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.
The auctions held yearly four or five times under the aegis of the society ensured monopoly for the Saint George Guild for many years owing to the special legal regulations. The economic processes during World War I put an end to this favourable situation by 1917 when several rich auctioneers appeared who went into business – on the West European model – instead of remaining within the frames of a society. The auction-house of the Ernst Museum that was active for decades had larger turnover in a single auction than the Guild had in a whole year. The society that was financially pushed into the background was hindered by the lost war and the 1919 half-year communist power that radically changed the social and economic situation. From 1920 an auction or two were still announced, but ever rarer and in 1923 it stopped this activity. By then the Saint George Guild had fulfilled its function: regular art auctions were institutionalized, art collection and art trade had now consolidated frames that already superseded those of the initiator in the early 1920s.