The topic of the paper is a cycle of six large panneaux on Hungarian historical themes panted for the Vienna palace of the Transylvanian Court Chancellery. The series on Hun–Hungarian history from leaving behind the original habitat to the battle of Mohács is the earliest relic of Hungarian history painting, yet earlier researches only tangentially touched on it despite its salient importance.
When the Principality of Transylvania became part of the Central European Habsburg Monarchy as a independent land in 1690, Leopold I founded the Transylvanian Court Chancellery in 1693 as the highest governing organ of Transylvania. Based in Vienna, the office functioned in diverse rented buildings for a long time, before the freshly appointed chancellor of Transylvania Gábor Bethlen (1712–1768) purchased a building in Vienna in 1755 for the office. He chose the Sinzendorf palace in Hintere Schenkenstrasse across from the Löwel bastion (later replaced by the Burgtheater) close to the palace of the Hungarian Chancellery. It functioned until it was demolished in 1880. In 1755–1759 the chancellor had a representative suite of rooms created on the second floor also including a dining room. Its walls were covered by six large (c. 325 x 310 cm) painted wall hangings or spalliers. It is known from a description by Mór Jókai that the cycle contained three scenes from the Hun–Hungarian prehistory and three from the history of the Christian Hungarian Kingdom. 1) Exodus of the Magyars from their original habitat bordering on China; 2) Pagan priest officiating a fire sacrifice and the Hun king Attila (?), 3) Prince of Moravia Svatopluk sells Pannonia to the chieftain of the Magyars Árpád for a white horse, 4) Saint Stephen converts the Magyars to Christianity, 5) King Matthias Hunyadi enters Vienna in 1486, 6) The battle of Mohács in 1526.
In a study published in 1906 Piarist historian–archivist Sándor Takáts (1860–1932) adduced several data on the artists and artisans working on interior decoration of the chancellery palace including painters, presumably on the basis of the artists’ bills. These documents together with all the files of the Directorium in publicis et cameralibus perished in a fire that broke out in Vienna’s Justizpalast in 1927. The Hungarian historical panneaux were presumably painted by August Rumel (1715–1778) who features in the sources as Historienmaler and painter of the Viennese citizenry. On the basis of indirect information, the cycle can be tentatively dated to 1756–1758, as they were already included in the inventory of the chancellery in 1759.
The Transylvanian Court Chancellery hardly used its first headquarters for one and a half decades after 1766. When in 1782 Joseph II merged the Transylvanian and Hungarian chancelleries, the Transylvanian office moved in 1785 next door to its sister institution, which had had a palace since 1747 a street further, in Vordere Schenkenstrasse, i.e. today’s Bankgasse. They moved in the one-time Trautson house. Parallel with that the treasury sold the former centre of the Transylvanian chancellery which was bought by imperial and royal chamberlain Count Mihály Nádasdy (1746–1826).
As far as Jókai knew, the panneaux became court property in the 1780s and they were purchased at an auction in 1809 by Countess Rozália Bethlen (1754–1826) and transported to Transylvania. They can be identified in the chattels inventory for 1839 of the Jósika palace in Kolozsvár. Later the panneaux were inherited within the Jósika family. Elected minister a latere in 1895, Sámuel Jósika (1848–1923) had the cycle transported to Vienna and put them up in the “Hungarian house”, his official place, today the house of the Hungarian embassy. When his incumbency expired, the pictures went back to Transylvania and passed down in the Jósika family. In 1945 four of the pictures got lost. The two surviving pictures were purchased by the Hungarian State and hung up in the gala room of the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna in 2008 where they can still be seen.