Late Gothic Winged Altarpieces

Building D, 1st Floor - The exhibition is temporarily closed

The ground-floor exhibition of wooden sculptures and panel paintings from the late Middle Ages continues on the first floor, in the former throne-room of the palace and in two rooms connected to it. Here, a total of fifteen largely complete winged altarpieces are on display, along with numerous component parts of such altarpieces.

The majority of the works of art on show here are from the early 16th century. In terms of the number of complete altarpieces and their artistic quality, this assemblage is one of the most important of its kind in Europe. A distinctive feature of the exhibition is that it displays, next to one another, altarpieces that originally belonged to the same churches. The parish churches at Leibic (today Ľubica, Slovakia), Nagyszalók (today Veľký Slavkov, Slovakia) and Liptószentandrás (today Liptovský Ondrej, Slovakia) are each the source of two altarpieces now held by the Hungarian National Gallery. From the parish church at Kisszeben (today Sabinov, Slovakia) we have not only an Annunciation altarpiece and an altarpiece showing Saint Anne, but also the high altarpiece. This last work was among the largest winged altarpieces in the medieval Hungarian Kingdom. At present, only its sculptures and some of its panel paintings are on view in the exhibition; this artwork will be displayed in its entirety when its restoration has been completed. Among the exhibits in the vestibule of the former throne-room visitors can see one of the most important pieces in the collection: the Visitation panel, by the master MS (Marten Swarcz), from the former altarpiece at Selmecbánya (today Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia).

Highlights, curiosities

Master MS: The Visitation, 1506

This work is probably the best known piece of medieval Hungarian panel painting. The two saints, the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth, stand in the foreground of a broad landscape. Elizabeth raises Mary’s hand to her lips with her right hand, while touching her cousin’s rounding belly with her left hand. The story related in the Gospels is not rendered here exactly: the Virgin Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, does not meet Elizabeth, expecting John the Baptist, in the house of Zachariah, but in the open air, where all Nature exalts the Lord, as if carrying out the words of the Magnificat.

Altarpiece of the Annunciation from Kisszeben, 1520

The central section of the Kisszeben (today: Sabinov, Slovakia) altarpiece depicts the Annunciation. Hovering in the clouds above the figures of the finely stylised, kneeling Gabriel and Mary, God the Father appears in the company of angels playing music. One of them is playing the fidula, while the other is strumming a lute. The scene is framed by gilded, lush foliage with a trefoil ending. The ensemble of sculptures in the central section are flanked by the well-known figures of the virgin martyrs – Dorothy, Barbara, Catherine and Margaret. The predella, i.e. the base for the altarpiece, depicts the Adoration of the Magi.

Former main altarpiece of the Pentecostal Church in Csíkszentlélek, 1510

The central panel of the main altarpiece – whose theme accords with the name of the town and its church – depicts the Virgin Mary surrounded by the twelve apostles before the vast expanse of a brocade curtain. The upper register of the picture is decorated with a foliated, gilded framing, under which the Holy Ghost is seen in the image of a dove set before a cloud at the centre of radiating beams of light. The painting is distinguished by precise draughtsmanship, succinctly rendered figures as well as homogenous and light areas of colour.

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