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Hungary - Expo Paris 1900

Hungary at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900
Architect(s) : Zoltan Balint et L. Jambor

The Hungarian pavilion was characterised by its tall, imposing feudal silhouette dominated by a tower that seemed to be blackened by the centuries, in sharp contrast to the mannered elegance of the Austrian pavilion. And this contrast was indeed the personification of the two great peoples who today struggle for predominance in the Habsburg monarchy: one, the German of Austria, refined, exhausted by centuries of civilisation and having lost, at least temporarily, the glorious rank it occupied for a long time at the centre of Europe; the other, the Hungarian, the son of the Huns, freed for only a few years from the long Ottoman or Germanic servitude, but full of youth, of ardent sap and seeing its power grow every day.
Hungary is keen to prove to us here that, although it has only recently been admitted to the ranks of the great European nations, it is too often forgotten that it has a glorious past and that, in spite of its Asian origins, it was not only a Christian nation from early on but also the bulwark of Christianity against Islam. For this reason, the architect responsible for building this palace and presenting us with a summary of Hungarian architecture was keen to bring together specimens of the most famous monuments of this period. The 40-metre-high tower, a reproduction of the Körmoczbanya castle, was framed on the right by the Szepes chapel and on the left by St Michael's Church in Kassa; the other facades were borrowed from the Löcse town hall, the Rakocsy house, Hunyad castle and Jaak abbey. Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles were juxtaposed, blended in a most original way.
The interior was in every respect worthy of the exterior, both in terms of the artistic research of its layout and the real marvels it contained, making it an admirable retrospective museum of Hungarian art. The government, the cities, the great lords, the bishops and private individuals were all keen to contribute to this exhibition, the first in which Hungary was called upon to present its riches to Europe. The most beautiful pieces, which had been jealously guarded until then and which had never been brought together under the same roof, were taken from public and private treasures. Some precautions had to be taken to protect these wonders from any accident, and the palace could only be visited with a pass, which was issued to anyone who requested one.
One entered on the Rue des Nations side, through the superb door of the Jaak Abbey (15th century), which led into a vestibule opening onto a charming cloister borrowed from the same abbey. This vestibule was a Romanesque room decorated with copies of fourteenth-century frescoes. It contained casts of funerary monuments, including beautiful sarcophagi of Queen Isabella (15th century) and the knight George Appaffy (17th century).
Before going up to the first floor, it was necessary to visit the beautiful collections on the ground floor. In the first room on the right, whose ceiling was imitated from that of the Pecs basilica, were exhibited the types of weapons from the arrival of the Huns until the 15th century, hatchets, bows and arrows placed in elegant Magyar quivers, oddly shaped shields, swords, etc. In the centre of the room was the tomb of a 9th century Hungarian pagan rider, and next to the body, whose bones were embedded in the earth, were scattered fragments of armour and sword, coins, and the jawbone of a horse whose severed head had been placed, according to ancient custom, in the coffin of its master.
The next room, decorated in the style of the town hall in Pozsony or Presburg, was devoted to religious monuments. There was a beautiful reproduction of the sarcophagus of St Simeon, the original of which was made of vermeil in 1380. There was a Byzantine-style reliquary in cloisonné enamel from the 10th century, documents signed by François I and Louis XIV, and others with enormous wax seals, gold bulls and letters of nobility with painted coats of arms.
We then entered the Hall of Arms, a faithful copy of the Knights' Hall in Hunyad Castle (15th century). The Emperor King Francis Joseph had a whole showcase here; these were precious replicas in terms of their historical value as well as the value of the metals, the gems and the workmanship; the armour of magnates, chain mail enriched with carbuncles whose fire has been extinguished by time, helmets, mallets, blades, axes, halberds, curved sabres with gold and silver guards adorned with gems and chiselled scabbards, lined the showcases. There was the sword of Matthias Corvin, wide, long, heavy with a cross guard, and the equally noble sword of Coloman; the names of these two kings who were the pride of Hungary were engraved in the steel. Nearby was the helmet of a warrior archbishop, who had fallen gloriously on the battlefield of Mohacs, where Hungary succumbed to the blows of the fierce Ottomans; this helmet, which was shaped like a hat, was made of thick leather, the cap was encircled with steel ribbons, and at the top a small, two-pronged cross indicated the religious character of the combatant. Horses carried the authentic harness, perfectly preserved, which was, with their proper costume, the most costly luxury of the old magnates; it was nothing but gold and silver embroidery studded with jewels; these stirrups were of silver and chased vermeil. This room led to a small chapel, in the middle of which stood a carved wooden altar with painted shutters from Kaposztafalu (15th century).
The next room contained objects relating to the life of shepherds and fishermen, a large boat from Lake Balaton, carved by fire from two tree trunks side by side, musical instruments, and superb horns patiently and very skilfully excavated with a knife.
Back in the entrance hall, we had to reach the first floor by an open-worked staircase, which occupied one of the sides of the cloister and led to a vast hall, occupying the whole front part of the building and called the Hussars' room. The Hungarian authorities attached great importance to this hall. It was dedicated to the glorification of this soldier, an admirable cavalryman of intrepidity and skill, whose name and uniform have been imitated and adopted by other nations.
The room was a medieval hall with a ribbed ceiling and pendentives in the Gothic style with Hungarian motifs. The walls were occupied by paintings in which the legendary history of the hussars was the subject. A parade of hussars at full gallop included the sixteenth-century cavalrymen, the hurucz of Rakocsy with their fanfare, the imperial hussars of Mihaly, the hussars of Charles III, Maria Theresa, Joseph II, and those of the Holy Alliance commanded by the famous Simony. And in the middle of the vast composition, attending this charge, presiding over it, Napoleon I, surrounded by Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Spanish and French hussars. On the right, Franz Joseph's hussars; on the left, a Hungarian, whipping his herd of wild horses, served as a frame for this painting. The marble bust of the emperor-king was placed on a column at the head of this room, where there were also portraits of the first hussars of the world, among whom one could distinguish Joachim Murat, king of Naples, who was certainly one of the most beautiful and noble horsemen of our imperial armies. On the opposite side, a display case contained superb antique crystal glasses engraved and inlaid with colour.
Following the Hussars' room was a series of small rooms decorated in the Renaissance style and containing an admirable collection of precious objects. The emperor, the museums and the treasures of the churches had evidently provided the finest in chasubles, tapestries, reliquaries, gold and gilt chalices, mitres and jewellery. It was of incomparable wealth, examples of which would hardly be found in the Louvre or Cluny. There were two archbishops' mitres, of Byzantine form, which were literally covered with fine pearls. These rare objects came mostly from the monasteries of Mount Athos; they were brought by Serbs who came to Hungary at the end of the seventeenth century, and tradition attributes them to goldsmiths from Ipek.
But here, in another room, are gala costumes, of the kind that used to make people say that courtiers wore their farms on their backs. The magnates were no less pompous. The costume on display was of blue silk with gold sequins. The embroidery was made of fine pearls and there were as many pearls as there were stitches. A magnate still dressed in this way in the eighteenth century; this did not prevent him from matching his savage ancestors in fearlessness.
More episcopal crosses, ciboria, chalices, gold reliquaries, belts and clasps, diamond necklaces, bindings, embroidery, luxury weapons, silver and vermeil tableware; we are here in Transylvania and it was the goldsmiths of Kolosvar and Brasso to whom we owe these marvels. Among the weapons, we shall mention the cuirass of Prince Bathory of Transylvania, later King of Poland, sent by Francis Joseph.
In the showcases were displayed some superb books from the library of King Matthias Corvin, who owned ten thousand volumes, all very luxurious, enriched with miniatures, beautifully bound, of which only thirty-five escaped the sacking of Bude by the Muslims. The emperor lent them to the Paris Exhibition, and, together with the incunabula, they formed one of the rarest parts of the historical collections housed in the pavilion.
Our brief description can only give a very slight idea of the treasures that Hungary had piled up in this palace, which exceeded the proportions of an ordinary exhibition and equalled the most famous museums in Europe.

©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900