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Mihály Munkácsy: The Hungarian Conquest, 1893

The several-decade-long migration of the ancestors of the Hungarians ended around 892-896, when the Hungarians arrived in the territory of the Carpathian Basin lead by Árpád, the chief of the Hungarian alliance of tribes. The prehistory and the conquest of the Hungarians are well-processed materials both in historical literature and in art, especially in the 19th century when the date of the conquest was fixed scientifically to have happened in 896. For the millennium of this, year 1896, several significant pieces of art were born.
The Hungarian painter Mihály Munkácsy, living in Paris since 1871 and gaining fame there, prepared a monumental painting to the Budapest Parliament being built at that time. It immortalises the moment when chief Árpád, sitting with dignity on his white horse, surrounded by his jubilating chiefs, are receiving the gift of the new inhabitants of the mother country - based on the 12th century legend of notary Anonymus -, the homage of the Slavs bringing soil, grass and water in exchange for the white horse. The idea of the painting derives from Mór Jókai, the famous contemporary writer, back from 1882, but Munkácsy received the official order from the Parliament only in November 1890 when the construction was already in process. The political message of the painting was also formulated by Mór Jókai: Árpád should be depicted not as a devastating conqueror but a dignified chief, who gained homeland for his people and wanted to live in peace with the inhabitants already living in the invaded territory. The peace-making was an important moment since this legal act became the legal base of the Hungarian state, the source of all the future happenings, the token of the legitimacy of a millennium. The painting also reflects the popular historical conception of the so called double conquest according to which in reality Árpád found no strangers but Hungarians in the new homeland. These Hungarians, who receive Árpád's Hungarians jubilating, were the descendants of Huns living here under the domination of Attila the Hun.
The painting was finished in 1893 but at this time the building of the Parliament was not ready yet. As the opening came closer more and more people were against putting the painting to its originally set place: behind the presidential pulpit in the Deputy Council Chamber. Among the opponents was Imre Steindl, the architect of Parliament and several politicians, too. All of them referred to the size of the painting, but presumably the real motif was the escalation of the nationality problems which was raised also in connection with the painting. Eventually, the painting was taken to the Hungarian National Museum and from 1905 it was exhibited at a side corridor of the Museum of Fine Arts. In 1929 Béla Scitovszky, the Speaker of the Parliament, initiated its moving to the Parliament where the painting was incorporated into the longitudinal wall of the Presidential Hall. In the painting two famous people can be discovered. On the right side, among the talking Hungarians at the back, the self-portrait of Mihály Munkácsy can be recognised, while the bearded chief behind the head of the white horse resembles Mór Jókai.

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