Painting and Sculpture in the First Half of 18th Century

Ecclesiastical Art

The boom in secular architecture was accompanied by that of the ecclesiastical. The Order of Jesuits played a leading role in the first decades of the century: Jesuits were major figures of culture, they worked as teachers in schools where nobility sent their children to. They had a decisive role in Hungarian art which caught up with that of West Europe. Members of the Orders of Jesuits were competent in art and did their utmost not to entrust tasks to foreign masters. Jesuits gradually lost their exclusive leadership in the mid 18th century to be taken over by Piarists characteristic of more modern principles who proved to be more efficient teachers.

Of the Jesuit churches, the one in Trencsény was a particularly significant one. It was the work of Christoph Tausch (1711-18) who planned a residence to go with it. Tausch, an ingenious master who worked in Eger, too, was a pupil of Andrea Pozzo. Master and pupil were both skilled architects and excellent decorative artists. Pozzo published a book on how to create illusionary elements in architecture, thus making the technique available for everyone. Tausch also applied the technique which had been present in practically all Jesuit churches by that time. Scenes taken from the lives of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier welcomed congregations with a bewildering illusion of rising heavenward, the sharp line between reality and illusion, architecture and painting is blurred. The altar with its dramatic ornaments, as if a stream, casts a spell on people entering the church, the effect being strengthened by the illusory dome over the sanctuary.

Similar illusory dome covers the ceiling of the Trinity Church in Pozsony which was accomplished by Antonio Galli Bibbiena (1700-1774) who applied elements of architecture exclusively. It is due to Galli Bibbiena that the genre of stage decorations and fresco painting became well-known in Hungary. Bibbiena, a renowned artist of his age, enjoyed the benefaction of Archbishop Imre Esterházy who contributed to the development of baroque painting in Hungary by giving him a number of commissions.

Monastic orders were active in fresco painting, too. Gold-platers and carpenters indispensable at creating church interiors used to be monks until the job of anonymous masters was taken over by secular masters. Martin von Hohenberg (1657-1745) alias Altomonte worked first in Kismarton in 1716, then painted the high and side altars of the Carmelite Church in Győr between 1726-28. József Bader, a Jesuit, painted the wonders of Jesuit saints and portraits of Fathers in the Jesuit College in Trencsény (1723-24). Anton Galiardi Gottlob decorated the ceiling of the Cathedral in Nyitra (1720) and painted the picture of the Saint Family for the Episcopal See. All this proves that monastic orders were major factors in art including painting.

The type of church with a longitudinal nave, as in the Church in Trencsény was quite popular. The building of the Pauline Church (University Church) in Pest (1725-42), one of the most beautiful churches of the age, and that of the Jesuit Churches in Eger and Esztergom were built in the first half of the century. Elements of sculpture were present in a remarkably larger number, the facade received more dynamism and perspectivity became more dominant.

Interior design and fresco painting, together with furnishing, were intended to create a peculiar atmosphere whether it was a church with a longitudinal nave or a central arrangement. Proportions of walls, dynamic colours and shapes irresistibly attract the attention towards the high altar which becomes larger in size and richer in decoration with painting and sculpture, engraving and gold-plating having their share in modelling. The inside and outside of the church are in harmony with each other: it is the main entrance which dominates the facade, whereas inside attention is focused on the high altar and the pulpit with matching decoration. These works of large size and rich decoration were accomplished by foreign masters many of whom settled down in Hungary. The structure of the altar occasionally turns into a triumphal arch as if it were a stage decoration with a dynamic pattern of figures - groups of people belonging to the builder or the patron saint - in the spans of arches. Although the altars were joint venture products of foreign masters mainly from Vienna, groups of statues around them included more and more figures of Hungarian kings who had been canonised, e.g. St. Stephen, St. László and St. Imre, with the intention of bringing religious messages closer to people. Kings of Hungary respected as saints after their deaths represented the glorious past and, as such, served as sources of religious and national inspiration.

Of foreign masters working in Hungary, Georg Rafael Donner (1693-1741) was of particular significance who placed the figures of St. Martin and the beggar in the centre of the high altar in the Cathedral of Pozsony. Unfortunately, the high altar with a canopy above it was demolished leaving only the major group and the two adoring angels untouched. What catches the eyes is not only the daring unity of the group and the excellent sculpture but the peculiar costume of the saint riding on a horse: the saint who is just about to cut up his mantle is dressed in the uniform of Hungarian hussars. Dramatising scenes used to be a characteristic tool of baroque. Another work of Donner's from the year 1732 can be found in the Chapel of St. John with Alms by the Cathedral of Pozsony: Archbishop Imre Esterházy caught with fascinating intimacy is kneeling in a mood of ecstasy. The art of Donner had a great influence on Hungarian art as a lot of apprentices and pupils worked under him and learnt his unique art of sculpture. He was, in fact, the first artist whose works showed an element of classicism and became mature by the late 18th century.

Altars richly decorated and impressively designed are rather exceptions. Altars in the traditional style with spiral columns breaking up the altar structure and framing altar pictures belong to the prevailing fashion. Although they preserve the style of the previous century, their richness in figural decoration and dynamism, and a program other than in the previous century anticipate a new approach (e.g. the high altar in the Franciscan Church of Alsóváros in Szeged from the year 1713 and the altar erected by János Krucsay and his wife in Nyirbátor in 1731 which represents a unique stage effect with its dramatic expression and folk figures, unfortunately nothing is known about its master except that he came from Eperjes).

Statues of a religious nature erected in public places also belong to ecclesiastical sculpture, e.g. Column of Mary. Trinity Monuments, and figures of St. John of Nepomuk symbolising loyalty to the Hapsburgs. The Column of Mary in Győr and the Trinity in Sopron were soon followed as a way of protection against pest or as a form of thanksgiving after disasters by monuments involving architecture and sculpture all over the country. They were very often placed on main squares of towns in order to establish a direct contact between citizens and heaven. Statues of patron saints had the same kind of role, i.e. to connect people with saints, e.g. statues of St. John of Nepomuk who was believed to protect people from drowning were traditionally erected in the neighbourhood of bridges or cross-roads, statues of St. Florian who protected from fire. Statues of saints to protect people in densely populated towns from disasters indicate that such monuments demanding means were typically erected by citizens probably inspired by the church to do so.

With regard to Trinity Monuments richly decorated, the one in Sopron was followed by that in Buda Castle (1712-15): a group of figures stands on a bunch of columns narrower at the top, the columns, in their turn, are placed on a pedestal. The monument was completed by Fülöp Ungleich of Kismarton (after 1736) and Antal Hörger of Buda (around 1685-1765). They placed saints in the company of Hungarian kings canonized by the church who were typical figures of baroque. About 100 monuments of this purpose more or less decorated were erected all over the country, their masters, however, were apparently unknown Hungarian masters. Columns of Mary with Mary gently hovering in the air can be found in large numbers, a good example for the early ones is the one in Szervita tér, Budapest (1729).

Secular Sculpture

Sculptors or rather stone cutters were needed to model figures or ornaments for buildings in towns, whether statues to be placed in niches above front doors or hermas supporting balconies. However little variety sculptures had in comparison with architecture in the early 18th century until about the accession of Marie Therese to the throne, they had an important role and influence. Many outstanding masters, e.g. Georg Rafael Donner set an example to be followed, religious monuments of high standard appeared in public places and ornaments by sculptors and stone cutters became universal inside and outside buildings. Thus, a process is started indispensable for the development of Hungarian masters.

Few tombs of the time have survived the centuries. Monuments of a simpler kind were swept away in the storms of history. The monument with an obelisque erected in honour of Ágost Keresztély, Archbishop of Esztergom in the Cathedral of Pozsony (1723) represents an early type about to emerge which is believed to have been designed by Fischer von Erlach the Younger. Set in front of an obelisque or pyramid, it became a typical model of monumental tombs during the century.

Secular painting

Secular painting was not represented in large numbers and is poor in quality. In some cases pictures had historical references and higher than average standards. Mention must be made of Ádám Mányoki (1673-1757) who is considered to be the most remarkable painter of the period. It is his portrait of Ferenc Rákóczi II, a picture reflecting his conservativism in art, which made his name well-known. Mányoki who was born in a poor family learnt painting abroad, then worked as a court painter in Dresden, Berlin and Warsaw. As a follower of Rákóczi, Mányoki was in the company of Rákóczi when he went abroad where the famous portrait was painted (1708). Dignity and informality mark the portrait, comparable only with his Self-Portrait in quality (1712). After the collapse of the war of independence he returned to Hungary where he worked between 1724-1731. Pictures dating from this period, especially those of the Ráday family, lack the routine and elegance of a court painter, instead, they show features of a more intimate portrait painting. His style was influenced by the style of French portrait painters mediated by engravings.

The early 18th century launched a development in all genres which, in its turn, paved the way for mature baroque works, and preserved early trends of baroque of the early 17th century to spread all over the country.