Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Fine Arts and Agricultural Museums

I sent a note out to all of the American Studies students that I would be visiting all of the museums in Budapest during the summer. This was an open invitation for any of them to join me if they wished and we would settle somewhere for a coffee and chat when we were finished. As I plan my visits, I post the time and date and then wait to see if anyone joins me.

The first excursion to be posted was the Fine Arts Museum with the possibility of the Agricultural Museum to follow, energy pending. The Fine Arts Museum has a free one-hour tour in English at 11:00 am daily, after paying the admission of 1,500 Huf. A well-trained group of volunteers organizes it; many are ex-pat wives whose husbands are working here. I arrived at 10:30, sitting on the steps waiting to see if I were to go it alone or if I would have company. At 10:45, two of my students arrived, which was a thrill for me. Although they are both university students and one is an Art History major in addition to American Studies, they were not afforded a discount for entry. That is a pity!!

The tour consisted of about 20 people, mostly Americans from what I could overhear. There were two tour guides, one from Florida, and the other from Alaska. Today, we were to explore the Dutch Master’s gallery. Before starting in the gallery, we learned some history of the building. It was built for the Millennium celebration 100 years ago, so this is an important anniversary year. It houses the National collection of non-Hungarian art with exhibits dating back to the Egyptian era. It is considered one of the most impressive galleries in Central Europe as its home to works by famed artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt and Rubens. The foundation of the collection was part of the Esterházy family’s private holdings, once one of the most influential aristocratic families in the country. We have had guests who are museum curators in other countries who had explained just how impressive and important this collection is to the art world. I had no idea.

The group went from select painting to select painting as we learned some history of Dutch painters from the 17th century. The pictures were chosen by the docents conducting the tour and we found out later that with different docents, we may have viewed other paintings or a different gallery altogether. The explanations were detailed, but first the docents made us think by asking provocative questions about each painting. They fully involved the participants, which added to the experience. My students were enthralled, adding to my enjoyment of the whole experience, each of us learning new perspectives of looking at a painting and what details to look for.

There is a special exhibit of Titian at the museum at this time and one of my students had a special interest in the painting Portrait of the man with blue-green eyes from the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The museum had the exhibit in his Italian name Tizian and I had no clue who he was. It was not until I saw Titian that I recognized the artist. He is one of the key figures in the history of Western art, considered to have been the greatest 16th-century Venetian painter. We went to see this masterpiece and then some others on display in the same area.

I had thought we would break for a coffee, then if the students wanted to join me, we would continue on to the Agricultural Museum. One of them had to catch a train, so we parted ways and I walked to the park. I spotted a dog in the little lake and went to investigate. A young man was standing on shore and throwing a thick stick for his dog to retrieve from the water. The dog was obviously finding this great fun. When he brought the stick back to shore, if it were not immediately tossed again, he would start barking impatiently. As this scene played out, I snapped pictures of the happenings. The young man asked if I would e-mail him copies of the pictures and gave me his address. I learned that the dog’s name is Mazsda in Hungarian and Raisin in English. Mazsda allowed me to toss the stick for him a couple of times, so I was able to get my doggie fix for the day.

After a coffee in the park, I ventured over toward the Agricultural Museum. To be honest, this would have been the last museum on my list to see. The only part I had ever seen of it other than the outside was the one exhibit viewable from the souvenir shop attached. It did not look impressive or interesting. I had feelings of dread going in it, but if I were to commit to all museums, I was not going to change my own rules, but I could procrastinate them.

Across from the museum is a small chapel. This was the first time I had seen it open so I was curious. It was a lovely little church and after paying 100 Huf to the woman in charge of the wrought iron gate, I was allowed in. An order of priests are stationed here and it is still in use. From the English sign in the lobby, it is St. Gellért’s chapel where two popes have celebrated mass for different occasions. Behind the altar was a lovely mosaic type art piece that grabs the eye immediately. I was alone in the chapel at the time of my visit and spent a restful 30 minutes reflecting on the surroundings. When I came out, the gate guardian motioned that I was now allowed to go up to the choir loft as part of my admission.

Upstairs, there is not much to see other than a small non-descript organ and a few folding chairs. I had hoped that the higher view would be a better angle to photograph the art behind the altar, but it was partially obstructed by a beam and light poles from the ceiling. Upstairs in not worth the climb, but the rest was refreshing.

Outside the Agricultural Museum, there is a huge statue of a Karolyi Sandor. I found that he is responsible for modernizing Hungarian agricultural and taught the methods, hence the pile of books next to him.

Procrastination aside, I went into the museum. It was a pleasant surprise that it was free unless you wanted to take photos. A photo ticket was 500 Huf, but having an air of prejudice of what I would see, I did not bother to purchase one. I have to admit, I fell victim to jumping to conclusions. The museum was wonderful. This is the information discovered from their brochure. This is the biggest museum of agriculture in Europe. It is in the Castle of Vajdahunyad on Széchenyi Island. The architect was Ignác Alpár who combined many different styles utilizing parts of historic buildings in Hungary’s history. It was originally built for the Millennium as an exhibition hall and became the museum in 1897.

On the main floor are 12 permanent collections. This is where I encountered the term archeozoology, which I had never heard before. It is the zoological information gathered through the discovery of old animal bones. The building is 5200 square meters with marble floors and staircases, carved crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, magnificently painted walls, and truly fascinating exhibits. For a museum that I had expected would hold my attention for 10 minutes, kept me captivated for 2 ½ hours.

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