Artefact of the Month

Szekszárd Wine Press – Crossbeam 1/Sep/2016 - 15/Oct/2016

The first viniculture and winemaking exhibition in Hungary was held in 1914 in the City Park Hall of Industry, a building then occupied by the Museum of Ethnography.  In addition to contemporary winemaking and storage equipment, the exhibition also featured displays of antique artefacts representing the history of domestic grape cultivation and processing.  In preparation for the event, Ethnography Department Director Vilibald Semayer and his colleague, Lipót Ács, embarked on a collecting tour with destinations that included, among other places, the city of Szekszárd, where the pair came across a thatched-roofed wine cellar; inside, a beautifully crafted and graciously preserved double-spindled wine press, which they promptly collected.

For the hundred-year anniversary of this acquisition, the museum is proud to have placed this beautiful piece – its crossbeam (or “idol”) and crown pediment decorated with inscriptions and images relevant both to Hungary, and to the history of wine production in Szekszárd –once again on display.  The inscriptions, though in Hungarian, are ornamented in the style typical of the distinctive Austrian and German folk furniture used by the Magyarised German artisans and viniculturalists who settled in Szekszárd in the course of the 18th century.  The poem carved into the beam appears on several other locally made presses, including one bearing a date of 1824.  The first line – “Attend, Lord, to my affairs ...” – originates from a popular psalm by Tolna County pastor Bálint Fabricius (Tolnai), a Reformed (Calvinist) pastor educated in Wittenberg.  The work first appeared in the Debrecen Reformed Song Book published in 1590, and later in Catholic song books, as well.  Adhering to either end of the hefty beam are pieces of colour printed paper.  According to the label, the one on the left depicts “Our Valiant Father Árpád,” leader of the Magyar tribes that first conquered the Carpathian Basin.  The image on the right is of King Matthias, accompanied by the barely discernible lines of a poem:  “What Matthias and the  good father (...) withstood, no living Hungarian can move”.  Though neither the origins, nor the precise meaning of the text are known, it may have been inspired by the reprisals that followed the deeds of János Vitéz, whose estates in Matthias’s time included Szekszárd, and who led a conspiracy against the king, or by the grim memory of Hungary’s struggles against the Ottomans and subsequent occupation of the region.  The image painted on the centre of the beam is of Bishop Urban of Langres, the last of the “ice saints,” patron of viticulturists, coopers, and innkeepers, and the most widely revered protector of the harvest in Europe.  The cult of Urban, like so many other things, reached Hungary via the intermediation of German ethnic groups.  Saint Urban’s Day, May 25th, was an occasion for predicting the weather.  A sculpture of the saint was placed on public display and decorated with flowers.  If Urban brought good weather, this was seen as betokening a fair autumn and bountiful harvest, and the image was bewreathed, fed egg bread, and anointed with wine (which participants drank, as well).  If, however, the saint brought cold weather or rain – that is, if he inflicted damage on the then-budding grape vines – his image was slung with mud, cast into the water, dragged through the dirt, and spit upon.  Such ceremonies display a mixture of ancient religious elements, intended to exert an influence on natural forces, and features of the later Christian cults of the saints.  In this case, Urban, who was traditionally portrayed wearing his bishop’s mitre, might bring good or bad and was therefore subjected to good or bad treatment.  The text below his portrait reads, “Bishop Saint Urban, pray for us”.  Urban’s name, which was linked to wine, a source of good humour, also featured in a folk idiom:  when someone had had too much to drink he was said to have “put on Urban’s mitre”.

The crossbeam’s crown pediment is adorned with an image of the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Lady of the Hungarians and patron saint of grape growers (the fathers of the church likened Mary, who bore Jesus, to a vine that bore fruit), whose depiction combines attributes of both the Immaculate Virgin, and the Woman of the Apocalypse.  Her head is encircled by a wreath of twelve stars, while her feet, which rest upon the sphere of the earth, stand poised to trample a snake, the symbol of evil.  The text below the portrait - “Mary, refuge of sinners, pray for us” – stems from the portion of the Loreto Litanies that invokes the Virgin.