Conservation around the Millennium (Hungarian National Museum, 2001)

Pages - 106

history of book binding, they are unique accomplishments of the masters who worked in the workshop of Buda.1 THE FATE OF THE LIBRARY AFTER MATTHIAS'S DEATH King Matthias died in 1490. Ulászló, who succeeded him on the throne, did not carry on collecting and the library slowly started to decline. Due to financial problems, the codices ordered by Matthias but not completed in his lifetime remained in the copiers’ workshops and were later given to other libraries (e.g. the Medici library). Ulászló gave many volumes of the Corvina library as presents to envoys and humanists who arrived in the court. Some of the books that got into János Corvin’s possession passed into the property of György Brandenburg, who was the second husband of Beatrix Frangepán János Corvin’s widow. These volumes can be found at present in Wolfenbüttel. The rest of the Bibliotheca Corviniana were taken by the Turks to Constantinople in 1526. It will perhaps never be revealed how many codices got into the sultan’s possession. From the library, which got dispersed all over the world, 216 authentic corvinas have been registered, from which 53 can be found in Flungary. Some of them had an adventurous life until they arrived back. For example, the Turkish Porte gave emperor Franz Josef four codices as present at the opening of the Suez Canal, which he later returned to Hungary. Several Hungarian and Austrian princely delegations, French, English, Italian and Hungarian scientists would have liked to find the manuscripts that were kept for more than three hundred years in the Topkapi Serai in Constantinople, but for many years in vain. Finally in 1862, Arnold Ipolyi, after careful preparation, could enter the Turkish Treasury as the head of a delegation of scientists, and discovered some codices of the Corvina library. He could see already at that time that some of the manuscripts were in a very poor condition: “On some of the codices we examined and knew it was noticeable that the back boards of the torn or damaged bindings were moist, missing, rotting and mouldy.”2 It took fifteen more years until an advantageous circumstance led to the recovery of 35 codices in 1877. Sultan Abdul Hamid II gave them back, to return the gesture of the Hungarian youth taking the Turkish side during the Turkish- Russian war. This is how they arrived in the University Library of Budapest. Before their return, however, the strongly damaged volumes underwent “fast repair”. The Turks pulled apart the original bindings; they are most probably lost forever. The ragged edges of the leaves were glued with paper and parchment pieces, the sections were re-stitched but not according to the original technique, and the edges of the leaves weakened by mould were thickly covered with glue along the back. Many book bodies were strongly trimmed all around, so the ornaments at the edges and the notes were injured, mangled, and the painted, gilded fore-edges disappeared. The original parchment endpapers were usually kept, then the manuscripts were covered with new paperboard coated with red, green and white coloured leather. The leather covers were ornamented by Turkish insignia, crescents and King Matthias’s coat of arms in the centre. The fact of presenting was noted in gold Turkish letters in a few pages of each codex. This was the condition in which the 35 codices - among them 12 authentic corvinas - were placed into the safes of the University Library of Budapest, where they lay without being disturbed for more than 100 years. In the meantime, in the 30’s, then in 1960 and finally in 1980, photos were taken of the 106