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 Established in the era of the Ottoman wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Esterházy treasury was continuously enriched from the sixteenth century onwards through diplomatic gifts, dowries and conscious acts of patronage. For centuries, the treasury was housed in the castle of Fraknó (Forchtenstein) in what was then western Hungary, built on a rock and far removed from the lands occupied by the Turks and from military campaigns. At the end of the seventeenth century, the princely collection, uniquely in Hungary in holding metalwork made of noble and exotic materials, rare chinaware from the Far East, and ornate Turkish weapons, was entailed within the family and therefore became inalienable. Some of the weapons were spoils of war, since the efforts of the Princes Esterházy to prevent the expansion of the Ottoman Empire were not limited to diplomacy and politics: they also fought on the battlefield.

It was not only in past centuries, however, that war affected the fate of this art collection. The wars of the twentieth century proved to be even more decisive in the history of the treasury than those of previous centuries. During World War I, a selection of the artworks was transferred to the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, where with the consent of the Princes Esterházy they were on display between the two world wars in the permanent exhibition of the museum.

In the last few months of World War II, at the time of the siege of Budapest, the family decided that the treasures would be safer in Buda Castle, in the Esterházy palace in Tárnok Street. Fate and war, however, intervened: a few weeks after the treasures were transferred to the Castle, the building was hit by a bomb, and the shattered remains of the unique glories of the treasury lay buried under the ruins for many years.

Some of the objects were destroyed forever; what remained was transferred to the Museum of Applied Arts, at the request of Prince Paul Esterházy. That this wartime disaster did not result in the complete destruction of the treasury is only thanks to the generations of conservators and restorers working in the restoration workshops of the museum, which is one hundred and fifty years old this year. The still ongoing restoration of the artworks, some damaged more than others, demands special techniques that will hopefully ensure we once more have an authentic idea of this princely collection, unique in Hungary in the sense that it has survived in its integrity.

The exhibition displays a selection of ornamental objects from the Esterházy treasury which are severely damaged, partly destroyed, or shattered into tiny fragments, but nevertheless representative of the opulent lifestyle of Hungarian aristocrats. These fragments bear traces of the senseless destruction of war, relics waiting to be reborn in their beauty of old through careful and professional restoration and reconstruction, so that they can once again be displayed in their pristine glory.

One of the shattered artworks from the treasury is a faience jug made in Nuremberg around 1680, with a figure long identified as Bellona, the Roman goddess of war. But after the restoration of the jug, reborn from its fragments, the female figure – painted in purpure (purple) and seen to be setting fire to weapons with her torch – in fact turned out to be the allegory of the end of war: she is Pax, the personification of peace.


Title of page when printing:
https://www.imm.hu/en/exhibits/view/659,Opus+735+-+A+h%C3%A1bor%C3%BA+nyomai+az+Esterh%C3%A1zy+hercegi+kincst%C3%A1r+m%C5%B1t%C3%A1rgyain