On 18 November 2014 it was three hundred and fifty years since Count Miklós Zrínyi was fatally wounded in a hunting accident on his estate in part of what is now Croatia. The most outstanding Hungarian poet of his age, who was also a general, a writer on military theory and a statesman, will be commemorated in an exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery. The highlight of the exhibition is a portrait of Miklós Zrínyi painted by Jan Thomas, a student of Rubens. After more than three hundred years, this splendid painting is once again on display in Hungary.
Through a hundred or so objects (paintings, weapons, prints, engravings, maps, books and other artefacts), the exhibition brings to life the history of an important personality and an important family during the age of the wars with the Ottoman Empire. Paintings and engravings show the castles and estates owned by the Zrínyis, while Miklós Zrínyi’s literary works are documented with original volumes and manuscripts. The most spectacular section is the portrait gallery, with likenesses of Zrínyi himself, other members of his family, and some notable personages from the same era, including King Ferdinand III, Pál Esterházy, Ádám Batthyány and Péter Pázmány.
Jan Thomas’s portrait, referred to above, was used as the basis for the majority of later engravings of Zrínyi. It was only two decades ago that this outstanding portrait was found to have survived the ravages of history intact in a castle of the Czech Lobkowicz family. This portrait stands out among other contemporary portraits of Hungarian noblemen, and clearly shows how discerning Zrínyi was, for he chose the greatest artist available to him – Jan Thomas, court painter to the emperor in Vienna – to immortalise his likeness in the years before his death.
This work is joined by other paintings from the Lobkowicz Collection portraying three more members of the Zrínyi family. The portraits, together with other assets – the famous library, the manuscript of The Siege of Sziget, the armoury, and perhaps the document archive – probably ended up in Moravia through the widow of Miklós Zrínyi’s only son, Ádám. When Ádám Zrínyi died in battle, fighting for liberation from the Turks in 1691, he left no heir, and his widow later married a Czech nobleman. In 1860 the paintings were catalogued in the Lobkowicz Princely Collection. Nelahozeves Castle, close to Prague, and the nationalised collection were restituted to the ancient Czech noble family in the early 1990s, and their generous loans have enabled these great works to be seen in Hungary again after more than 300 years.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated volume of scholarly studies, and is curated by Ferenc Veress, with Tibor Rostás as co-curator.