Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Museum mashup

An exuberance of spirit from centuries past is reflected in a lack of inhibition in combining bright colors, different materials and multiple patterns in everything from jewelry to architecture. Ethnic clothing worn by Hungarians, such as the outfit on left above, easily could have served as inspiration for the current line of clothing featured in Gucci store windows, on the right above. And, in photos down below, I so would love to have a tile floor like those excavated in Buda Castle after World War II.

Taking license from this Hungarian spirit, here is a mashup of photos from four more of Budapest’s museums.

The Hungarian Diet established the Hungarian National Museum in 1808. The classic columned museum housing the collection of historical relics took a decade to construct, opening in 1846. The square in front of the museum became a gathering spot for rallies during the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence. Parliament convened there often until the present-day seat of government was completed on the banks of the Danube.

In 1872, the specialized Budapest Museum of Ethnography was spun off from the national museum. In celebration of the 1896 Millennial, 24 buildings characterizing residential styles of different ethnic groups were erected into a “village” in City Park. While the houses were removed, the furniture and clothing assembled to fill them became an important part of the collection. The collection grew, but its home wandered.

Today, its prominent home is across the plaza from Parliament. Topped by a chariot bearing the personification of the guiding spirit of enlightenment, the building originally served as the Ministry of Justice. Following extensive damage in World War II, the structure became home to the Institute of the Hungarian Labor Movement in 1950. The Hungarian National Gallery was moved in later, but its relocation to the Buda Palace freed the hall for the use of the Museum of Ethnography in 1975.

The Budapest History Museum, also known as the Castle Museum, was founded in 1887, moving into its home in the Royal Palace in 1967. In addition to the history of the capital, the museum focuses on artifacts found during excavation and rebuilding of the castle. To learn more about the castle’s turbulent history, please go back to an earlier post.

And then, make a leap to the contemporary. If Peter Ludwig went into the family business, cement might have weighed down his pursuit of art. Instead he married Irene Monheim and ended up in her family’s business, Monheim Schokolade. Collecting was the German couple’s passion.

Porcelain and Delft tiles were followed by rare editions, Pre-Columbian, medieval and then Classical art. But it was Ludwig’s acquisition of American Neo-Dada and Pop Art which first brought him to public attention and made him a celebrity.

At the height of his activities in the mid-Seventies Ludwig was buying on average a work of art every single day. His vast collection not only decorated the company offices and his home at Aachen but was loaned to museums in Germany and abroad. Often the loans became gifts and the museums changed their names in recognition of Ludwig’s great generosity.

Today there are no fewer than 30 Ludwig Museums in Germany and abroad….

Frank Whitford, “Obituary: Peter Ludwig,” Independent, July 26, 1996

In 1989, the Ludwig Foundation donated 70 works of art to Hungary to serve as the core of the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum specializes in post-1945 art to integrate the products of contemporary foreign and Hungarian art into Hungarian intellectual life. In 2005, the museum moved from space in Buda Palace into a portion of a striking new contemporary arts center on the Danube, Mupa Budapest.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: A phoenix arose from the ashes

As described in detail in the prior post, if Buda Castle were a cat, it probably has used up all nine of its lives. Bombarded and burned numerous times through the centuries, most recently during World War II, the hilltop palace was rebuilt over and over by determined Hungarians.

The Hungarian National Gallery moved into the Royal Palace in 1975. The immense collection of Hungarian art housed within ranges from late medieval to contemporary.

The figure above is a portion of “Apocalypse,” a sculptural work by artist Rudolf Rezso Berczeller (1912-1992) suspended dramatically in the central dome. Viewed from the outside, the landmark dome of Buda Castle appears from earlier times; inside, the soaring space is strikingly contemporary.

These photos represent a small sampling of the gallery’s holdings.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: A palatial neighborhood

Saint Sebastian (?-288) generally is depicted as turned into a bristling porcupine by arrows shot into him upon orders of Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-312). Although left for dead, Sebastian managed to recover from these seemingly mortal wounds, surviving to taunt the emperor about abuses against Christians on another day. Offended, Diocletian ordered Sebastian clubbed to death. The second brutal sentence brought the results the emperor desired.

It is not surprising that a saint capable of recovering from the archers’ multiple piercings of his body was turned to for aid by those suffering from an incurable disease wiping out multitudes in Europe – the plague. In 1706 near the Matthias Church, Buda erected a column in honor of the Holy Trinity to protect the city’s residents from the Black Plague. But the plague returned, so the council reasoned the first column had not been grand or tall enough. A more impressive column was built in 1709 including the above figure of Saint Sebastian. Bigger proved better according to the belief of the city’s inhabitants of the time, with Saint Sebastian receiving credit for keeping the disease at bay these centuries since.

An impressive equestrian statue featuring Saint Stephen (975-1038), the first king of Hungary, stands nearby. Saint Stephen guides the way to Fisherman’s Bastion, a fairytale-like overlook added to this perch above the Danube at the dawn of the 1900s after the extensive remodeling of Matthias Church. The landmark was built upon the bastion protected by the fishermen’s guild during the Middle Ages.

Ascending up the hill toward Buda Castle, one encounters a sculptural fountain lorded over by a statue of Matthias Corvinus (1443-1490) dressed for the hunt. The vizla dogs are the best part of this grouping, also completed in the early 1900s, but the woman on the lower right is the heart of the tableau. She represents a young peasant who supposedly fell in love with the king while he was hunting, not realizing he was king and, as such, unavailable, to her.

The Buda Castle is among the dropdead-gorgeous Budapest photo-ops viewed from the river below. Things look pretty palatial now, but the castle has had a life as tortuous as Saint Sebastian.

King Bela IV (1206-1270) first built walls to fortify the hilltop against invasions by Mongols under the command of Batu Khan. King Sigismund (1368-1437), who at one point during rather tumultuous European times served as Holy Roman Emperor, expanded the royal residence into the largest Gothic palace of the Middle Ages to demonstrate his importance among the European leaders. Later, King Matthias Corvinus rebuilt the palace to reflect the trends of the early Renaissance.

In the 1500s, the Turks managed to conquer Buda and claim it as part of the Ottoman Empire. The extensive compound was damaged during the invasion, but palace maintenance was not among the priorities of the new rulers. Portions of the castle were relegated to serve as barracks, storage halls and stables. Several failed efforts by the Habsburgs to liberate Buda from Ottoman control inflicted more damage, but the great siege of 1686 proved the most devastating.

The Turks used a remaining tower on the grounds to store their supply of gunpowder. When bombarded, the explosion was reputed so huge as to have killed as many as 1,500 of the Turkish soldiers and created a massive wave on the Danube that swallowed more upon its banks. The Christian allies were successful in their quest, but the palace fared poorly. A new Baroque structure was begun but was partly destroyed by fire in 1723.

In order to pay tribute to Queen Maria Theresa (1717-1780), the only woman ruler during the centuries of the Habsburg dynasty, the Hungarian Chamber laid the foundation stone for a new palace on the queen’s birthday in 1749. Unfortunately, the nobles’ plans were grander than the depth of their pockets, and the project remained incomplete.

After visiting in 1764, Queen Maria Theresa allotted funds for finishing the project, despite having no desire to reside in Buda. She presented one wing to the Sisters of Loreto, but it was apparent the palace was too fancy for a nunnery. A university was established there, but later moved to the Pest side of the river. After Archduke Alexander Leopold (1772-1795) of Austria tapped it for use as his royal residence in 1791, the castle again became a bustling, fashionable center of society in Buda.

Efforts to keep the Austrians and Hungarians in harmony faltered. The Hungarian army revolted in May of 1849, with the Austrians holed up in the castle atop the hill. Heavy artillery fire was required to unseat them, and the resulting flames once again destroyed much of the palace.

Work once again commenced to make it grand enough to accommodate all of the archdukes, duchesses and officials connected to royalty. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, things settled down rather comfortably for a while under the rule of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916). Buda and Pest became one city in 1873, and both benefitted during this period of peace and affluence from a considerable boom in building and urban improvements, including some of the enhancements above.

The Varkert Bazaar, or Royal Garden Pavilion, was built at the base of the Castle Hill on the river’s banks in the late 1800s, with elegant stairways leading upward to new gates. So many wings were needed to accommodate comings and goings, the castle outgrew its narrow hilltop footprint. A three-story substructure was constructed to provide a base for an addition on the west side. Royal stables and elaborate gardens contributed to the grounds, and the newly decorated palace was inaugurated in 1912.

The castle survived for several decades until World War II. The last stand of Axis forces during the siege of Budapest in 1944 and 1945 was Buda Castle. The heavy artillery fire and intense fighting required by the Soviet forces to evict them, left the palace in ruins once more.

Reconstruction Communist-style was different; modernization eliminated much of the former ornate ornamentation.

Restoration work continues on various wings of the castle even today, with Buda Palace now home to several major museums and a library.