By: Lél F. Somogyi

       Hungarians have made significant contributions to the cultural mosaic of the world and have been a moving force behind advances in the arts and sciences. Through innovations in lifestyles, they have contributed to the growth and advancement of Western civilization and culture. Through the arts they have enriched the literature, art, sculpture, music, law, medicine, and political direction of mankind. In the sciences, they have helped propel themselves and all of us into the Industrial Age and the Computer Age.

       The exceptional contributions of the Hungarians can be largely attributed to the environment in which they lived, in a multicultural society that encourages innovation and scholarly study. The following sections only briefly describe the immense cultural evolution that took place in Hungary and its results.

Art and Architecture

       The oldest example of painting can be found in the Church of Feldebro as a fresco sequence that dates from the mid-eleventh century. Another series of wall paintings dating from about 1200 and others from the thirteenth century show the Roman style. A fresco of the coronation of Charles Robert that hangs in the Cathedral of Szepeshely was done in the Gothic style. Other frescoes painted by the master artist John Aquila in the fourteenth century are also good examples of Gothic style. Many paintings remain preserved in Transylvania and Trans-Danubia.

       The oldest illustrations drawn for a book appeared in the early part of the thirteenth century in the form of five ink drawings. In the "Illustrated Chronicle," published in 1379, 142 colored miniatures by the Hungarian master Miklós have provided an invaluable aid in the study of dress and apparel of that period.

       Examples of sculptural excellence can be observed in the column art of buildings as early as the eleventh century. Refreshingly youthful relief sculptures carved in the latter half of the twelfth century can be found in the Cathedral of Pécs. Statues and bas-relief works in the Church of Ják stand out as thirteenth century examples of Gothic style sculpture. Sculptures in the fourteenth century, the relief sculpture of Kassa's St. Michael Church, group sculptures, memorials and cemetery statues all reveal a solid development in style and artistry.

       Sculptors, such as the brothers Martin and George of Kolozsvár, created their pieces in bronze in the late fourteenth century. Unfortunately, in the course of time the only statue they created that was not destroyed was the statue of St. George on Horseback, which was finished in 1373 and remains preserved in Prague. Even by itself, it attests to the high level of expertise possessed by the artisans in this early period.





       The Cathedral of Pécs was the first Roman style structure in Hungary. It was built between 1038 and 1041. By the end of the thirteenth century, the Roman architectural style began to give way to the Gothic. The transition is visible in the remains of the Church of Zsámbék, where the outside of the church remained in the Roman style, the inside plan was Gothic.

       The Royal Palace of Esztergom was unique among the buildings built during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Many of the architectural innovations of the palace were unmatched elsewhere in Europe.

       The earliest example of Gothic architecture can be seen in the Abbey of Topuszkó, begun in 1211. The Church of St. Michael in Kolozsvár and the parish of Szászsebes show Gothic characteristics that predominated in that period. Fortresses in Diósgyor, Visegrád, and Buda and city houses in Buda, Pécs, and Sopron that remain intact today also show the Gothic influence.

       During the Renaissance the art of painting flourished in its various forms throughout the nation. Many painters are remembered from this period, including John Spillenberg (1628-1679), James Bogdány (1660-1724), John Kupeczky (1667-1757) and Ádám Mányoky (1673-1757), who achieved international fame.

       Significant advances were also made in fresco, altar, portrait, crest and ceiling paintings, inspired by the new creative ideas and accomplishments of others.

       In architecture, the prevailing Renaissance styles were used. The baroque style emerged strongly in the 1630s, the first example of it seen in the church of Jesuits at Naqyszombat.

       In modern times, the painters Károly Markó, Sándor Kozma, Henrik Weber and the exceptionally talented Miklós Barabás were all recognized outside of Hungary before they achieved acclaim in Hungary. Károly Kisfaludy, Károly Brocky, József Boros and Count Mihály Zichy, the painter for the Russian czar's court, were the first in a class of national romanticist painters who were active in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Viktor Madarász, Bertalan Székely, Károly Lotz, Gyula Benczur, Sándor Liezen-Mayer and Sándor Wagner are good examples of painters dealing with historical subjects. The work of Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900) and Pal Szinyei-Merse (1845-1920) are categorized among those of the best painters in the world.

       In sculpture, István Ferenczy (1792-1856) was a follower of the classic style, while Miklós Izsó represented the romantic style. Particularly talented sculptors included János Fadrusz (1858-1903), whose white marble equestrian statue of Mária Theresia was destroyed in Pozsony but whose equestrian statue of King Mátyás still stands in Kolozsvár; Lajos Strobl; György Zala and most recently Zsigmond Kisfaludy Strobl.





       The best known architects of Hungary included Joseph Danko; Frederick Fessl; Frederick Schulek, who designed the Fishermen's Bastion; Emery Steindl, who designed the Parliament; and Nicholaus Ybl, who designed the Opera House and the Royal Castle. Representatives of the Hungarian style included Ignatius Alpár, Edmund Lechner and Charles Koós.


       During the Middle Ages minstrels passed on stories of ancient and heroic deeds through song. Usually performing both in the royal court and on the popular entertainment circuit, the minstrels spread news and information about the past and the present. Music was used only as an accompaniment to the song of the minstrel, and did not evolve into a separate art form until later. Common instruments used at the time included the horn, violin, drum, and hand organ.

       Historical melodies from the past determined the direction of Hungarian musical expression in the sixteenth century. Composers such as Sebastian Tinódi Lantos and Michael Sztárai stand out in this early group. Many of these composers performed their own works on the lute. Valentine Bakfark, active during the middle of the sixteenth century, was the first Hungarian lutist composer and performer known throughout Europe.

       In the second half of the sixteenth century, the gypsies wandered into Hungary accompanying the Turks. They brought a distinctive Arabic-Turkish musical heritage to Hungary. The gypsies adopted the Hungarian musical forms, but added their own musical flair to them in performance.

       Dancing was still considered essentially sinful, but was condoned in traditional celebrations. The first description of the "hajdu"-dance occurred in 1558. It was from this dance that the "toborzó," the classic Hungarian recruiting dance, developed after 1688. The "kanász" dance, the herdsmen dance, was first performed by Valentine Balassi at the king's court in 1572. The extremely dignified dance, the "palotás," was to be performed in the palace, and was first described in the literature by Abbe Reverend, charge d'affaires of the French king at the court of the Transylvanian prince about 1690.

       During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the creative arts grew and theater expanded. Dance, song and music all quickly assumed Western characteristics, while still retaining and perserving Hungarian national traditions. In 1835 a new national dance, the folk dance called "chárdás," appeared in the playhouses and the dance halls. All types of dances were studied and many new dances, based on traditional Hungarian dances, were developed and performed.

       Music emerged as the creative art that preserved and expanded national traditions the most beautifully. The renowned Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886) brought new form to Hungarian music through his piano performances and compositions. Ferenc Erkel composed the musical score





for the Hungarian anthem, and Mihály Mosonyi established the Hungarian national operas. Ferenc Lehár, Imre Kálmán and Jeno Huszka wrote a whole sequence of operettas. Erno Dohnányi, as a follower of the romantic period, sought out the relationships in folk tunes. He established himself as the original surveyor of a new Hungarian classical movement, following in the footsteps of Liszt, Erkel and Mosonyi. The music of Béla Bartók (1881-1967) was saturated in folk tunes, yet was presented in a new and sophisticated modern way. Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) emerged as a fitting competitor of Béla Bartók. Together these two giants won Hungary a new musical reputation which is still upheld today.


       The culture of the Hungarians in ancient times was Eastern in form, as reflected even in their writing. In "rovás," the letters were carved into wooden arrowshafts or canes and sticks from right to left. Only centuries after its development was it used in wall carvings. It is an undisputable fact, however, that even before occupying the Carpathian Basin the Hungarians had a well developed written language.

       Latin and Hungarian were the languages used during the Middle Ages. They were used in a dual manner as were the ancient Turkish and Hungarian languages centuries earlier. The official language of literature and government was Latin, as in other parts of Europe. Records were kept in Latin, and church hymns and hymnals were composed in Latin. A "gesta," an ancient writing from the eleventh century was the oldest known record, but was lost sometime in the Middle Ages. Another "Gesta Hungarorum" remains as the oldest "gesta" today. It was written by an anonymous author in the late twelfth century, who is known today to have been Péter Pósa, bishop of Bosnia. Around 1280 Magister Simeon Kézai wrote another historical work entitled "Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum." Of all the chronicles, the "Illustrated Chronicles" published in 1358 by Mark Kálti remains as the most famous and important work.

       Hungarian words were quoted in Latin sources as early as 1055. Prose from around 1200 and a poem from 1300 remain as the earliest examples of both styles. The oldest Hungarian hand-written codex dates from 1370.

       The first Hungarian printing presses went into operation in 1471 under the capable direction of Ladislas Karai. The first printed book in Hungary was prepared by Andrew Hess in 1473. Franciscans around the world used the book of homilies by the Hungarian Franciscan Pelbárt Temesvári.

       The development of Hungarian language and literature paralleled the spread of the Renaissance. Latin gave way and Hungarian became the language of literature.





       The renewers of the faith were also writers and publishers of considerable talent. John Sylvester Erdosi translated the New Testament into Hungarian in 1541. By 1590 the Calvinist translation of the whole Bible was completed by Casper Károli and by 1626 Jesuit George Káldi finished the Catholic Bible translation.

       During this period poets appeared who were not priests or ministers. Sebastian Tinódi Lantos; Valentine Balassi, the first Hungarian lyricist; Count Nicolas Zrinyi, the author of the first Hungarian epic; and Stephen Gyöngyösi, all made definitive contributions to poetry. Zrinyi's epos speaks of the historic mission of the Hungarian nation, paving the way for later poetic tributes to the nation.

       During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation period, the use of the Hungarian language became widespread in literature. Exemplary works of this period include the "kuruc"-poetry, Kelemen Mikes' "Letters from Turkey," the poems and prose of the Jesuit Ferenc Faludi, the historical works of Mihály Cserei, and the history of literature works of Peter Bod.

       Hungarian writers began to emulate the example of Latin, German and French literature. Others followed typically Hungarian traditions. At this same time, a general language reform movement was initiated nationwide.

       Some of the best known poets that emerged at this time included Mihály Csokonai Vitéz; Sándor Kisfaludy; Dániel Berzsenyi, known as the Hungarian Horace; Ferenc Kölcsey, remembered as the author of the Hungarian national anthem; Károly Kisfaludy, who continued the work of the organization of writers started by Ferenc Kazinczy; and József Katona, remembered as the best Hungarian tragedian.

       To preserve and strengthen the Hungarian language and literature, an Academy of Science was founded in 1830. With the successful emergence of Mihály Vörösmarty, the romantic movement in poetry spread rapidly, lending great impetus to the development of the language and literature of Hungary. Gergely Czuczor, József Bajza, Baron József Eötvös and János Garay were the most famous poets of this romantic category. The popular poetry of the talented and world famous Sándor Petofi introduced an original, completely new, but classic tendency into Hungarian poetry. He had many imitators and even more followers who used his work as a model. Of the latter, János Vajda, Gyula Reviczky, Sándor Endrodi and Kálmán Tóth are especially noteworthy. János Arany is credited with creating the most peculiarly Hungarian form of poetry. Mihály Tompa, Pál Gyulai, József Lévay, Károly Szász, Kálmán Thaly and László Arany, who was the son of János Arany, are the most memorable poets among his contemporaries.

       With the emergence of regular theatrical performances came the growth of dramatics. By 1860 Imre Madách had written his eternal human





drama, "The Tragedy of Man." Among the novelists Baron Miklós Jósika, Baron József Eötvös, and Baron Zsigmond Kemény attained distinction. The prolific Mór Jókai, the great story-teller, reaped world-wide success and acclaim that has remained unparalleled since by any other Hungarian.

       The symbolic poetry of the especially talented Endre Ady established a new direction for poetic expression in the early part of the twentieth century. His contemporaries included Emil Ábrányi, József Kiss, Miklós Bárd, Andor Kozma, Mihály Babits, Dezso Kosztolányi, Gyula Juhász, Mihály Szabolcska and Árpád Tóth. Jókai's position in prose was taken over by the satiric Kálmán Mikszáth, the popular Géza Gárdonyi and the foremost prose writer of the period, the elegant, conservative Ferenc Herczeg.

       Hungary continued to turn out more and more excellent writers. Between the two world wars, as a consequence of the Trianon Treaty which partitioned the thousand year territory of Hungary into four parts, Hungarian literature also developed along the lines of four different and distinct categories. In Hungary, Ferenc Herczeg, Zsigmond Móricz, Dezso Szabó, Lajos Zilahy, Miklós Surányi, Zoltán Szitnyai, János Kodolányi, István Eszterhás created prose works. Lajos Áprily, Lorinc Szabó, Sándor Sík, Lajos Harsányi, Attila József, István Sinka, Gyula Illyés, Sándor Weöres and many others devoted their efforts to poetry, promoting the Hungarian language and literature. In addition to the two great playwrights, Ferenc Herczeg and world renowned Ferenc Molnár, many more talents appeared including Janos Kodolanyi and Marton Kerecsendi Kiss.

       In Transylvania, Áron Tamási; József Nyíro; Károly Koós; Albert Wass, who is now in America; and the great poet Sándor Reményik are worth special attention.

       In the north, in Czechoslovakia, Lászlo Mécs, the Catholic priest-poet, became one of the greatest Hungarian poets. In the south, in Yugoslavia, the Hungarian authors gathered in a group under the leadership of Károly Szirmai.


       With the coming of the Industrial Age, Hungary joined in the revolution in engineering and the sciences which is still in progress today. Hungary produced gifted men and women who helped lay the groundwork for the massive technological changes that have taken place all around us. Only the most noteworthy can be singled out from the hundreds who have taken an active and usually leading role in the advancement of the sciences.

       These outstanding Hungarian minds included Johann Andreas Segner, a mathematician and scientist who is chiefly remembered for his invention of the turbine; Joseph Carl Hell, pioneer in mining mechanization





and pumps; Maximilian Hell, mathematician and astronomer; Wolfgang, Kempelen, scientist and inventor of the mechanical chess player; Ányos Jedlik, inventor of the electrostatic impulse-generator; János Bolyai, mathematician who constructed non-Euclidian geometry; Tivadar Puskás, the inventor of the telephonic newspaper and the first operational broadcasting organization; Lóránd Eötvös, inventor of the torsion balance; David Schwarz, inventor of the dirigible; and Donat Bánki and János Csonka, inventors of the modern carburetor.

       Others included Károly Zipernowsky, Miksa Déri and Ottó T. Bláthy, inventors of the transformer; Kálmán Kandó, mechanical engineer and pioneer of railway electrification; Theodore Kármán, aerodynamics expert and the father of supersonic aeronautics; George Hevesy, Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry; Oszkár Asbóth, inventor of the helicopter; Imre Bródy, inventor of the krypton lamp; Dénes Mihály, pioneer of television in the 1920s; Kálmán Tihanyi, pioneer of television in the 1930s; Leo Szilárd, physicist and initiator of large-scale nuclear research in the U.S.; Georg Békésy, Nobel Prize laureate in physics and biophysics; Albert Szent Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry; and John Neumann, mathematician, developer of game theory, and inventor of the modern digital computer.