In memoriam Ernő Marosi (1940–2021)

Ernő Marosi in 2017

Ernő Marosi (1940–2021), professor emeritus at the Institute of Art History of ELTE and a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, died on July 9, 2021, at the age of 81. With his death, we lost one of the most important Hungarian art historians of our time. His impact as a researcher and author of groundbreaking books as well as a teacher for almost six decades is immeasurable.

A simple listing of his professional positions does not do justice to his career. He started teaching at the Department of Art History at ELTE in 1963, immediately after graduating. In addition, he was a researcher at the Art History Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, serving as the director of the Institute between 1991 and 2000.  He had been a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Science since 2001 and from 2002 to 2008, he was the Vice President of the Academy. He also taught at the Central European University and was an active board member of CIHA. Research fellowships took him
to places such as Washington D.C., where he was a Senior Visiting Fellow at
CASVA in 1991, and Berlin. Among the prizes he received was the prestigious Széchenyi
Prize (1997) and the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Hungarian Order of
Merit (2009). 
He continued teaching even after his retirement and remained active as a researcher until his death. 

His contribution to the field of medieval art history is better measured by his groundbreaking publications, which cover all areas of Hungarian medieval art. His research fundamentally re-wrote our knowledge of the field, placing Hungarian monuments in their broader, European context. During his career, there were several topics which he often revisited, providing new insights and interpretations to the most important monuments of medieval Hungary. His publications cover very diverse subjects ranging in time from the Coronation Mantle donated to the Székesfehérvár provostry by King Saint Stephen in 1031 to the patronage of Matthias Corvinus. Among his most important publications, we should first mention his book on the beginnings of Gothic architecture in Hungary, published in 1984 (Die Anfänge der Gotik in Ungarn. Esztergom in der Kunst des 12–13. Jahrhunderts. Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984). A catalogue on stone carvings from the Árpádian-period and an illustrated overview of Hungarian art of the Árpádian-period (1997, co-authored with Tünde Wehli) also attest to his interest in architecture and stone carving of the 12th-13th centuries. The other focus of his research was the art of the 14th and early 15th centuries, primarily the period of King Sigismund. His dissertation focused on the Church of St. Elisabeth at Kassa (Košice), which was then published as a series of studies. Starting from 1974, he provided the proper art historical context for the famous statue find of Buda castle, a key monument of Central European sculpture of the International Gothic period. He co-organized two exhibitions on this period: first, in 1982 on art at the time of King Louis the Great (1342-1382) and in 1987, on the period of King Sigismund (1387-1437). Parallel to this work, Ernő Marosi edited and co-wrote the monumental handbook on Art in Hungary, 1300-1470 (published in 1987). In a series of later studies and in his academic doctoral dissertation, he almost immediately started to deconstruct the picture of the period given in the handbook, reflecting on new finds and providing new approaches (see especially: Image and Likeness: Art and Reality in the 14th and 15th Centuries in Hungary. Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 1995). In 2006, he was one of the key advisors and authors of the new exhibition dedicated to the period of King Sigismund (Sigismundus Rex et Imperator, Budapest-Luxemburg, 2006). 

Ernő Marosi examining the inner reliquary of St. Ladislas, 2004

Another focus of his research was historiography, especially the 19th-century beginnings of Hungarian art history. He edited a number of source collections on art historical writing as well as a volume on Hungary and the Vienna School of art history (Die ungarische Kunstgeschichte und die Wiener Schule 1846–1930, Vienna, 1983). He also wrote a basic overview of the methods of art history aimed at students (1973). He also dealt extensively with issues of monument protection and museum history – often writing on contemporary issues in these fields as well. Naturally, he was a keen observer of contemporary art as well.
As a university professor, he also provided some of the basic surveys and textbooks on medieval art in Hungarian. In 1972, he wrote a survey
book on Romanesque art, which was later expanded into a textbook on the art of
the Middle Ages, 1000
(published in 1996). This was soon followed by a second, much larger volume on
the art of the Middle Ages, 1250
1500, published in 1997. He also wrote overviews
of Hungarian Romanesque Art (2013) and Gothic Art (2008). His collection of
 primary sources on medieval art translated into Hungarian (first published in 1969 and then in an expanded edition in 1997) is a much-used source collectionto this day.
During his long career, he published hundreds of studies in various journals, conference volumes, and exhibition catalogues. Coinciding with his 80th birthday, a three-volume collection of his
selected studies on medieval art was published, coordinated by the Thesaurus
mediaevalis research group led by Imre Takács (
Fénylik a mű nemesen”. Válogatott írások a középkori művészet történetéből. Budapest, Martin Opitz Kiadó, 2020). The book makes available many of his studies
published internationally, in the form of newly made and annotated Hungarian
translations prepared by Marosi himself. The ninety studies in two volumes are
accompanied by a third volume containing 1359 illustrations. A bibliography of
his publications is also included there: it fills almost forty pages of the
His colleagues and students paid tribute to his work in a Festschrift published for his seventieth birthday (Bonum ut pulchrum. Essays in Art History in Honor of Ernő Marosi on his Seventieth Birthday. Eds. Lívia Varga  László Beke  Anna Jávor  Pál Lővei  Imre Takács. Budapest, Argumentum, 2010) and he was also celebrated with a conference organized by the Institute of Art History of ELTE, titled Disputatio de quodlibet. In 2010 and 2020, Enigma, a journal of art theory, published two thematic issues dedicated to Ernő Marosi (Enigma vols. 61 and 100).
Ernő Marosi in 2005

generations of art historians studying in Budapest, I took some of my first art
history classes with Ernő Marosi, who taught European medieval art. He was my
supervisor when I was an MA student in medieval studies at Central European
University (1994–1995) and encouraged my doctoral studies, suggesting I work on
the newly discovered fresco cycle at the Augustinian Church at Siklós. Later,
he would also serve as an external reader of my dissertation, which was
supervised by Walter Cahn at Yale University. I had a chance to work with Ernő
Marosi on numerous occasions after I returned to Hungary – especially during
the preparations for the international exhibition on King Sigismund (2006). He
participated in the international conference organized in Luxemburg (2005) in
conjunction with the exhibition and also provided the art historical commentary
for a digital edition of the Viennese manuscript of Eberhard Windecke’s
chronicle on Emperor Sigismund (Eberhard Windecke emlékirata Zsigmond
királyról és koráról = Eberhard Windeckes Denkwürdigkeiten zur Geschichte
des Zeitalters Kaiser Sigmunds.
 Budapest, Arcanum, 2009). More
recently, Marosi published numerous studies on late medieval wall painting –
including an introductory essay to a volume on wall paintings in north-eastern
Hungary, co-authored by me (2009) and edited by Tibor Kollár. In June of this
year, he graciously agreed to present our new book on medieval wall paintings
in Zólyom County (Zsombor Jékely – Gergely Kovács: Falfestészeti
emlékek a középkori Zólyom vármegye területén
. Ed. Tibor Kollár. Budapest,
2021), although his illness prevented him from fulfilling the task. He was an
inspiration and mentor to me for 30 years and he will surely inspire future
generations of art historians, even those who never had a chance to meet him.
He will be greatly missed.

A final, personal note: Thirty-one years ago, as a first-year art history student, I had an opportunity to travel to France. Ernő Marosi’s lectures on medieval art were a fresh experience – the notes of his lectures served as my guide on my trip. I
visited everything from Romanesque pilgrimage churches in the south of France
to the great Gothic cathedrals of northern France and the late Gothic and
Renaissance castles of the Loire Valley. After my
 first year of college and this French tour, I decided definitively that I would like to pursue medieval art. In 2021, news of the death of my teacher, Ernő Marosi, reached me inside the Benedictine abbey church of St. Denis, the birthplace of Gothic.

Ernő Marosi and Zsombor Jékely listening to József Lángi, 2019

* (Most of the links above take you to full-text versions of some publications written or edited by Ernő Marosi. Photos by Attila Mudrák and the author).

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