Sancti reges Hungariae in mural painting of late-medieval Hungary
MA Thesis in Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest, May (2009)
This research analyzes from an iconographic perspective the mural representations of the three holy kings of Hungary – St. Stephen, St. Emeric, and St. Ladislas – which were depicted as a collective in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Previous scholars have considered that this iconographic theme emerged generally in the Angevin age without an attempt at its precise identification; the meaning of the sancti reges Hungariae iconography has been interpreted as the expression of the national values that the holy kings had embodied since the beginnings of their depiction as a trio. The goal of the thesis is to identify a more precise time for the concept’s emergence, to emphasize the iconographic similarities and differences of the separate and collective depiction of the three holy kings, and to recover the meaning that the frescoes had when they were created. The conclusion is, first, that the occurrence of the holy kings’ trio in the second half of the thirteenth century belongs to the beata stirps Arpadiana context, which also included the female sacred representatives of the dynasty, but the exclusive and politically charged concept of the sancti reges Hungariae is the result of the consistent strategy of King Louis the Great and his influential mother to promote the royal trio around the mid-fourteenth century. Second, I conclude that, although he was only a prince in his real life and separate iconography, St. Emeric finally became king in the sancti reges Hungariae iconography, where he is depicted with the royal dignity’s attributes (crown, scepter, and crucifer orb). Third and most significant, not all extant mural representations of the holy kings of Hungary should be judged as being the result of a political decision despite the common conceptual association of St. Stephen, St. Emeric, and St. Ladislas. As indicated by their dating and extrinsic characteristics (iconographic context and low visibility), the depiction of the holy kings on the pillars of the triumphal arch pre-dates the mid-fourteenth century and has an exclusively theological meaning: it emphasizes the role of St. Stephen as the apostle of the Hungarian Church (sanctissimus rex Stephanus ungarorum apostolus) and St. Ladislas as its defender (columpna milicie christianae). Political aspects began to pervade this type of representation in the first decades of the fifteenth century, when King Sigismund of Luxemburg made St. Sigismund, his personal Bohemian patron saint, the companion of the Hungarian royal saints, St. Stephen, St. Emeric, and St. Ladislas.