Late Gothic Wall Painting in Transylvania

Thesis author: 
Anna Kónya
Year of enrollment: 
Duration of thesis project: 
Sep, 2013 - Sep, 2019
Thesis supervisor: 
Béla Zsolt Szakács
Thesis abstract: 

The Late Gothic period is often regarded as one of decline for the genre of wall painting. After a flourishing period in the first third of the fifteenth century, several authors speak about a loss of significance of the genre compared to other contemporary art forms (e.g. panel painting). This perception of decline contributed to Late Gothic wall painting being an understudied area of the art of medieval Hungary.
It seems, however, that in the light of the surviving material this view of decline needs to be reconsidered and refined in several respects, while ultimately the usefulness of focusing on this concept can be questioned.
In Transylvania, approximately thirty wall painting ensembles from this period are known. The ensembles are relatively evenly distributed on the territory of medieval Transylvania, in the Saxon and Szekler regions, as well as the noble counties. In most churches, instead of completely decorated interiors, a smaller number of disparate scenes survive, although there are also cases of more extensive decoration covering the whole interior of a chapel or a sanctuary. Thematically, a predilection for representations related to the Passion of Christ, the Last Judgment, and the saints can be observed. The imitation of architectural, sculptural forms and of panel painting – as a general tendency in Late Gothic wall painting – is also present on the Transylvanian examples. Here the painted winged altarpieces create an interesting coherent subgroup.
The relatively low number of wall paintings compared to previous periods is partly due to the fact that by this time most surfaces have already been decorated, and it was mostly the newly reconstructed parts of buildings that received new wall painting decoration. Besides, the spread of the al secco technique also resulted in greater losses. Still, by its very nature, this source material is constantly growing as new wall painting ensembles are being recovered from under the whitewash, with which they were covered in the centuries following the Reformation.
My thesis aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of Late Gothic wall painting in Transylvania concentrating on the following wider problems:
• Questions related to style. Establishing stylistic connections between the wall painting ensembles and searching for models, analogies and stylistic connections with works from other regions; questions of dating.
• The question of interaction with other genres, especially with panel painting: questions of production, masters active in both genres, specific techniques and formats characteristic for panel painting applied in wall painting. How innovations in other genres affect wall painting?
• The study of specific iconographic themes, their way of representation, meanings and associations; the correlation of their iconography and their placement within the space of the church; studying patterns of decoration, iconographic programs, patterns in the selection of the iconographic themes; examining how these choices can be explained and interpreted in the contexts of late medieval religiosity and devotion, also considering possible patrons and audiences.