Produced for Transylvania - Local Workshops and Foreign Connections

Produced for Transylvania - Local Workshops and Foreign Connections

The Public Defense

of the Doctoral Thesis in Medieval Studies


Emese Sarkadi Nagy


Produced for Transylvania – Local Wokshops and Foreign Connections

- Studies of Late Medieval Altarpieces in Transylvania -

will be held on

Wednesday, 19 March 2008, at 11:00

in the

Gellner Room – Monument Building

Central European University (CEU)

9 Nádor Street, Budapest

Examination Committee

ChairLászló Kontler (Department of History – CEU)

MembersMarcell Sebők, supervisor (Department of Medieval Studies – CEU)

Imre Takács, external supervisor (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest)

Ernő Marosi (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

Katalin Szende (Department of Medieval Studies – CEU)

Gerhard Jaritz (Department of Medieval Studies – CEU)

External ReadersRobert Suckale

(Prof. Emeritus of Art History, Technische Universität, Berlin)

András Kovács

(Universitatea Babeş-Bolyai, Cluj)

The doctoral thesis is available for inspection in the CEU-ELTE Medieval Library


Doctoral Dissertation

Emese Sarkadi Nagy

Produced for Transylvania - Local Workshops and Foreign Connections.

Studies of Late Medieval Altarpieces in Transylvania

The studies of several aspects of late Medieval altarpieces in Transylvania presented in the thesis provide a selected overview of a larger topic, particularly concentrating on the problem of local workshops versus invited foreign masters. The circumstantial title is meant to express this interest.

Winged altarpieces of Transylvania are one of those art history topics which have long been talked round, fingered but never really grasped. The few studies, articles or catalogue entries that have been published on related topics over the last decades are mainly stuck in the results, interpretations or misinterpretations of Saxon research from the end of the nineteenth – beginning of the twentieth century. The 1916 overview of Victor Roth is still most often used along with the mainly popularizing volume published in 1992 by Gisela and Otmar Richter, the conservator-art historian couple who ran the restoration workshop of the Lutheran Church during the 1970s-1980s in Kronstadt (Braşov, Brassó). Thorough case studies, based on personal investigation of the altars that have been preserved, leading to wider conclusions are missing. This is therefore the point where my dissertation has started filling in the gaps.

Along with literature published on the topic, early interest in the preserved altarpieces was mirrored by the care for them, by the fact that their restoration began at a very early date. Repair works were naturally continuously influenced by the attitude of the given period: thus, the eighteenth century was characterized by painting-over and in many cases complete transformation of the old altarpiece for the needs of the moment, nineteenth century restoration-works were in many cases carried out by foreign specialized conservators but their work was still marked by completions and over-painting.

A short history of the restoration attitude as they changed over the centuries is presented in the introduction of the thesis, based on the data observable on the preserved pieces, closing with the most important era of Transylvanian altar-restorations marked by the operations of the Richter-workshop in Kronstadt. Because the photo-documentation made by Gisela Richter and her assistants before, during and after the restoration works was relatively rich, a considerable amount of not known previously information regarding the history of the altarpieces could be deduced. Thus, this documentation has been used as a main source of information during the whole thesis.

Altarpieces were mainly preserved in the territories inhabited by the Saxons. However, there are certain examples known from the Székely sedes, a region that remained overwhelmingly Catholic during the centuries. In spite of the fact that historical data clearly show that the territory of the noble counties of Transylvania had flourishing towns with a lively mercantile- and crafts environment almost no altarpiece has been preserved from these regions. A short part of the thesis deals with the historical, economic, ecclesiastical situation in these three large administrative territories naturally concentrating on their altar production and the written sources referring to this aspect.

A brief characterization of the early period (fourteenth and the early fifteenth centuries) of Transylvanian winged altarpieces aims at providing an image of the very beginnings of altar production in or for Transylvania. The few preserved examples and the written data on this period’s retables represent important preliminaries for understanding the art of the following decades and also consequently for the two main chapters of this thesis. Retables like the often discussed ones from Malmkrog (Mălăncrav, Almakerék) or Tartlau (Prejmer, Prázsmár) are presented in this section, bringing into play new aspects of their history and analysis. Additionally, an almost complete overview of this period’s preserved panel-paintings and wooden sculptures – most probably belonging originally to winged altarpieces – is offered, embedded in the general artistic, architectural development of Transylvania in this period.

The first significant period of Transylvanian winged altarpieces, a period from which the first large number of high quality retables has been preserved comes in the 1470s - 1480s. Although there a strong foreign influence is evident, these are the first pieces which permit conclusions to be drawn on local workshop production practices versus foreign masters and also important stylistic trends in Transylvania. A group of retables from the time of King Matthias which almost exclusively characterize the period from the stylistic point of view was selected in order to represent this era. These pieces reveal the strong influence of the Viennese Schottenmaster and his circle and are clustered in a quite narrow geographic region marked by the altarpieces of Mediasch (Mediaş. Medgyes), Grossprobstdorf (Proştea Mare, Nagyekemező), Birthälm (Biertan, Berethalom) and a wall-painting cycle from Schässburg (Sigişoara, Segesvár). Through a thorough analysis of these paintings along with the historical data related to the history of the given locality in that period, light has been shed on the circumstances under which these altarpieces came into being. Additionally, the nature of the relationship of the masters of these retables to the Viennese workshop of the Schotten-altar was analyzed.

The heyday of unmistakably local, Transylvanian winged altar production can clearly be grasped in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. In order to offer a glimpse into this world, one special workshop from sixteenth century Hermannstadt (Sibiu, Nagyszeben) has been selected. The oeuvre of Master Vincentius offers a feasible and characteristic example of craftsmen’s lives and work in this period in terms of workshop activity as well as of the stylistic influences that may be detected at the beginning of the sixteenth century. A fairly large number of paintings (altarpieces and a wall-painting) have been attributed to this master, based partly on stylistic considerations but supported in certain cases by the presence of his signature and his – identified here for the first time - hall-mark. These features along with certain historical data known about him have made it possible to delineate and characterize his oeuvre and his workshop practices.

The writing of this theses has been preceded by a years long inventorying work, in which 98 altarpieces, fragments or sculptures that may once have belonged to retables were gathered. However, the thorough processing and analyzing of all these pieces understandably did not fit within the framework of a PhD thesis. This work will certainly keep me occupied over the next few years. Still, the dissertation concludes with the presentation of certain general aspects of Transylvanian altar production in this period based on the contours that became evident during the inventory work. Preserved retables, historical sources and the various studies made during these years made it possible to identify the main centers of Transylvanian altar production and certain hints could also be made concerning workshop-filiations in and among these towns.

A catalogue at the end of the thesis contains detailed data and objective descriptions of the pieces discussed in the chapters.


Emese Sarkadi Nagy


1999- 2000 M.A. in Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest; supervisor: Tamás Sajó; title: Profane Vault-Decoration in the Church of Székelydálya

1995-1999 Studies in History and Art History,. Babes-Bolyai University Cluj, Romania. B.A. in art history; supervisor: András Kovács; title: “A Szászvárosi református templom építéstörténete” (The architectural history of the Protestant church of Szászváros (Broos, Orăştie)

Scholarships and Grants

2006-2008:“Genthon István” scholarship, given by the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest for work in the Library of the Museum

2004-2008:Scholarship of the Országos Kutatási Alapprogram (OTKA) for inventory work on Transylvanian winged altarpieces of the 14th – 17th centuries. (in collaboration with Miriam Szőcs, headed by János Végh)

2003:Scholarship of the “Bosch Stiftung” for research at the Siebenbürgen Institut Gundelsheim (one month - April 2003)

2002 – 2003:Research Semester in Berlin, Art History Department of the Technische Universität, financed by the Central European University (Six months between October 2002- March 2003)

2002:Research Grant of the Geisteswissenschaftliches Zentrum für Geschichte und Kultur Ost-Mitteleuropas (GWZO), Leipzig (one month in February 2002).

2002:Research Grant of CEU Foundation, to Belgium – Netherlands, (January 2002)

2000:Research Grant of CEU Foundation, Krems Austria, (April 2000)

1999-2003:Full tuition waiver and monthly stipend from the Soros Foundation within the framework of the Soros Fellowship Program at the Central European University for MA and PhD studies

1998:Research grant in Budapest from the Hungarian Ministry of Education and the Hungarian Student Union of Cluj, (two months: October-November 1998)

Papers and Lectures:

2007:“Az úgynevezett marosvásárhelyi tábla avagy a regionális kutatások buktatói”. (The so-called panel from Marosvásárhely and the difficulties of regional research), paper given at the conference entitled “A régi Erdély művészete” (Old Transylvanian Art), in Cluj, November 2007

2005:“Opifex Jacobus Kendlinger de Sankt Wolfgang. Új összefüggések egy régóta ismert felirat kapcsán”. (Opifex Jacobus Kendlinger de Sankt Wolfgang . New connections related to a well-known inscription). Paper given at a conference entitled. ”A régi Erdély művészete” in Cluj, October 2005

2004:“Siebenbürgische Flügelaltäre in der Werkstatt von Gisela Richter”. Paper given at the Archives of the Lutheran Church of Sibiu, November 2004

2004:“The Cult of the Ten Thousand Saint Martyrs in Central Europe and Transylvania. A case study: The altar from Prostea Mare” Paper given at the conference Cult of Saints in Central and Eastern Europe. Organized in Cluj by the Department for Medieval Studies of the Babes-Bolyai University and by the Art History Department of the University St. Andrews. .September 2004

2002:“Oltártipológia Erdélyben az építészet tükrében” (Altar typology in Transylvania as reflected in its architecture), paper given at the Conference of the Historical Museum in Szatmár (Satu Mare, Romania) entitled Architectura Medievala Religioasa din Transilvania, November 2002.

2002:“Die Einflüsse mitteleuropäischer Renaissance auf zeitgenössische Flügelaltäre Siebenbürgens”, (The influence of Central European Renaissance on Transylvanian Winged Altars) Paper given at the conference entitled: Tagung des kirchen- und kulturgeschichtlichen Sektion des Arbeitskreises für siebenbürgische Landeskunde und der Universität Szeged, Szeged, September 2002

2002:“Siebenbürgische Flügelaltäre” Paper given at the Geisteswissenschaftliches Zentrum für Geschichte und Kultur Ost-Mitteleuropas (GWZO) in Leipzig. February, 2002.

2001:“Siebenbürgische Flügelaltäre. Stand der Forschung”, Paper given at the “Doktorandenkolloquium” of the Siebenbürgen Institut, Gundelsheim. November 2001

2000:“A székelydályai református templom boltozatának kifestéséről” (On the vault paintings of the Protestant church of Székelydálya (Daia, Romania). Paper given at the First International Conference of PhD students in Cluj, March, 2000.

1999:“A Szászvárosi templom építésörténete” (Architectural History of the Protestant church of Szászváros) paper given at the conference entitled “Tornyot Raktam Ifjúsági vándorkonferencia” at Gyergyószárhegy (Lazarea, Romania) October,1999.

1998:“A marosszentimrei templom falképei” (The frescoes of the Protestant church of Marosszentimre.) paper given at the conference entitled “Tornyot Raktam Ifjúsági vándorkonferencia” at Homoródszentmárton (Sânmartin, Romania) May, 1998.



“Adalékok a dévai református templom történetéhez” (Data on the history of the Protestant church of Deva). Tibor Kollár, Tibor Rostás eds. Dél Alföldi Évszázadok II. Építészet Délmagyarországon (Centuries in the southern plain. Architecture in southern Hungary), Szeged: Csongrád megyei Levéltár, forthcoming

“The Place of the Former Altar from Cisnădie (Heltau, Nagydisznód) in the Oeuvre of Master Vincencius”. Iulia Mesea, Daniela Dâmboiu eds. Confluente. Repere europene in arta transilvaneana // Convergences. European Landmarks in Transylvanian Art // Konfluenzen. Europäische Bezüge der Siebenbürgischen Kunst., Sibiu: Muzeul Naţional Brukenthal, 2007: 33-42

“Siebenbürgische Flügelaltäre. Studien zur siebenbürgischen Retabelkunst unter Berücksichtigung von Werkstattpraxis und mitteleuropäischem Kunsttransfer. Anzeige eines Forschungsprojektes”. Ulrich A. Wien and Krista Zach eds. Humanismus in Ungarn und Siebenbürgen. Politik, Religion und Kunst im 16. Jahrhundert. Köln-Weimar-Wien: Böhlau Verlag, 2004: 59-64.

“Green Chamber Iconography from Saxony to Székelydálya: A Case Study.” Marcel Sebők and Katalin Szende eds. Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU. Vol. 7. Budapest: CEU, 2001: 39-64

“A marosszentimrei református templom falképeiről”. (About the wall-paintings of the Protestant church in Marosszentimre) Erdélyi Múzeum. 60 (1998): 252-255.

Catalogue Entries:

“Szárnyasoltár töredéke Csíksomlyóról”. (Fragment of a winged altarpiece from Csíksomlyó). Árpád Mikó ed. Mátyás király öröksége. A gótikától a barokkig: reneszánsz művészet Magyarországon. (The inheritance of King Matthias. From Gothic to Baroque – Renaissance art in Hungary) Exhib. Cat. Budapest: Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, forthcoming

“Szent Imre, oltárszárny külső táblája Csíksomlyóról”. (Saint Emery. A Panel of the altarpiece from Csíksomlyó.) Kerny Terézia ed. Szent Imre 1000 éve. Multimédiás DVD-ROM a székesfehérvári millenniumi emlékév és kiállítás dokumentumairól. (A thousand years of Saint Emery, DVD-ROM about the documents of the Anniversary and the exhibition). Székesfehérvár: Egyházmegyei Múzeum, 2007. Cat. No.40.

“V. (Postumus) László portréja” (Portrait of Ladislaus Postumus)

“V. (Postumus) László és Franciaországi Magdolna eljegyzési portréja” (Betrothal portrait of Ladislaus and Magdalena of France) Imre Takács ed. Sigismundus. Rex et Imperator. Művészet és kultúra Luxemburgi Zsigmond korában.1387-1437. (Art and culture under the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg. 1387-1437). Budapest-Luxemburg: Philipp von Zabern, 2006: Cat. no. 6.23; 6.24. (Also in German and French in the corresponding language versions of the catalogue)


Gyöngyi Török: Gótikus szárnyasoltárok a középkori Magyarországon. Állandó kiállítás a Magyar Nemzeti Galériában . (Gothic winged altar-pieces in Medieval Hungary. Permanent exhiibition of the Hungarian National Gallery) BUKSZ 18 (2006): 71 – 73

Hanna Nogossek and Dietmar Popp eds. Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte Ostmitteleuropas.. Marburg: Verlag Herder Institut, 2001. Zeitschrift für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde. 26 (2003): 141-144