- Italy & Hungary: Humanism and Art in the Early Renaissance
This long-awaited volume is the publication of papers given at the 2007 conference at Villa I Tatti, prior to the 2008 exhibition and catalog, “Matthias Corvinus, the King,” at the Budapest History Museum. The two books can be taken together as offering an updated and revised picture of the reign of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (1443–90). These papers are largely art historical in focus and make detailed arguments about small fragments of material, both artistic and archival, which have much broader implications for the period. However, a section devoted to Hungary’s intellectual connections with Italian humanism includes worthy essays describing the careers of little-known figures such as Andreas Pannonius (in an essay by Sándor Bene) and Jacobus Piso (by Lászlo Jankovits), whereas Angela Dillon Bussi and Jonathan J. G. Alexander study the famous Corvinian library. [End Page 802]
Four papers summarize previous scholarship, much of it available only in Hungarian. This is an important contribution for non-Hungarian scholars in understanding the material available to them and the history of the field in general. However, although work by scholars such as Jolán Balogh is foundational in this area, more needs to be done than just making this material available to the English-speaking world. The translation of Balogh’s three-volume Art at the Court of King Matthias Corvinus, as called for by Gyöngyi Török, would be a gift to non-Hungarian scholars. However, these conference proceedings make clear that a new synthesis of the Hungarian Renaissance is overdue, one that would include material both prior to and after the years of Matthias’s reign. The biggest drawback of the Corvinian focus of this collection is that it leaves out important material from the period after Matthias’s reign and outside the power seats of Buda, Visegrád, and Esztergom. Even locations as important as the St. George church at Nyírbátor, where Gothic architecture and Renaissance decorative detail co-exist in the manner probably most similar to the destroyed Buda castle, are hardly mentioned. Later works (such as the castle at Sárospatak) and monuments outside of the modern boarders of Hungary (such as the Lázoi chapel in Alba Iulia [Gyulafehérvár]) are overlooked entirely.
Several of the papers bring to light new evidence or synthesize material that was previously scattered throughout the literature. Perhaps the most important paper is Louis A. Waldman’s study of Alexander Formoser as the agent to Matthias in Florence. Another significant contribution is Daniel Pocs’s study of the white marble fragments from Buda castle. Two papers by Péter Farbaky and Gergely Buzás attempt to trace the origins of Renaissance style in Hungarian architecture through the fragments remaining at Buda and Visegrad. Although their conclusions reach further than the evidence will strictly allow, the close examination of this material is valuable. Mikó Arpad discusses the patronage of Beatrice d’Aragona.
The most sensational claim of the book relates to the newly restored Esztergom frescoes. Mária Prokopp and restorer Zsuzanna Wiedrl argue for the earlier date of 1466–67, assigning the commission to Archbishop János Vitéz and the work to a young Sandro Botticelli, whereas Waldman places them in the 1490s as the commission of Archbishop Ippolito d’Este and the work of an unknown student of Filippino Lippi. Although the quality of these figures make the Botticelli attribution implausible, Waldman’s dismissal of the frescoes as weak is too severe, and further study is needed.
This richly presented volume is an important new contribution to the study of the Hungarian Renaissance. Although scholars experienced in this area may quarrel with some of the conclusions drawn, it remains a valuable resource for those new to the field. [End Page 803]