The Social Life of the Byzantine Gift: The Royal Crown of Hungary Re-Invented

The Social Life of the Byzantine Gift: The Royal Crown of Hungary Re-Invented

By Cecily J. Hilsdale

Art History, Vol.31 (2008)

Introduction: In 1978, as a gesture towards improved Hungarian–American relations, the Carter Administration returned Hungary’s royal crown and coronation treasure to Budapest. Announcing the decision in 1977, State Department Councillor Matthew Nimetz declared: ‘We believe that the American people will take pride in the fact that we accepted the responsibility of safeguarding the Crown during the dark days of 1945 [. . .] and that we are now returning this single most treasured symbol of the Hungarian people to its proper and rightful home.’ The object in question, the medieval gold-and-enamel crown known as Holy, Royal and St Stephen’s, and now on view in the Parliament Building in Budapest, has over the centuries become the absolute symbol of Hungarian sovereignty. Traditionally it was displayed only at appropriate ceremonial moments, such as coronations, the last of which was that of Charles IV in 1916, and at special exhibitions, such as the nine-hundredth anniversary of St Stephen’s death, celebrated in 1938. Towards the close of the 1939–45 war the crown came into American custody and, for much of the second half of the twentieth century, it was sealed in the vaults of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

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