Along with documents linked with political events during the Reform Age, paintings and artefacts relating to the most significant personalities of the day – István Széchenyi, Chancellor Metternich, King Francis I, Palatine Joseph – faithful present the first half of the 19th century in Hungary. Visitors can follow Széchenyi’s modernising efforts (with the building of the Chain Bridge, which became a symbol of the Reform Age, at their centre), and also the work of the reforming diets (national assemblies). The salon furnishings reflect the lifestyle of nobles at this time; and the picture is made richer still by the inclusion of a nobleman’s attire.
The laying in 1842 of the foundation stone of the Chain Bridge was depicted only 22 years later, by the artist Miklós Barabás. A sketch placed in the glass cabinet underneath the painting helps us to identify the persons shown. Archduke Joseph, who served as palatine of Hungary, represented the country’s interests to the king and emperor Francis I. Archduke Joseph played a prominent role in supporting the creation of the Hungarian National Museum.
COUNT ISTVÁN SZÉCHENYI
Painting by Miklós Barabás, 1848
At the Hungarian Diet of 1825, Count István Széchenyi, the initiator of the Reform Age in Hungary, offered a year’s income from his estates for the foundation and endowment of a Hungarian Academy of Sciences, ‘to strengthen and develop nationhood and the language’. His many impressive achievements aimed at the creation of a modern Hungary. Széchenyi was a fine-looking man who spoke foreign languages; who read works of classical and modern literature in the original; who was a great sportsman who excelled at swimming, riding, and rowing; and who was, in addition, a member of aristocratic society. Initially, he considered the Austrian Empire as a whole to be his homeland, but later, in the 1820s, decided that he wished to live his life as a public person fighting for the benefit of the Hungarian nation and for the advancement of Hungary. He founded a club to promote discussion of political, economic, and social issues. In his works (Credit, World/Light, Stádium), he outlined the first comprehensive programme in Hungary for advancement from feudal poverty through the establishment of modern societal relations. Crowning his many reforming initiatives was the construction of the Chain Bridge, an all-the-year-round bridge linking the cities of Pest and Buda. By pushing through the building of this bridge, he aimed to stimulate economic activity and transportation, thus facilitaing the development of a major city, a true capital from Hungary, from these two small medieval towns on either side of the Danube; and, by doing so, to create a rival for Vienna and to attract the Habsburg Empire’s epicentre to the banks of the Danube in Hungary.
MIKLÓS BARABÁS: THE LAYING OF THE FOUNDATION STONE OF THE CHAIN BRIDGE, 24 AUGUST 1842
Law XXVI of 1836, on the creation of the first permanent bridge between Pest and Buda and the imposition of toll payments on all those crossing it (the first instance of universal taxation in Hungary), may be regarded as symbolic of Széchenyi’s ideas and of the Reform Age itself.
SUITE OF FURNITURE IN THE EMPIRE STYLE
From Dániel Csapó’s manor house at Tengelic in Tolna County, early 19th century
Furnishings from the home of Dániel Csapó (1778–1844), a Reform Age agriculturalist and politician. The suite follows classic English forms, but is fashioned in Hungarian Empire taste.