|Zsófia Buda, Judit Sebo:
-The Library of Matthias Corvinus, the King of Hungary
From the 14th century
the interest of Antiquity began to strengthen and became more and more scientific. This
appeared on the one hand in the discovery and study of remains, on the other hand in the
critical reading and treatment of the different texts - first only Latin, later Greek and
Hebrew as well. Many manuscripts that had been unknown were found, even by Poggio
Bracciolini: he found among others six orations of Cicero and a complete Quintilian. The
collecting of books satisfied two demands at the same time, it meant both mental and
material worth. As both the ready volumes and the ones that had been prepared for ordering
costed much, mostly those pontiffs and dynasts paid for them in whom the strong interest
in studying the past had risen, e.g. pope Nicholas V, who with his own collection founded
the Library of Vatican, or Federico da Montefeltro, who besides collecting mostly
ecclesiastical works possessed also medical treatises and the catalogues of other
libraries; or Niccolň Niccoli, a humanist from Florence, who nearly lost his fortune by
spending on books and at last had to ask for the help of the Medici to enable the
completion of his valuable collection.
The collecting of the books - and mostly of the ones that contained not only interesting
and important facts but luxurious illuminations - became the main characteristic feature
Hunyadi Mátyás - who is called Matthias Corvinus because of the raven on the
coat-of-arms - was born in a family that was traditionally art patron, and had Italian
relationships. His father, Hunyadi János, who supported Wladislaw to come to the throne
after the death of Sigismund, and lead many, mostly successful campaign against the Turks,
helped the construction of the Dominican monastery in Kolozsvár - where Mátyás learnt
later for several years - and the renewal of the cathedral in Székesfehérvár. He was in
contact with Alphons of Aragon Neapolitan king, Francesco Sforza, prince of Milano, and
the Signoria in Florence. He knew personally Poggio Bracciolini as well, and through him
the family got in contact with the Italian Humanism.
The tutor of Matthias was János Vitéz, bishop of Várad, who was the student of Pier
Paolo Vergerio, the humanist called to Hungary by Sigismund. Later, after his coming to
the throne, Matthias was surrounded by pontiffs who had studied at Italian universities.
One of them was Janus Pannonius, bishop of Pécs (Sopianae), who was the nephew of János
Vitéz. So, because of his personal environment and education, and because of the fact
that Hungary traditionally -since István- had vivid Italian relationships, Matthias took
strong interest in the freshest scientific and artistic results, and - successfully -
intended to plant them in his own court and country.
He probably ordered codices from Florence since 1460, but the first data of regular book
collecting and copying is from 1471.
The direct precedence of Bibliotheca Corviniana is the library of János Vitéz and Janus
Pannonius. Vitéz was bishop of Várad since 1445, he founded here the first Hungarian
humanist library, which he later enlarged as the archbishop of Esztergom. Janus Pannonius
established his library during his bishopric in Pécs, in which he had Latin codices as
well as books in Greek language. In 1472 both collection became the property of Matthias.
The Bibliotheca Corviniana contained about 2000 - 2500 volumes in its golden age, at the
moment we know more than 200 authentic corvina from which only 52 are in Hungary.
The progress of the library can be divided into three periods. From the first period
(until 1472) we know codices with simple decoration.
The second flourishing (the second period) began in 1476. The Italian, first of all the
Florentine relations became closer. The leader of the library was Taddeo Ugoleto, during
his time the corvinas got uniform coat-of-arms, special corvina-bindings, and the
representative furniture of the library was installed.
From an art historic point of view the most important period is the third, from 1485. In
this year Matthias conquered Wien, and, thank to that, he became more respected. There may
be a connection between that change and the fact that the decoration of the codices got
more important, and the emblems of Matthias (sandclock, barrel, well, beehive) appeared.
The decoration of the books became an important device of the representation of the king.
The illuminations of the codices were made by famous Florentine miniators. Besides, orders
from other parts of Italy and there was an illuminating workshop in Buda too.
Attavante degli Attavanti was a well-known artist and more than 30 corvinas are attributed
to him. He painted rather small pictures, but he made several larger ones, for example
Missale Romanum in Bruxelles, or the Breviarium in the Vatican. He applied emblems of
Matthias many times on the frames.
Bibliotheca Laurenziana possesses an Augustinus-, a Calderinus-, an Appianus-and a
The Florentine Gherardo and Monte di Giovanni worked for Matthias as well. An illustration
of the Bible of the Bibliotheca Laurenziana, which was made by them, shows Matthias with
two other figure, one of them is Charles VIII. the king of France.
At last I would like to mention Francesco Antonio Del Cherico, who was from Florence too.
He was already very respected in his life, his customers were, beside Matthias, some of
the Medicies, Frederico da Montefeltro,. Ferdinand V, king of Naples and Louis XI, king of
France. One of his most pompous piece of art is the Petrarca - Dante codex in the Bibl.
Nat. in Paris, which contains Petrarca's Trionfi, sonnets and canzones, Dante's canzones,
and Leonardo Bruni's biographies of Petrarca and Dante. The text was copied by Antonio
Sinibaldi who finished his work in 1476. The first man who supposed that the codex was a
corvina was Tammaro de Marinis in 1940. If that is true, the book was possibly a wedding
present to Beatrix of Aragon. The date of completion, 1476, was the same year as the
wedding. In Naples, at the wedding celebration, there were great festivals, and Petrarca's
Trionfi was performed. The codex begins with this work of Petrarca and contains six full
page illustration of this play, which shows that this is the most emphasized part of it.
The first picture of the codex shows a shipwrecked figure dressed in black, as he is
trying to catch a branch that leans over the water. Around him, dolphins are swimming. The
river flows in a hilly landscape, on its bank there is a fortress. Hungarian scholars
identify this with Visegrád, a fortress of the Hungarian king near the Danube. The face
of the young man in black is similar to Petrarca.
The scene is surrounded by foliated scull, among them puttos, birds and fawns are hiding,
and on the top and at the bottom, there are 3 - 3 medallions. In the middle at the top
there is a laurel tree, in the middle at the bottom there is one more, and Petrarca is
sitting under it.
There are six more full page illustrations in this codex, which are connected to the
Trionfi. The composition is the same in all of them: a triumphal car is coming to the
viewer, and apart from the car of divinity, which moves by its own power, all the cars are
drawn by animals.
In this time, throughout Europe, spectacular entries took more and more part at royal
representations, which originated in the tradition of ancient triumphs. Obviously this
contributed to the popularity of the Petrarca piece as a theme in fine arts.