Showing posts with label restoration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label restoration. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Medieval Fresco Cycle of St. Ladislas Uncovered in Transylvania

Figure of the Cuman chased by St. Ladislas, detail from the fresco cycle at Somogyom

News of a spectacular discovery in Transylvania was reported by Hungarian media yesterday: a previously unknown cycle depicting the legend of St. Ladislas was partially uncovered in the church of Somogyom in Transylvania (Șmig, Romania, germ.: Schmiegen).

The village of Somogyom (Schmiegen) was a Transylvanian Saxon community, near the town of Medgyes (Mediasch/Mediaș), established probably in the 13th century - although it was first mentioned only in 1317. Its parish church was built in the 14th century, and was rebuilt during the 15th century. The winged altarpiece of the church was painted some time between 1510-1520 (it is now on permanent loan in the National Museum of Art of Romania, in Bucharest, click on Room 3 in this panorama). Like all of the Saxon communities in the area, Somogyom became Lutheran during the first half of the 16th century, and over the following centuries, the original medieval decoration of the church was slowly covered over. We know that the church was rebuilt and redecorated in 1859, and again in 1909, when a new altarpiece was erected in place of the medieval one. By this time, the medieval frescoes of the church were long forgotten. As both the Hungarian and Romanian population of the village increased, the Saxons slowly diminished, and the Lutheran church has been out of use for decades now. It is thus one of dozens of important medieval churches in Transylvania where urgent actions of protection would be necessary. I've reported on this endangered heritage several times - for example when a medieval copy of Giotto's Navicella was discovered in the ruinous church of Kiszsolna (Senndorf, Jelna) or when two church towers collapsed after last year's winter.

Somogyom, scenes from the Legend of St. Catherine (2 rows), the Crucifixion of St. Peter, etc.
At Somogyom, restorer Loránd Kiss and his colleagues have carried out surveys and smaller interventions of preventive conservation during the last few years, in an effort to save the building. Examination of wall paintings were carried out in the course of a general survey of Transylvanian Saxon churches, and attention was focused on Somogyom after a few scenes were accidentally found there during repairs. Loránd Kiss partially uncovered the medieval frescoes in the nave of the church  a few years ago, revealing a high-quality cycle of the Legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria (these were published in 2013). It was established that the entire north wall of the church, as well as the entire sanctuary was once fully painted - meaning an estimated painted area of about 250 square meters. Research continued this October, when wall paintings in the top register of the north wall of the nave were surveyed. As Loránd Kiss reports, here the Legend of St. Ladislas was uncovered. So far, only parts of a largely intact cycle were freed, as seen on the photos below - with the scene of Ladislas chasing the Cuman being the most clearly visible. The wall paintings can be dated to the beginning of the 15th century, a high point in the popularity of the Ladislas cycle.

Somogyom - Frescoes of the nave, with the newly uncovered Ladislas-cycle in the top row (photo: Tekla Szabó)


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Once more on "Botticelli in Esztergom"


It has recently been stated by the Hungaarian government that new financial sources have been provided for the completion of the restoration of the medieval castle complex in Esztergom, in particular that of the early Gothic castle chapel and the adjoining spaces, which are decorated with frescoes. The 14th century frescoes of the chapel as well as the late 15th century frescoes of the so-called 'Studiolo' have been under restoration since 2000 - an impossibly long time. With the new funds, the end maybe is in sight - the chapel will be accessible again as early as next Spring, while the frescoes of the Studiolo will be on view again in 2015.

Recently, most attention has been given to these Renaissance frescoes, following the sensational claim made by restorer Zsuzsanna Wierdl and art historian Mária Prokopp in 2007 that the figure of Temperantia from a series of the Virtues was painted by the young Botticelli, who was in Hungary during the 1460s. Although disputed soon after the announcement, the authors keep repeating this claim, which has been published in various places - including the acts of the 2007 conference on Italy and Hungary in the Renaissance, held at Villa I Tatti in Florence. I reported on this claim and some response it received in an earlier post. According to an article published this week in Hungarian daily Népszabadság, the authors claim that their attribution of the fresco to Botticelli has gained acceptance and has not been refuted until now. In fact, they now believe that all surviving figures of the Virtues can be attributed to Botticelli. Well, Népszabadság may not be an authoritative source on questions of attribution - but it is definitely wrong on the issue of responses to the Botticelli-attribution. Let's see a few publications on the subject!

Conditions at the Esztergom 'Studiolo' during recent years
First, I would like to call attention on the publications of Mária Prokopp and Zsuzsanna Wierdl. The attribution to Botticelli was first presented at the Villa I Tatti conference held in 2007 - the conference volume has since been published, with texts by both authors on the subject. The authors have also published a Hungarian-language book on the subject, and their arguments have been summarized in a number of other publications, for example in Rivista di Studi Ungheresi in 2012. If you would like just a quick overview, read the article by Mária Prokopp, published in Hungarian Review. In addition to stylistic and historical arguments, the attribution rests on the interpretation of the letters MB incised in the frescoes, supposedly referring to  "(Alessandro di) Mariano, detto Botticelli".