Surveying and inventorying the artworks of the Hungarian Jesuit Houses began in Budapest in May, 2015 under the leadership of Ft. Tamás Forrai, then Provincial. The process has still not come to an end as the items of an important Jesuit centre of the countryside, Miskolc remain to be reviewed. Apart from this fact, however, the Jesuit Art Collection is becoming established by now as the third pillar of the Hungarian Jesuit ‘Treasury’ beside the Archives and the Historical Library. Here follows its brief presentation.
The major part of the collection consists of works of sacred and Jesuit-related art. They cover a wide variety of art styles, topics and techniques showing the Jesuits’ centuries-long love and patronage for arts. Besides these a unique oriental carpet collection of 17 pieces is also part of it as well as several valuable liturgical objects from the 19th and 20th centuries, e.g. chasubles, goldsmith artworks and liturgical textiles, one third of which are still in use today.
The earliest pieces are Baroque oil paintings and etchings from the 18th century, a large part of which was found in the Mária Street House (Budapest). They include paintings of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and the Vision of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose restoration was finished in summer 2017. Paintings depicting certain Jesuit Generals (e.g. Jacob Lainez), etchings of famous Jesuit Saints and sacred images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, all from the same era, also pertain to this group. Of the latter category we own a beautiful ‘Sasvári’ type Pieta dated from around 1732. It was restored in spring 2016 and was located in the House of the St. Peter Faber Community (Budapest). There is only one Baroque statue in the collection; it portrays Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
Beside artworks of the 18th century, the collection is dominated by oil paintings, graphics and watercolors of the 20th century, mainly including ecclesiastical and Jesuit-related works apart from some still-lives and landscapes. Most outstanding is a 14-piece series of Masa Feszty’s paintings including four versions of Our Lady of the Wayside and ones depicting members of the Society of Jesus as well as famous Jesuit Saints (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, Saint Peter Claver and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga). It is most probable that these works of art were donated to the Society by the artist herself, therefore it is of great importance to keep them together in one place.
Most artworks, among which we can find portraits of Hungarian Jesuits as well (e.g. Ferenc Bíró, Béla Bangha, Lajos Tomcsányi and Jenő Somogyi), were made by minor artists. Concerning the history of the Society of Jesus, a 7-piece set of portraits depicting renowned Jesuits is considered to be the most interesting as a part of it was painted by Jesuits in the first half of the 20th century.
The collection also consists of several pieces by celebrated artists of our time. The contemporary artworks include sacred paintings, graphics, ceramic and cloisonné works, sculptures and textiles from the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. They were obtained by the Jesuits predominantly through donations during temporary exhibitions organized by them first in Dobogókő and later in the House of Dialogue, Budapest. Most of these artworks were made by high quality Hungarian contemporary artists e.g. Júlia Kákonyi, Mária Petrás, György Szemadám, András Simon and Róbert Csíkszentmihályi.
Setting up appropriate storage environment for the above described collection is still in progress. At the moment it is held in a store-room in the House of Dialogue, where humidity is controlled by a suitable device. The restoration of the pieces that are the most valuable for the Jesuits or from an artistic point of view, but are in a bad condition, is continuous. As a second step after inventorying we plan to make the collection digitally available and researchable thus integrating them to the central register of Hungarian ecclesiastical artworks.
Experience shows that the collection is constantly growing. Quality paintings and other artworks are still being found and contemporary artists are also expected to make further masterpieces in the future, hopefully helping the Jesuit Art Collection to reach the forefront in holding Hungarian sacred art.
List of illustrations
- Unknown artist (18th century): Our Lady of Sasvár, oil on canvas
- Masa Feszty: Our Lady of the Wayside, oil on canvas, 1949
- Mária Petrás: Madonna with the Child, ceramic
- Róbert Csíkszentmihályi: Altar, red copper, 1986
- Júlia Kákonyi: On Lucia Day, coloured monotype, 2003
- “Roman Chalice”, gold-plated silver with enamel ornamentation, 1890