The frescoes decorating the stateroom of the Episcopal palace of Szombathely were painted by Franz Anton Maulbertsch in 1783 on commission from bishop János Szily. The lateral walls received scenes from the history of the Roman predecessor of the town Savaria in the form of grisaille murals imitating bronze reliefs. The four paintings – Tiberius Claudius founds Savaria, Septimius Severus is elected emperor, Triumph of Constantinus Chlorus, and Attila chases the Romans out of Pannonia – conjure up the Roman world with a multitude of detail and with historical authenticity. Besides, they also deliberately apply the iconographic and compositional rules of relief sculpture in the Imperial Period. This historicizing rendering is an indicator of the new accent on historism, suggesting the 18th century transformation of the concept of history fed by the recognition of the historical distance between the event and the observer.
The ceiling shows the process of salvation under the governance of Providence. Some elements were borrowed by Maulbertsch from his earlier work in the former library of the Premonstratensian monastery in Louka, Moravia. The theme is the temporal process of the enlightenment of mankind, but the historical examples are replaced here by abstract notions, the time and space coordinates appearing highly generalized. In the middle the allegorical figure of Divine Providence arrives on clouds, with personifications of the Old and New Testaments beneath him suggesting periods in the history of salvation. As a counterpoint to Providence bringing the glimmer of dawn, the Allegory of the Night is depicted at the other end of the ceiling. The two sleeping figures are captives of the lulling power of the fauns symbolizing irrational existence governed by instincts. The pseudo-reliefs and sculptures painted in the corners represent heathenism, the ante legem period of the process of salvation. The medallions show typical episodes of bacchanals of putti, and the grisaille figures most likely repeat motifs of the bacchanal scene in the Louka fresco. The themes of the other three colour frescoes are Europe's apotheosis among the continents, Revelation of the True Religion, and the Apotheosis of Truth in the company of Religion, Humility and the Christian martyrs. It is actually a modernized psychomachy, presenting the victory of Christianity, faith and the virtues over paganism, the instincts and vices. The allegoric groups are witty renderings of conventional formulae.
The rich painted architecture of the ceiling is based on Paul Decker's pattern sheet complemented with neoclassical elements but preserving its irrational character. The illusory architecture, the rivaling lifelikeness of colourful and monochrome figures creates a play of degrees of reality that mobilize the imagination. Maulbertsch's pictorial world can be characterized with the concepts of delicieux and charmant used to describe Mozart's music; his tools of expression convey an ease and serenity that are not light-minded but with the tools of subtle irony and humour invite the viewer for more sophisticated reflections, contrary to the propagandistic allegories.
Special literature ascribes a distinguished role to the Pápa cycle in both the late phase of Franz Anton Maulbertsch's oeuvre and in the history of late baroque ceiling painting. Its specific features are interpreted by the authors as manifestations of unfolding neo-classicism and the Enlightenment. The St Stephen cycle is, however, a series of history pictures set into the medium of fresco painting, and accordingly, the mode of rendering adapts to the classic, centuries-old tradition of history painting and is not necessarily the outcome of a period style. The utterances of the client, bishop of Eger Károly Eszterházy and Maulbertsch are to be interpreted as reflections upon the rules of this genre. The demand for dramatic unity is already discernible in the formulation of the scheme and recurs repeatedly in their correspondence. The narrative unfolding in the ceiling paintings in Pápa can be taken for a painted tragedy of a complex plot based on Aristotle's notions of change of fate (peripeteia) and recognition (anagnorisis), the precedents of which are not to be sought in ceiling painting but much rather in the history of pictures of a classical approach produced in the early modern age. Maulbertsch's most frequently quoted words are from a letter he attached to a sketch of the ceiling painting depicting the ordination of St Stephen and his fellows deacons: He says he preserved the sanctity [heiligkeit], the quiet order [stille ordnung], the characteristic clothing [das Kenliche in der Kleidung], and the effictive meaning of the history [Wirckhsame bedeittung der Historie]. Style historical research tends to relate this passage to neo-classicism and to the categories of Ramdohr and Winckelmann. In fact, Maulbertsch was not speaking of the entire cycle here but only of the fresco of the first vault section, outlining the specificities of its rendering inhering in the peculiar theme and the place of the picture within the cycle.
Eszterházy asked the painter to adhere to the rules of costume of history painting, which meant the harmony of clothing, setting and accessories: the apostles are all clad in long-sleeved gowns, ample cloaks and have halos, while the deacons wear alb and stole. Maulbertsch did not apply the rest of the notions to reflect up the esthetic norms of a new style but used them to define the mode of representation chosen for the conveyance of the scene, and this mode was sharply different from that of the subsequent pictures. The rendering of the ceremony of ordination implies sanctity and quiet order, and the dignity and significance of this story are enhanced by the chosen artistic tools.
In the second ceiling picture of St Stephen's dispute, most of the congregation gathered in the temple receive the heard words with passionate outrage. Some of the types and formulae were taken from the conventions of the representation of the theme; the composition is closely related to the ceiling fresco in the parish church of Kirchdorf painted by Johann Baptist Enderle. Maulbertsch's absorbtion in the academic practice of the expression des passions and the classic elaboration of similar themes is clearly manifest here. The poor condition of the surface allows only some vague idea of the original pageantry of colours of the whirl of brightly dressed people and draperies in the impressive illusionistic space.
The next scene, the arrest of the saint, takes place in the same venue and is shown from the same vantage point as the previous scene of preaching. However, Maulbertsch wanted to avoid the banality of repeating the secondary figures, with which he managed to increase the expressive force of the pictorial sequence, creating a dramatic turmoil that had swept all off their places except the protagonist. In terms of classical rhetoric, the style of the three ceiling frescoes corresponds to Quintilian's second category, the sublime and vehement mode of representation (genus sublime, genus vehemens) aimed to move the recipient. The major instrument of emotional influencing is the contrast between the painterly characterization of the crowd and the protagonist, the former becoming the vehicle of pathos, the latter of ethos: the crowd is increasingly overcome by pathos, while the main character is vested by the painter with external signs of the ethos of sanctity more and more clearly: from the humbly kneeling deacon he first becomes a faith-inspired preacher and finally a chosen one initiated in the celestial secrets. The contrasting of these two qualities turn the narrative unfolding in the three frescoes tragic in the Aristotelian sense: Stephen's life on earth meets with a cruel end the monstrosity of which is conveyed by increasingly more vehement pathetic pictures to the viewer. Maulbertsch planned to include the high altar picture into this context but there is no knowing of his solution as the bishop turned down his sketch and had the high altar painted by Hubert Maurer.
The vision of heaven has a crucial role in the cycle, for the celestial sphere, the promise of salvation ensures in the plot the reversal of fortune, the auspicious denouement. The earthly events stir the recipients' emotions but the involvement of justice in afterlife calms them and thus perfect catharsis can happen. The change of fate in the third fresco is related to the moment of recognition. Through the great masters of the 16–17th centuries, pathos theory and the conception of peripeteia became the fundamental, even commonplace pictorial narrative method of history painting and Tridentine religious art of the early modern age. With the Pápa ceiling frescoes Maulbertsch gave evidence of his broad pictorial culture by choosing from among these visual panels and formulas with a keen eye and shaping them to his own liking.
The author devotes a series of articles to the iconographic and pictorial specificities of the perished ceiling frescoes of Szombathely cathedral. The frescoes were painted on the basis of Franz Anton Maulbertsch's sketches after his unexpected death by Joseph Winterhalder jr. and after the latter's death, by Anton Spreng between 1798 and 1808. Each of the three great frescoes has a different relationship with Maulbertsch's sketches and his concept of ceiling decoration, and in the course of the execution of the work Winterhalder, “the best pupil of Maulbertsch” also changed his attitude to the ongoing work.
The present paper introduces the first piece of the cycle, the Annunciation in the chancel. After Maulbertsch's death Bishop János Szily asked Maulbertsch's father-in-law the engraver Jakob Schmutzer to find a competent fresco painter. He recommended Winterhalder, reporting in enthusiastic terms about the striking resemblance of his style with Maulbertsch's. As the sources reveal, the client did not want to find a Maulbertsch imitator at first and would have respected the artistic originality of the new painter. He was not aware that Winterhalder's successes as a fresco painter were largely due to his ability to reproduce and vary the formal and compositional solutions learnt from his master. After arriving in Szombathely, the painter assured the bishop to continue the original concept of Maulbertsch and not to work after own invention.
When Winterhalder began decorating the chancel ceiling, he had a lot of work ahead on the basis of the bozzetto he received. It was exceptionally rare that Maulbertsch elaborated a detailed design corresponding exactly with the final composition. Usually he only determined the foci of the composition and the protagonists, adding the details ad lib on the ceiling, drawing them in free hand with the brush. Having learnt this method working in Maulbertsch's workship, experienced Winterhalder seems to not have been perplexed by the job of filling the huge vault with a rich composition whereas the sketch only contained the chief motifs. Apart from the bozzetto, another source of the Maulbertschian motifs was a work in Moravia, the central ceiling fresco in the nave of the church of Dyje (Mühlfraun). Winterhalder, too, had been involved in the execution of the fresco and – just like in many other places – he probably made ricordi of Maulbertsch's composition and figural groups, which he must have found appropriate to be used in Szombathely as well. The figure of the adoring angel leaning over a cloud or Saint Michael sitting in contrapposto are exact borrowings from Dyje, and the basic concept of the composition also derives from there. The female figures of the Old Testament in the window zone are also based on another Maulbertsch work, the figures of the Carmelite church in Székesfehérvár.
Winterhalder also relied on his own imagination. It is to the credit of his inventiveness that he turned a biblical scene of meagre external features into a dramatic scene filling a whole vault. On the basis of the Tridentine representations of the Annunciation, he fully exploited the possibilities of the theological metaphors with a huge host of angels, an array of different symbols to enrich the iconographic arsenal of the scene. The foundation for this was Winterhalder's great theological culture and ability to invent symbols, which are obvious in other works of his as well.
Thus, in the first phase of the commisson – the decoration of the ceiling of the chancel – Winterhalder apparently acted as the talented pupil of Maulbertsch in confirmation of his fame. He eminently rehearsed what he had learnt about the elaboration of a sketch and the incorporation of pictorial panels. He dazzled his client – like so many times earlier – by creating a “real” Maulbertsch work. The next phase of the work – the decoration of the central dome – was a more taxing task confronting the painter with a new challenge.
In the billiard room of the Ráday mansion in Pécel fragments of wall painting were discovered in 1954. They claim attention not only on account of their good artistic quality but also because when the coat of paint peeled off from the ceiling, the sinopia of the fresco applied with red and black colours – a truly rare sight – was revealed. The artist of the frescoes was Johann Nepomuk Schöpf, whom the writer Ferenc Kazinczy also saw working in Pécel, as his travel diary reveals. The Prague-born artist was the scion of a family of artists and first worked in his father Johann Adam’s fresco painting workshop, but autonomous works of his are already known from the 1760s. In the early ‘70s he was in Vienna from where he came to Hungary to paint altar pictures for the cathedral in Temesvár, before he received a commission from Bishop Ádám Patachich to decorate the cathedral and episcopal palace of Nagyvárad (1773–1776). Particularly the latter shows kindred traits to the decoration of the billiard room in Pécel. Both include neo-classical late baroque illusory architecture and in the sumptuous ensembles of a kaleidoscope of forms so typical of Schöpf the artist paired diverse materials and colours to produce highly unique, bizarre and unrealistic compositions. A chancellery document of 1782 claims that Schöpf also visited Buják. The central altar picture of St Martin in the parish church is to be attributed to him on the basis of stylistic features and motifs.