Museum of Ethnography
H-1146, Budapest, Dózsa György út 35.
Phone: +36 1 474 2100
Text: Tamás Molnár
Photo: Zsolt Odler
The cradle, whose origins stretch back to Byzantine culture, originally came to Hungary via contact with Turkic peoples. Though historically one of the first articles of furniture to grace Hungarian homes, the earliest rocking specimens date to only the 13th century. In Hungary, a baby generally took possession of its cradle upon Christening, until which time it rested at its mother’s side in childbed. As the cradle’s history predates even ancient times, there are naturally myriad types. In addition to this painted, indoor rocker type, populations in many areas used mobile cradles or even pieces resembling simple troughs or washtubs. These latter types were born of practical considerations, as not long after giving birth, mothers typically re-assumed their responsibilities within the peasant working community. A tub cradle could be carried under the arm or even on one’s head, while a field cradle fashioned of rods and cloth could be set up virtually anywhere. The painted rocker cradle shown here is, for its part, a particularly beautiful example of its type.
The furniture makers of the village of Fadd in Tolna County included experts in both joinery, and woodcarving, whose style—characterised by bright-red painted tulips on a field of dark blue—developed under the influence of the second period in Komárom furniture manufacture around the middle of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, the flower motifs had proliferated to an exaggerated degree, while the range of base colours had been expanded to include both green, and white. The style persisted into the early 1900s.
Photo by Zsolt Odler
The piece seen here was made by Sándor Csapó, who married into the Keserű family in 1883. It was originally intended for his first child, a daughter named Erzsébet, born 10 March 1884. Painted on either side are the names of the baby’s parents (‘Sándor Capo,’ ‘Örzse Keserű’) and on one end, the date, 1884. The four hooks protruding from the sides were used to secure the blanket so that the child could neither fall out, nor become uncovered.
Then, as now, a baby’s resting place played an important role in the life of the family. Discounting Sándor Csapó’s large groom’s chest, the painted cradle was the Csapó couple’s first item of furniture. Other pieces—a corner bench, table, chest, and pair of beds, all in similar style—were commissioned only years later, in 1890. Once completed, the full set was arranged in the front room and remained there until the 1920s, when the children, following the couple’s death, divided it up among themselves. It was during this period that the cradle saw its final use (by a grandchild born in 1921), after which it was moved to the attic. It was collected for the museum in 1962 by Mária Kresz and Klára Csilléry, who, during the inventory process, recorded the following information:
According to those surviving today, the cradle was generally lined with a straw sack. Over this was laid some type of sheet, and under the head, a little pillow (‘kis vánkus’) made of twill cloth (‘csinvat’). The pillow was covered in a slip of white linen (‘slingölt’) on Sundays and multi-coloured, striped, or pink-and-blue patterned ‘kanavász’ on weekdays. Additionally, there was a rectangular duvet, also of ‘csinvat,’ with plain and holiday covers to match the pillow slips.
Thus, in developing an understanding of a museum piece such as this rocker cradle, curators typically look to multiple sources. Here, the object itself provided such information as when it was made and for whom. The painted date, too, beyond disclosing the year of manufacture, permitted curators to place its various stylistic markers within the overall development of Fadd furniture production. To be learned from local memory were the materials and decorative touches used in the making of its early 20th-century baby linens: i.e. pillow, pillow slip, duvet, and duvet cover. In this way, object, human memory, and curatorship have together rounded out our knowledge of the object’s past, forging from fragments an understanding that stands as a cohesive whole.
Inv. no.: 62.182.1