In recent decades, especially in German language areas, several monographs and studies have stressed the source value in political and social history of the representative relics of burial places and sepulchral art. The resting places of Hungarian aristocrats of the early modern age are also more than mere (style historical, iconographic) sources of “traditional” art historical investigations, as is also pointed out by several recent scientific works in Hungary.
Lord Chief Justice Ferenc III Nádasdy (1623–1671) had the Nádasdy family mausoleum built in Léka (Lockenhaus, Austria). The converted aristocrat commissioned Pietro Orsolino, master builder from Siena, to erect a church and monastery for the Augustinian hermits and the population of the small Transdanubian village. The innovation of the crypt completed in 1669 lies in admitting solely the remains of the Nádasdy family members according to the original concept of the chief justice, thus becoming the first family mausoleum in the crypt of a church running the whole length of the church space.
When Ferenc Nádasdy was executed for his part in the Wesselényi conspiracy against the court in Vienna in 1671, there were two tombs in the central space of the crypt to which an ornamental staircase led from the middle of the nave of the oval church. The chief justice had the double tomb (c. 1562) of his great grandparents palatine Tamás Nádasdy and Orsolya Kanizsay – an outstanding specimen of 16th century Hungarian sepulchral art – transferred from the chapel of Léka castle. The tomb is covered with a late gothic slab showing the palatine and his wife kneeling at the stem of the cross. The monumental baroque tomb of Ferenc Nádasdy and his wife Anna Julianna Esterházy (c. 1669) was probably made by masters of the Léka guild of builders and masons.
Research of the past years has shown that extensively travelled and highly cultured Ferenc Nádasdy was one of the most conscious aristocratic patrons of the art in Hungary who put the arts sharp-wittedly in the service of his own representation and the political propaganda of the Hungarian Kingdom. In his residences (Keresztúr, Sárvár, Seibersdorf, Pottendorf) he set up picture galleries with different representative goals each; as the holder of the advowson, he had churches (Lorettom, Léka) and chapels (Mariazell, St Stephen’s chapel) founded and ordered altar paintings. He relied on printing to disseminate internationally the historical continuity of the Hungarian statehood threatened by the Ottoman Empire (Mausoleum) and the unity of the Hungarian nation of the estates (series of Widemann portraits).
The crypt of the Léka church was the place of the reverence of ancestors and the expression of Ferenc Nádasdy’s ambition to become palatine. By positioning his and his wife’s tomb opposite his great-grandfather’s in the crypt he founded, he implied his wish to become similar to his forefather. During his political career he failed to acquire the title of palatine, but the “adopter” of the art patron model created by Nádasdy, his brother-in-law Pál Esterházy attained it. Similarly to Nádasdy, Esterházy also had a family crypt built later in the centre of his residence Kismarton (Eisenstadt, Austria) emulating in concept the example of Léka and the Graz mausoleum of Ferdinand II as regards form.