Equestrian statues in Budapest
In the arts, the relationship between horses and men dates back to a rich past, as horses have always occupied a special place in the lives of our ancestors. They meant much more than other farm animals, think of the legendary horses of our myths. As the construction of these monuments requires a great deal of expertise and a lot of money, the clients always asked the most talented artists for the task, it was no different in Hungary either.
"Statue of our Matthias, where are you late in the night?"
Our famous sculptor István Ferenczy, as a student of Canova and Thorvaldsen, moved home in 1824. The plans of the returning artist also included the creation of an equestrian statue depicting Mátyás Hunyadi. The idea was initially preceded by enthusiastic expectations, and a fundraising began, but as usual, the enthusiasm soon subsided. Only a tenth of the one hundred thousand forints required for the construction of the twelve-meter-high monument was collected, and on the other hand, the announced plan was received by an almost unanimous rejection. Critical voices primarily objected to the posture and attire of the ruler, saying that the figure of Matthias was not Hungarian enough and not heroic enough; and it reminded some people of a gloomy Roman consul. However, the real reason was the enormous cost of the public monument. Finally, in the autumn of 1844, the National Assembly did not contribute to the construction financially, and this ended the debate on the issue of the sculpture. In despair, the frustrated artist smashed all his plaster samples and sold his house in Buda to pay off his debts, and moved home to Rimaszombat in 1847, where he led a sequestered life until his death.
When Palatine Joseph was left without a horse
When Palatine Joseph – the most prominent statesman of the Hungarian branch of the Habsburg dynasty – died in 1847, a fundraising began immediately in order to represent his figure a worthy way. The first plans came from an artist in Munich, but the completion of the equestrian monument was prevented by the outbreak of the War of Independence. The issue of the sculpture was not on the agenda again until 1857, when the ruler, Franz Joseph I of Austria contributed a significant amount to the completion of the sculpture, with the stipulation that the monument cannot be an equestrian statue, only a standing figure. Thus the statue of the Palatine remained without a horse.
Anyway, the imperial ban had its effects. A public equestrian statue of a Hungarian artist had to be waited until the turn of the 19th-20th centuries.
The statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Turkish beater, was put in its present place in 1900, in front of the Royal Palace of Buda. József Róna, the famous sculptor of the period, created the monument at the request of the city of Zenta, as the Prince of Savoy won one of his greatest victories in Zenta in 1697. However, the city could not pay for the cost of the monument, so the bronze-cast statue waited in Róna's studio, and then for a while in front of the main entrance of the Art Gallery, for taking a worthy place. Fortunately, at the suggestion of Prime Minister Kálmán Széll, monarch Franz Joseph purchased the statue on the basis of the photographs presented to him, thus it was placed in front of the main facade of the Royal Palace. The statue bears the characteristics of the Viennese neo-baroque and showed a harmonious unity with the contemporary horseshoe-shaped decorative baroque staircase built behind the monument. The staircase was demolished in the fifties instead of being restored, but Róna's artwork miraculously survived relatively intact the siege of the Castle in 1944-45, and after its restoration it could return to its original place.
The Horse Restrainer
Barely a year after the erection of the Prince of Savoy statue, the immediate surroundings of the Royal Palace was enriched with another statue. The “Csikós” statue of György Vastagh Jr., which was titled as the “Horse Restrainer” originally, was erected in 1901 in front of the Riding Hall building. It is no coincidence that Vastagh was commissioned in 1899 to produce a work related to the theme of the Riding Hall, as he gained considerable professional prestige at a young age with his uniquely realistic animal sculptures. The work won serious international appreciation at the Paris World's Fair in 1899-1900, which is also indicated by the fact that the pedestal was designed by Alajos Hauszmann himself. The statue of the Horse Restrainer became popular quickly in Hungary as well, as evidenced by the fact that the area around the Riding Hall was called the Csikós court, and the name has remained the same ever since.
Besides the composition of the one and a half times life-size work, its material is also interesting. Regarding the composition, the rider does not sit on the mount, but stands next to it. The animal is taller than the human, stronger and more dominant than his rider, so the rider must restrain the animal. In the case of the material, it is not the usual bronze casting, but the riveting of embossed bronze plates. Vastagh first formed his work from clay, from which he made its positive, based on which he embossed it from 0.8 mm plates, chiselled them out, and then riveted them together with the smaller pieces of plate. The human figure of the statue is a real Hortobágy horse-herder (csikós) with a twiddled moustache, and the artist studied horses in the Bábolna state stud farm to shape the horse figure.
The statue suffered significant but fortunately repairable injuries during World War II. When the ruined riding hall was later demolished, the fate of the statue also became uncertain. It was removed in 1954, referring to excavation and landscaping work. Finally, it was returned to the Hunyadi courtyard in 1982, but as its former location had already been swept away by the demolition wave, it was erected in the middle of the free area in front of the Matthias well.
Since then, within the framework of the National Hauszmann Project, the Riding Hall has been rebuilt, and the statue of the Csikós has been renovated under the leadership of restorer Szabolcs Csányi, so now it stands exactly where it was originally planned. Before relocating the sculpture, it was revealed that the artwork was not in good condition, as the lower frame had been destroyed by corrosion. There were also visible traces of the damage, as the group of statues leaned in the direction of the horse-herder. The tilt caused cracks in the material, which had to be repaired and the lower frame already mentioned had to be replaced. This time, however, stainless steel was used in order to protect the sculpture from similar damages. During the restoration, it was also revealed that the construction of the sculpture is not conducive to durability at all, as precipitation flows next to the holes used for fixing, thus weakening the internal structure of the sculpture.
During the renovation, the tricks of the first assembly of the artwork were also discovered by the professionals performing the restoration. The sculptor designed an installation hole on the back of the statue, which could just fit a small child. It is believed that through this, someone climbed into the horse’s body and worked from there. However, this solution could not be applied in either the 70s or the current renovations because no one could fit in the hole.
Equestrian statue of King St. Stephen
In preparation for the Millennium Celebration, the National Assembly decided, pursuant to an article of 1896, to "erect an equestrian statue of King St. Stephen on the Fisherman's Bastion next to the Coronation Church named after Our Lady of Assumption in the Castle in Budapest". Alajos Stróbl was asked to build the monument without a tender. The artist worked on the statue of St. Stephen for ten years, because he strived for perfect historical loyalism. As no authentic depiction of the ruler survived, he modelled Stephen on the basis of iconographic traditions that had developed by the turn of the century. He depicted the king sitting on an ornately harnessed horse, with the Hungarian holy crown on his head, a large mantle on his shoulder, holding an apostolic double cross, and the glory around his head a reference to his canonization.
Stróbl originally wanted a rider placed on a low pedestal, but the official expectation called for a monumental sculpture. Accordingly, the group of sculptures became grandiose, its architectural part is almost altar-like and at the same time the sculpture fits in harmoniously with the Fisherman's Bastion behind it.
Equestrian statue of Gyula Andrássy
The year 1906 seems to be a notable date in the history of sculptures in the capital, as not only the monument to King Stephen but also the monument to Gyula Andrássy was unveiled at that time. Andrássy was the Prime Minister of the independent responsible Hungarian government formed as a result of the 1867 Compromise, and later the joint foreign minister of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The erection of his equestrian statue was decreed by the Parliament in the law article 3 of 1890, and György Zala won the tender. The sculptor immortalized the count wearing traditional Hungarian attire while sitting on his slowly pacing horse. But it was not until 1900 that a decision was made to place the statue at the southern entrance to the Parliament. Zala created something permanent; many said the work was the most beautiful equestrian statue in the capital. György Zala also made the reliefs on both sides of the pedestal, which show life-size figures and depict two key moments of the count's career. After the statue was erected in 1906, a park was created around it. Although it was the most beautiful equestrian statue in the capital, it had to go after 1945, as it stood in the way of the Kossuth Bridge under construction. According to some beliefs, the statue was merged into the statue of Stalin in the early 1950s. The bridge was demolished in 1960, and in 1980 the statue of Attila József by László Marton was erected in the place of the former group of sculptures. In 2011, the Parliament decided to restore the original image of Kossuth Square. This is how the monument to the memory of Gyula Andrássy was created again.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Prohászka László: Lovas szobrok. A mi Budapestünk. Bp., 1997., Budapest Főváros Önkormányzata