Eötvös Loránd University of Sciences, Budapest

Institute of Art History


The history of the Institute of Art History

by Ernő Marosi


In Hungary the academic education of the art history began in 1872, when a Department of Art History was set up at the Budapest University of Sciences. The personality of the first professor of the department, Imre Henszlmann (1813-1888), who was perhaps the most important member of the founding generation of Hungarian art history, dominated the education and research activities for a long period. The creation of a department of art history at the Faculty of Arts was necessary, because — as Hungarian art historians had already stressed it a decade earlier — to this date, the research on the course and the rules of the artistic development has become rather separated from the actual artistic practice. This demand led to the predominance of the strictly historical and archaeological questions over the theoretical and aesthetical ones in the scholarly activity of the department from the beginnings.

The lack of differentiation between archaeology and art history – which was a general characteristic of Hungarian historiography — determined the development of the art history department later on as well. As the history of Hungarian archaeology, its research topics, institutions and publications were inseparable from those of the art history, so were the history of the university departments closely intertwined. In the mid-war period two departments coexisted, both of them with archaeological – art historical curricula, but with stronger interest in art history. The Department of Classical Archaeology and Art History was led by the eminent classical archaeologist and art historian, Antal Hekler (1882-1940), whereas the Department of Art History and Christian Archaeology was directed until his death by Tibor Gerevich (1882-1955), a noted personality of the mid-war art history. The separation of the archaeological and art historical departments came about after 1945, putting an end to a long antiquated scientific situation and creating a more adequate basis for the specialised education of art historians.

However, the coexistence of two art historic departments did not end with the separation; parallel to the one led by Tibor Gerevich an other department existed under the direction of Lajos Fülep (1885-1970), an eminent personality of the theory of art and of the modern art criticism. It was only after his retirement in 1961, that the two departments were united under the direction of Lajos Vayer, who had led the department of Gerevich since 1955. Besides him, the other professor of the department was Anna Zádor, who taught there from 1948 to 1974. Layos Vayer was a specialist of late medieval and renaissance art, especially of the graphic arts, whereas Anna Zádor’s main field of research was the history of architecture, particularly the architecture of the neo-classicism. Ernő Marosi, a specialist in the medieval art entered the department as an assistant professor in 1963. For a long period he has worked as the deputy director, and then as the director of the Research Group (later Institute) of Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He is now university professor and member of the Academy.

After the retirement of Lajos Vayer in 1978, Lajos Németh, an eminent scholar of the modern Hungarian and international art became the director of the department. After he died in 1991, Krisztina Passuth was nominated director of the department (from 2000 of the institute) in 1992. She is an internationally renown scholar of modern art, which is attested by her guest professorship at the Freie Universitat, Berlin. The current director of the Institute is György Kelényi, from 2005.

The current number of the staff is the largest ever attained, as formerly the department consisted only of the professors and their assistants. This system had to be changed not only because of the increase in the educational duties, but because prior to 1995 it was the only university department of art history in Hungary. Although such a department existed at the Szeged University of Sciences in the 1940’s, only our institute can take pride of a longer, uninterrupted line of traditions.

A major change in the life of our department occurred in 2000, when it was developed into an institute. This creates opportunity to establish separate departments for the study of medieval, early modern and the modern and contemporary art.