The artist who painted the rococo frescoes on the walls and ceiling of the Keglevich mansion in Pétervására was Jakab Beller as the signature on the wall of the entrance “J. Beller pinx.” indicates. Very few of the works by Beller – most frequently called in the sources “the painter of Gyöngyös” – survive. Apart from the Pétervására frescoes, only the signed and dated picture of the high altar in the St Urban church of Gyöngyös can safely be attributed to him. Further information can be had in sources about his activity in the 1760s and ‘70s: about decorating the rooms of the one-time inn of Gyöngyöspüspöki commissioned by bishop Ferenc Barkóczy (1760) and the ordinary painting work done in Colonel Sámuel Haller’s house in Gyöngyös, about helping with portraits, painting decors, gilding frames, painting window shutters, etc. Thus Beller’s oeuvre is full of hiatuses, but his biography can still be enriched with newly explored data.
The pertinent entries in the parish register of the St Bartholomew parish of Gyöngyös reveal that Beller married Maria Anna Gergelyi on 12 April 1761. They had four children between 1764 and 1770. Kristóf Quadri from Lugano, the architect of the Keglevich mansion in Pétervására was godfather to some of them. This close relationship might reinforce the hypothesis that Beller and Quadri were compatriots. Beller died in Gyöngyös on 6 March 1777, at the age of 42. It is not known when and where he had come from, and his schooling is still in obscurity. His name is not included in the lists of students at the Vienna Art Academy. His set of motifs is mostly based on the illustrative material of then circulated publications, books, prints.
Count Gábor I. Keglevich (1710–1769) began having a country house built in his estate at Pétervására around 1760; the ceremonial hall was probably decorated in the 1760s. The popular graphic sheets had a great role in the design of the mythological themes required by the owner, as precedents to all of them can be tracked down among the prints. The assembly of Olympian gods depicted on the ceiling adopted a ceiling composition by Simon Vouet only known in an engraving. It used to adorn the library of Hotel Séguier in Paris preserved for posterity by a print series (Porticus Bibliothecae Illustriss. Seguierii Galliae Cancellarii) published by Michel Dorigny in 1640.
In the vault arches of the ceremonial hall there are scenes of construction in rococo cartouches (Building of Troy, Semiramis founding a city) whose visual models can be traced to a 17th century illustrated edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Adapted by Isaac de Benserade and illustrated by Sébastien Le Clerc and Francois Chauveau, the Metamorphoses d’Ovide en rondeaux (Paris 1676) was later published in Nuremberg (1689) and Augsburg (1690), too. On the shorter walls of the hall pairs of mythological female figures are depicted. On the east wall Vertumnus and Pomona, on the opposite wall presumably Diana and Callisto can be seen. A shadow of doubt is cast on the identification of the latter by the prototype, the composition about Vertumnus and Pomona by Abraham Bloemaert transferred onto the copperplate by Jan Saenredam (1605).
The figural ornaments (and presumably the stage-set like rococo architecture) on the side walls was painted by Beller after 18th century prints from Augsburg. The figures of Lucrezia, Minerva, Semiramis and Heliogalabus are from sheets in the album of etchings published by Johann Georg Hertel. The etcher was Balthasar Sigmund Setletzky and the compositions were drawn by noted Augsburg artists such as Gottfried Bernhard Göz and Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner.
The most original figures are the contemporaries in the four corners of the hall on painted galleries. The figures traditionally identified with member of the Keglevich family and household felicitously conjure up the time when the painting was created.
Taking stock of the figural representations, one finds a conspicuous overrepresentation of “female themes”. Pomona fighting shy of love, Lucrezia accepting death for honour, wise Minerva and heroic Semiramis, who founded a city are all symbolic figures of female virtues. Maybe Count Keglevich wished to commemorate the virtues of his wife Josefa Königsacker in this way, or, like in Edelény, perhaps the supporter of the fresco decoration was not a patron but a patroness.
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.