Renaissance art evolved in the city state of Florence under peculiar economic, political and cultural conditions around 1420 and it appeared North of the Alps in the early 16th century.
Hungary constitutes an exception in this respect: Renaissance became firmly enrooted in Hungary due to King Matthias and several bishops with classical education, patrons of art, as early as 1460-70. Apparently, conditions had become suitable to accept the new style: dynastic and cultural contacts of Hungary to Italy had been growing stronger and stronger from the 14th century onwards. Several Italian patrons of art were appointed high ranking ecclesiastical and secular posts from the early 15th century. They arranged for artists to settle down in Hungary who knew new ideas in Florence.
King Matthias who first got in touch with Lega crowned cultural contacts by engaging and later marrying Beatrice of Aragona, the daughter of the King of Naples. Later, King Matthias developed close contacts to the Duke of Milan.
Political contacts were later made complete by humanism which turned out to be perfect breeding ground for Renaissance art. (Gothic stonework with an inscription in roman letters, deeds of gift and vestments, first motifs of real Renaissance are associated with Albert Vetési, bishop of Veszprém.) Besides Veszprém, Esztergom, Vác, Pécs and Nagyvárad were episcopal seats where patrons of humanism and Renaissance lived. In addition to Italian prelates, it was King Matthias himself who contributed to the fast spread of Renaissance.
It was probably Janus Pannonius, a humanist bishop and poet in Pécs who first drew the attention of Matthias to works of Renaissance and who arranged for the King that Mantegna was entrusted with the task of painting a portrait (unfortunately, it was lost). This was how Matthias established a collection which included pictures by Filippino Lippi, too. The collection was later described by Bonfini, Matthias' historian. The King employed miniature painters, too, as he was an enthusiastic collector of gems. The bust of Matthias and Beatrice indicate his passion for the genre.
It was Francesco Bandini, a neo-platonist from Florence who in his capacity of the King's counsellor encouraged Matthias to support Renaissance architecture after his arrival in Hungary in 1476. Matthias who never visited Italy himself was influenced in this respect by the humanists and the tract of Filarete.
Sculptures some of which still exist were mainly related to buildings. It is important to note that Hungarian early Renaissance architecture had features different from European Renaissance architecture North of the Alps: classicising Renaissance following Italian art (all' antica) appeared in Hungary relatively early. What makes it even more remarkable is that Gothic architecture was the prevailing the style in Hungary at the time, just like in other countries of Europe.
Size and dimensions of buildings make it very unlikely that early Renaissance works involved only Italian masters although documents mention that a group of Italian and Dalmatian artists worked in Hungary. In their capacity of architects and stone cutters, they were probably appointed to direct the work of Hungarian master builders and marble cutters. It was Chimenti Camicia, an inlay maker from Florence who drew ground plans of Royal buildings. Vasari mentioned his name as an architect.
Besides Renaissance fragments of buildings, several excellent statues are listed below which have survived the centuries.
The most valuable statues of the Royal Palaces in Buda and Visegrád were probably bronze statues. Life size statues of Herakles, János, László and Mátyás Hunyadi (King Matthias) were modelled and cast in Buda. The Madonna of Visegrád, a beautiful statue in the palace, is thought to have been created by the Master of Marble Madonnas.
The Madonna of Diósgyőr and a fountain involving Herakles, a child riding on Hydra, made of red marble, were the works of Giovanni Dalmata who was in charge of marble cutters in Buda.
Buildings started by Matthias were continued by Wladislas (of Jagello) II who succeeded him on the throne. He built residences in Nyék which represented a continuous transition to the evolution of the Renaissance in Transdanubia which is best exemplified by fragments found during excavations in the Castle of Nagyvázsony around 1500. The first completely Renaissance ecclesiastical building was the Chapel of Bakócz. It was Tamás Bakócz, Archbishop of Esztergom, who laid the foundations of the building in 1506. The Chapel followed a new pattern, i.e. that of a central type which was worked out experimentally by Brunelleschi in Florence.
Sculptures in the Chapel are closely related to the tabernacle of the City Church (Belvárosi Templom), Buda, and the monstrance in the Church of Egyházasgerge in style. The tabernacle of György Szathmáry (Cathedral, Pécs) represents a more mature style.
The style introduced to Hungary by Italian masters prevailed in workshops of red marble cutters in the 16th century and became more and more popular in the country (e.g. Siklós, Mezőkeszi, Nyirbátor, and Gyulafehérvár). One of the most beautiful works from the period is the Báthory Madonna (1526).
The period following the Mohács Disaster was richer in fortresses (the reconstruction of the castle Márévár reflects Renaissance taste).
The centre of secular Renaissance architecture was Kolozsvár at the time as indicated by carvings in the Wolphard House (1534-36) and the door of the sacristy in the St. Michael Church (1532). One of the most excellent examples for Renaissance in the North is the flat-stone of the epitaph in Nyitra which shows Christ's farewell from his mother (1520-30).
After the death of Szapolyai in 1540, György Martinuzzi continued building fortresses. Frames around openings are best related to the works of stone cutters in Kolozsvár.
In the case of tombs, Gothic was still present for a long time. János Vitéz, a humanist († 1472) who according to Bonfini had his palace decorated with a Renaissance arcade, commissioned masters the create him a tomb in Gothic. Tombs of Imre Szapolyai, palatine (1487), and István Szapolyai (1499) were arranged in Gothic style but they showed elements of Renaissance, too. The earliest Renaissance tomb was that of Bernardino Monelli, Beatrice's Lord Chief Treasurer ( 1496).
Changes of style took place slowly in the age of Jagello: traditional heraldry and figures appeared in archaising elements and illusionistic compositions. Their early groups are associated with Esztergom. The tomb stone of Bálint Bakócz (around 1497-98) with a standing figure indicates that the family already supported art in the Renaissance period.
Flat tombstones involving figures with coats-of-arms or simply lying were works of Hungarian masters. Renaissance very often portrayed the deceased in a more realistic way.
The 16th century was particularly rich in tombstones of several new types (e.g. monuments with columns where the figure of the deceased is standing or kneeling).
One of the most beautiful tombs with a statue was that of János Pisendorfi Rueber, captain-general from Kassa: the statue which anticipated tombs of the 17th century reflected the influence of German Renaissance.