Stone carvings have a remarkable significance to the study of early medieval architecture in Hungary. Besides excavations and documents which are difficult to decipher, only stone carvings can give us a clue to basilicas built by King Stephen which were completely destroyed, or to cathedrals and monasteries built by his successors.
While the Cathedrals in Székesfehérvár and Kalocsa, and the Benedictine abbeys in Pécsvárad and Zalavár were so-called westwerk buildings of Carolingian type ground plan, ground plans and carvings in churches founded in the 11th century (Feldebrő and Szekszárd) reveal Byzantine influence. Four major monasteries were founded at the time: the one in Zselicszentjakab was built on the initiative of the aristocracy, two (Tihany and Visegrád) were founded Andrew I while the monastery in Szekszárd was founded by Béla I. Details of a palmette character make them belong to the same group. A frieze motif in Tihany and its equivalent in Szekszárd are related to a larger group of ornaments which includes fragments from Pilisszentkereszt (Cistercian monastery), Veszprém (Cathedral) and Sződ.
The boom in architecture at the end of the 11th century produced buildings in the same style. Cathedrals in Vác and Garamszentbenedek, the Minster of St. Egyed in Somogyvár and the cathedral in Pécs had three aisles ending in three apses but not in transepts. The plasticity of figural column-heads and the rhythm of lesenes outside indicate Lombard influence. Engaged columns of the chapel which was added to the southern side of Cathedral of Székesfehérvár in the 11th century is a good example. The Stephen Sarcophagus, one of the most myterious pieces of medieval art in Hungary, was probably placed there.
Architectural decoration, massive forms and plastic compositions in the first half of 12th century reflect Upper Italian influence. In Esztergom, the Royal Palace was extended and the St. Adalbert Cathedral was built at the same time. Besides carvings similar to those in Dömös, a new element appeared in architectural decoration: huge archaising and perfectly carved Corinthian columns are related to the rich decoration of the St. Peter Church in Óbuda. Similarly to a relief in Óbuda, fragments of the stone slab in Somogyvár from the mid 12th century probably belonged to a rood-screen.
Mature Romanticism evolved in Hungary by the 12th century.
The reconstruction of the Cathedral in Pécs and its unique sculptural decoration (e.g. old man with crown, the Fall) needed a significant workshop. Ornaments on the altar canopy are closely related to fragments of a probably richly decorated portal which was found in the ruins of the royal cathedral in Székesfehérvár. Reliefs with figural ornaments were perhaps carved by masters who learnt in Pavia (Samson fighting with lion).
As Northern Italian influences were present in all countries in Central Europe, it is difficult to decide whether rhythmic palmette ornaments (the southern portal of the Cathedral of Gyulafehérvár) were related to the workshop in Pécs or whether they were attempts independent of it.
Building in Esztergom was certainly going on in the 12th century. The earliest details of the palace bear traces of archaising ornaments. Interiors and portals indicate German influence. The master who started the Western portal in the 80s had worked under Benedetto Antelami in Parma (portal lion, around 1190). The strong Italian influence turned out to be temporary, French style appeared around 1190.
An oil painting from the 18th century shows what Porta speciosa, the portal of the Cathedral of Esztergom, looked like. Marble crustifications follow Byzantine archetypes but they were created by artists who had learnt their art in Western Europe. Delicate lines and drawing make the portal related to works of Miklós Verduni, a goldsmith.
The portal of Esztergom with stone and red marble alternating is probably related to one of the portals of the second Cathedral in Kalocsa where a king's head made of red limestone came from.
The earliest portal with jamb figures was found among fragments of the Monastery in Vértesszentkereszt. They rooted in late Romanesque traditions.
Masters mediating French art were employed at the Cistercian monastery in Pilisszentkereszt where the sarcophagus of Queen Gertrude was accomplished in the 1220s (head of king around 1230). Villard de Honnecourt arrived there after buildings in Picard and Ile-de-France had been finished, as his sketch book reveals it. The fact that he was employed is a good example of the relationship between Hungarian architecture and French art.
The cathedral of Gyulafehérvár built by stone cutters trained in Saxony and monasteries built from the early 13th century onwards marked Romanesque flourishing for the last time. Besides the Church in Lébény, the Church in Ják is the most significant (its building started around 1220). Architecture, windows with jamb figures and ornaments reflect the style of Southern German churches. The decoration, especially geometrical ornaments of the West portal make one forget architectural issues. Figures of Christ and the apostles in niches of the attic float almost weightlessly.
The tympanum of Szentkirály, Western Hungary, was influenced by Northern Italian art.