Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Erno Marosi, 'The Origins of Art History in Hungary'1

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Erno Marosi, 'The Origins of Art History in Hungary'1

Article excerpt

The prehistory of art historical writing

The prehistory of Hungarian art history can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A lively historical interest was directed first of all towards a few objects, which, alongside their outstanding historical significance, also possessed artistic value. The first of these was the royal crown, which was a subject of artistic and historic description and analysis as early as 1613.2 Later, several books on the topic appeared, to be followed in the first half of the nineteenth century by numerous articles and essays in journals.3 A similar wealth of writings was dedicated to the so-called horn of Lehel; a number of books and articles discussed this ivory hunting horn, probably from the tenth century, with rich decoration showing circus scenes.4

It is, however, the topographical literature of the eighteenth century, growing considerably at the beginning of the nineteenth, that can be regarded as the precursor of art historiography. Alongside their descriptions of historic monuments, churches and castles, works of this kind also contained analyses of the artistically significant interior arrangements of the mural decorations of buildings, libraries, picture galleries and pleasure gardens.5 Similar kinds of topographical work, which increasingly took the form of specialised literary travel accounts, with descriptions of artworks and even whole museums, continued to flourish in the journals of the first half of the nineteenth century.6

The establishment of the Hungarian National Museum was probably the most important event for the establishment of archaeology and art history as scholarly disciplines. In 1802 Count Ferenc Széchényi bequeathed his extensive library and coin collection to the museum that was to be built. As early as 1803 the public was given access to the library and in 1808 the regional assembly passed the law to erect the building of the National Museum. The collections were continually expanded through bequests and purchases. When the Collection of Coins and Antiquities was opened in 1814 it already contained ancient stone monuments. The year 1832 saw the purchase of the collection of Miklós Jankovich (1772-1846), which included, amongst others, numerous works of art, and when Bishop Johann Ladislaus Pyrker (1772-1847) of Eger bequeathed his picture gallery to the museum, a new section, that of Fine Arts, was established. In 1846 the museum building was completed; constructed according to the plans of Mihály Pollack, it has continued to serve its original purpose up to the present. The collections were then transferred to the new building and made accessible to the public. The director and other co- workers of the museum comprised the first professional representatives of art history in Hungary. The first director was Jakob Ferdinand Miller (1749-1823), who, in addition to being concerned with the library, focused on the description of Roman antiquities. He was succeeded in 1823 by Antal Haliczky (1788-1837), who was initially director of the Department of Coins and Antiquities, but who then likewise worked, later, on Roman antiquities. From 1837 to 1847 the director of the museum was István Horvát, a celebrated historian at the time, while from 1846 onwards the picture gallery was directed by Gábor Mátray (1797-1875), who was responsible for the first descriptive catalogue of the collection.7

The first scholarly journal in Hungary, Tudományos Gyútemény (The Scholarly Collection) had been published in 1817; contributions included travel reports as well as topographic descriptions of artistic relevance. In keeping with the spirit of Neo-Classicism, there was particular interest in monuments of classical art; indeed, this was when the first studies of Roman provincial monuments found in Hungary began to be undertaken, inasmuch as inscribed stone monuments were published (i.e. translated). The journal also included the first publications on historical Hungarian artists (as well as artists originating from Hungary). …

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