Časopis ARS 38 (2005) 2

Martin ŠUGÁR

Hoc opus fecit fieri… Niekoľko poznámok k interpretácii tabúľ oltára z Hronského Beňadika z roku 1510
[Hoc opus fecit fieri…Some Notes on Interpretation of One of the Panel Paintings from Hronský Beňadik, 1510]


The subject of my study is a panel painting from a Benedictine Abbey in Hronský Beňadik, inscribed with the date 1510, which is when Abbot John III died. He is depicted in the panel as kneeing and receiving blood from the open side wound of an over-sized body of the Suffering Christ into a reliquary. Some art historians are of the opinion that in the background a veduta of the Abbey should be viewed. The masterwork is an important example of the last flourishing period in the Abbey’s history at the end of the 15th century when Hungarian king Matthew Hunyady Corvinus donated a relic of Christ’s Blood to the Abbey (1483).

This act motivated some changes in the architecture of the monastery and church. A new Chapel of Christ’s Blood was erected in the so called sacristia superior, decorated by a rounded window with Corvenius’ coat of arms. The panel painting mentioned above is a part of the original altarpiece placed in the Chapel, of which only some panels have survived. These are four panels depicting the Passions of Christ and a panel with the Fourteen Saint Helpers, which since the end of the 19th century have been exhibited at the Christian Museum in Esztergom (Gran) in Hungary. A very unusual masterwork of the end of the 15th century from Hronský Beňadik is a moveable Lord’s grave with a wooden sculpture of the dead Christ with moveable arms.

Even though you can find a picture of the view of medieval time in the masterworks mentioned above, the altarpiece, reliquary, and Lord’s grave which are instruments in the cult of Christ’s Blood, this picture is defined strictly in terms of liturgy. Transcending the limits of the liturgical meaning of time is, in my opinion, one of the mentioned art pieces, namely the panel painting with a kneeling Abbot John. Its form is clearly influenced by a consciousness of the caducity of his life and by his desire to preserve a remembrance of him. Some aspects make me convinced of this.

Abbot John was responsible for architectural changes, for the delivery of the relic of Christ’s Blood, for increasing the worship of it by its lay people, and probably for the project of the altarpiece. It is in this altarpiece that the Abbot’s most important acts are newly recollected but not in categories of time forwarded to the past, or even to the future, but to the eternal future, declared by the figure of Christ the Redeemer who should be the guarantor of the Abbot’s eternal life – hopefully in glory. Finally, the medium of art received several forms and functions: as an altar wing, or so called Andachtsbild, or an epitaph (compare to graphic of Albrecht Dürer B. 20 Standing Suffering Christ with Arms held up, c. 1500, and an epitaph of Julian Chełmski, a canon and Abbot in St. Martin’s Church in Cracow, who died in 1531).

On the other hand, the inner structure of the panel from the point of view of a formal analysis is surprisingly simple, dull, and strictly systematic, aborting any freedom of the artist.

The composition is formally split by a horizontal and two vertical lines into six fields. In each of them only one pictorial element is situated. They are: the Abbot with a reliquary in his hands, a wall with an inscription and the Abbot’s coat of arms, a cliff with the buildings of the Abbey, and lastly an over-sized body of Christ in the centre of the painting. The composition is absolutely subordinated to transparency, simplicity and pragmatic definiteness.

The painting could even evoke a form of a mnemonic table that was commonly used as an aid in the collective prayer in medieval monasteries or cloisters. My interpretation of the panel stands up to the view that some iconographic topics could be determined by mnemonic tools or tables. It is usually assumed that the most typical example of this is the Mass of St. Gregory as depicted in the 15th and 16th centuries. In my opinion, the panel with Abbot John from Hronský Beňadik could represent another example of the effect of the mnemonic methods of medieval monastic communities on the forms and partially on the ideas of a work of art.

English by M. Šugár; proof-reader E. Elias