call of the angels announcing the resurrection. It is the reward of the just resurrected just people that they receive eternal life in heaven shown in the next panel.
The second, lower, picture of the left-hand moveable wing has a large church as the most accented motif above which in the middle the dove of the Holy Ghost is fluttering. The figures in the garden represent different degrees of religious absorbtion. A child is heading for the house of God with determined steps, the rest are watching him. This scene might as well symbolize divine filiation. The servants of the Law become the children of God who earn the right to eternal life in heaven on Doomsday but whose adoption as the children of God is effected by the Holy Spirit during baptism. People convert upon the influence of the Holy Spirit and hurry to the church. The church building symbolizes in this connection the Church of Christ.
In the next scene, Christ wearing a snow-white mantle in reference to the Lamb of God is surrounded by followers of all ranks and file who are no aliens or strangers any more thanks to Christ's sacrifice on the cross but the “fellows of the saints and the household of God”. The presentation of their group is thus another visualization of the Church of Christ, as was the church building in the previous scene. Next to Christ the Virgin and St John the Evangelist can be seen with St Peter behind them. They are the supporting pillars of the Church. The rest of the people are not characterized as individuals but as social groups, secular and ecclesiastic dignitaries. The young princess on the left holds St Catherine of Alexandria's attribute. On the right, the encumbents of secular and ecclesiastic power, a pope and a king are predominant. In the background on the right the attire of a young man resembles that of a cardinal while a bishop figure rises above the head of St Peter. The kerchieved women and bare-headed men represent the middle and lower classes. The arrangement of the people around Christ is another visualization of the community of the Church of Christ, its cornerstone being the Vir dolorum.
In the next picture a priest with a youthful face puts his right hand on the head of a praying youth. The black vestment and the gesture are symbolic: the picture shows the administration of the sacrament of penance. The men standing withdrawn to the background are witnesses. The hoary old man is holding a crooked stick and rosary in his left hand, the younger one is reading from a book. The wrinkled forehead, grey hair and beard are attributes of asceticism. The stick is an emblem of hermits and pilgrims, as are the rosary and the book. In the Middle Ages hermits and pilgrims were the paragons of counselling on matters of faith. The male figures of the Kisszeben altarpiece may even directly refer to St Antony the Hermit and St John the Evangelist. Reference to the virtues they represent directs the believers' attention to possible ways of absolution.
The contemplation of the workday-side of the altarpiece, the reading of the depictions from left to right guides one to the recognition of the basic message of the series: it is the illustration of the Apostles' Creed in sixteen episodes, proceeding doctrine by doctrine. It is unique and unprecedented in the art of Hungarian altarpieces, or for that matter in a broader geographical context, too. Further research into the patterns used for the individual scenes must go on to discover the model used for the entire cycle. Certain elements of the sequence are tied with several threads to the paintings feastday-side and are not independent of the themes of the superstructure, either. The full iconographic program, which certainly harmonized with the wish of the commissioner, will be known when all these implications have been clarified. The next great task is therefore to find the donator and the author of the program of the Kisszeben altarpiece.
Power of the sight, experience of a personal encounter
For the art historians and protectors of monuments in the 19th century the appeal of the historical past and the arts, the search for and examination of art works were all part of a deliberately chosen way of life. Art was regarded as something that ennobled life, a source of a good life. They toured the country with unquenchable enthusiasm, the sentences of their professionally correct but reserved descriptions are heated through by the irreplaceable joy of the first-hand experience of the works. It is no wonder that members of this generation did not only want to explore and document these works but also did their best for their preservation. It is also understandable that the primary goal was to keep the works in their original place and setting, and more importantly, in their original form. Being the officials, and at the same time scholars of nascent Hungarian monument protection, they were fully aware of their responsibility and the weight of their decisions. After the Trianon Peace Treaty, studying the monuments of former upper Hungary on location became difficult. Yet the professional results achieved ever since to expand our knowledge have nearly all rested on situations in which the direct face-to-face encounter with the works was possible, aided with the ever more up-to-date technical possibilities.
Let us see the example of the altarpieces of Kisszeben transported to the capital in the year of the Millennium, 1896. Brought to Budapest after decades of wrangling by the National Committee of Monuments and thus saved, the three altarpieces from Kisszeben, including the high altar erected in the Museum of Applied Arts in 1898, did not exert an extraordinary influence upon scholarship or the wider public in the first years. A new leaf was turned in its art historical evaluation after its erection in the Museum of Fine Arts in 1928: the sight captured both Kornél Divald, a member of the pre-war generation and Miklós Csánky, a “museum specialist”: the new publications added novel information to what was known of the high altar. As the all-round restoration of the altarpiece has made good headway now, there is a good chance to face up to several unsettled problems on the basis of personal viewing currently in the throne room of Buda Palace housing the exhibition of late Gothic altarpieces. This is the starting point for the future and the possibility of continued research. The 19th century descriptions, drawings and photos have become written and pictorial sources often documenting no longer existing states.
The power of sources: texts, drawings, photos
The “expert visitors” of the Kisszeben church in the 19th century – Arnold Ipolyi, Imre Henszlmann, Viktor Myskowszky, Frigyes Schulek and others – were primarily impressed by the sculpted ornaments of the high altar, and seeing the lavishly carved superstructure adorned with statues they acknowledged the extraordinary magnitude and pomp, also noting the mixture of stylistic forms. There wasn’t a shadow of doubt implied in their statement – one that could only be verified much later under museum circumstances – that the superstructure towering over the high altar comprised elements made at different points of time.
For art historians of today, the personal encounter with this long extinct form of the high altar can be replaced by photos in the first place. As regards this art work of salient significance, researchers have a rare and lucky position: Arnold Ipolyi’s collection of drawings and photos got back from Nagyvárad and preserved in the Christian Museum in Esztergom contains a photo developed from an original negative, which shows the form of the altarpiece as it looked in the second third of the 19th century – as it was seen by the listed scholars entering the chancel. The luxurious superstructure is captivating in the photo, too. A meticulous scrutiny can reveal which of its carvings perished still in the church during the partial collapse mentioned in the documents and which parts made it into the capital. It can be safely established that similarly to the carvings in the shrine, the statues of the superstructure also survived these tribulations without fail. The Virgin and Elisabeth, the kings and the Man of Sorrows above them, together with the two figures above the altar wings, adorned the altar both in the Museum of Applied Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts. When Miklós Csánky was examining the altar in the marble hall, he found that the statue of a sainted bishop, presumably St Martin, ought not to be in a side niche of the shrine where it replaced the figure of St Barbara restored almost in revival gothic style in Kassa. In the same paper he was the first (and until now the only one) to publish with a photo the statue of the apostle St Paul which he defined as belonging to the Lőcse school and dated to the beginning of the 16th century: it can clearly be identified in the mentioned photo found in the Ipolyi estate, in the “second storey” of the superstructure, as the pendant of the bishop statue. It probably got into a private collection from the Kisszeben church; its destiny could be followed for a long time but it has been lost from sight in recent decades. Miklós Csánky did not know the photo in the Ipolyi estate, and recognizing the close connection between the apostle statue and the style of the high altar he was a hair’s breadth away from the perfect conclusion. His analysis testifies to remarkable intuition on yet another count: while judging St Paul’s statue a noteworthy creation, he thought the bishop figure was alien. Had he seen them together, he would probably have recognized the stylistic confusion, or strangeness, to say the least.
It has been proven by several arguments that the carved superstructure and its figures, which were already part of the high altar in the original venue as the Ipolyi photo verifies, and applied again each time the high altar was built up in museum settings in the past, were not integral part of the medieval altarpiece. It is still a question to be solved if they were elements to replace the original, or they were additions of later times to satisfy changed demand. The uncertainty and odd feeling overcoming the viewer remain when the central, medieval part of the superstructure is studied, too (just remember the example of the statues). Research and test results have revealed that each element of this part of the superstructure is medieval. But are they also original? Were they included in the original conception, and was the altar built like that? Or is it the outcome of some later compilation? Further stylistic and iconographic research will only be able to provide the answers.
2018a . The Mongol Empire . Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press . May , Timothy 2018b . ‘Race to the Throne: Thoughts on Ariq-Boke’s and Khubilai’s claims to the Mongol Throne.’ In: George Bulavschi and Dan Aparashivei (eds.) Studia
but a whole set of splendid liturgical books for his cathedral. As such, Filipecz was just one of a long series of prelates on the bishop’s throne of Várad who were instrumental in the cultural flowering of the city under the influence of Italian