Lion, sparrowhawk, crane – Ancient symbols from coats of arms tell the story of the past of noble families in the Magnates' Quarter
Hungarian version of the article: Oroszlán, karvaly, darumadár – A címerek ősi szimbólumai a nemesi családok múltjáról mesélnek a mágnásnegyedben is
June 17, 2021 at 9:30 AM
In the 19th century, the economic development of Pest, the hope of work, livelihood and material prosperity attracted more and more people to the city. The attention of the aristocracy, on the other hand, was attracted the most by the political life of Pest and the social life that was developing in the meantime, although there is no doubt that for some, the construction of apartment buildings proved to be a profitable business. Buildings erected for this purpose were often little different from other tenements in the city.
Most of the private palaces, on the other hand, were significantly different from the other buildings in the city that the lords had built them mostly for themselves and their families. These residential buildings are still among the basic architectural and monumental values of our capital. Their appearance and decoration often tell us from afar that members of former aristocratic families lived among their walls.
The palace of Count György Festetics in the Magnates' Quarter in the 1870s, photographed by György Klösz (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)
The Festetics Palace on Pollack Mihály Square is today home to Andrássy University (Photo: Balázs Both / pestbuda.hu)
One of the most significant and telltale elements of the building decorations of the aristocratic palaces was the coat of arms, which can still be seen in many buildings in Pest and Buda. And although the Act IV of 1947 abolished the use of private coats of arms in addition to the noble forenames, badges and the terms referring to ethnic origin, they were not removed from the aristocratic buildings, so today, several buildings in our capital still show these symbols of (high) nobility.
In the second half of the 19th century, one of the favourite districts of the aristocracy moving to the city was the Magnates' Quarter around the National Museum, so it is no wonder that there are several buildings decorated with family coats of arms. The centre of the Magnates' Quarter was today's Pollack Mihály Square, which, due to its nature, created an excellent opportunity to build elegant, representative aristocratic palaces in its surroundings.
Count György Festetics, who built the palace in today's Pollack Mihály Square (Source: Vasárnapi Ujság,18 February 1883)
The first aristocratic building behind the National Museum was the Festetics Palace on the corner of today's Pollack Mihály Square and Bródy Sándor Street, which is currently home to Andrássy University. The palace was built in the early 1860s for Count György Festetics, the minister besides the King in the Andrássy government, according to the plans of Miklós Ybl. Later, due to the purchase of the adjacent plot of land, a garden was joined to the building, which was bordered by an ornate iron lattice from Pollack Mihály Square. Symbols referring to the Festetics family are clearly visible in both places.
The gate of the Festetics Palace in Pollack Mihály Square (Photo: Balázs Both / pestbuda.hu)
The Festetics family got their high rank in the 16th century, and they received the coat of arms of counts from Maria Theresa. Their estates were located in Transdanubia, Tolna county, and their forename was taken from its centre, Tolna.
The full coat of arms of the Festetics family, donated by Maria Theresa to Pál Festetics from Tolna. The main motifs of this, the coat of arms, can be seen in the Pest Palace (Source: Hungarian National Archives / Reference No.: HU-MNL-OL-P 235-11.-91.)
Their palace in Pest does not show the coat of arms itself, but its main motifs, the decorative parts, which are, of course, the same as those in the coat of arms. The coats of arms were placed in a prominent place, in a wrought-iron frame on the arch of the palace gate, which appears to be a later work than the palace itself.
The decorative parts of the coat of arms of the Festetics family appear in the arch. The heraldic animals are the (golden) lions facing each other, holding a drawn sword, standing on a crown, and a crane standing out of another crown, holding a stone in its right foot, turning to the right (Photo: Balázs Both / pestbuda.hu)
The coat of arms in the wrought-iron frame looks like a later work than the palace itself (Photo: Balázs Both / pestbuda.hu)
The same parts of the coat of arms can be found above the garden gate. In both places, animal depictions of the coat of arms appear: the (golden) lions standing on a crown facing each other, holding a drawn sword, and a right-turning crane protruding from another crown, holding a stone in its right foot. These are ancient symbols, but they are also meaningful to modern man, even though images do not always count as motifs with a clear meaning in heraldry emblems.
The sword and lion symbolize strength and militancy, referring to the merits gained in battle, which is no coincidence, as, among the ancestors of the family, we can meet several persons working in military fields since Turkish times. György Festetics, who built the palace, also initially served in the military, and his brother Tasziló achieved the rank of general. The crane holding the stone can also be linked to this profession: an ancient symbol that refers to vigilance and has become a symbol of castle guards and border guards in heraldry.
The iron fence and gate of the Festetics Palace garden overlooking Pollack Mihály Square in the 1870s, photographed by György Klösz (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)The main motifs of the coat of arms of the Festetics family at the gate of the palace garden overlooking Pollack Mihály Square (Photo: Balázs Both / pestbuda.hu)
Ancient symbols of the crown, lion and crane (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
In addition to the Festetics family, the Károlyi family was among the first to arrive in the Magnates' Quarter, where they embarked on residential construction. First Count Lajos Károlyi, then over time other members and descendants of the family also built here or bought real estate for themselves, and by the beginning of the 19th century, they owned several buildings.
Count Lajos Károlyi was the first member of the Károlyi family to have a palace built on today's Pollack Mihály Square (Source: ELTE University Library and Archives, No. RD21636).
The Károlyi Palace around the 1880s by György Klösz (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)
The Károlyi Palace today (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The Károlyi family traced their ancestry back to the time of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin, and they thought they descended from the Kaplony clan at that time. Their ancient estates included Nagykároly in Szatmár County, from which the family borrowed its first name. The family rose to the rank of baron in 1609, and a hundred years later, in 1712, we find them among the ranks of the counts. Their ancient coat of arms, obtained at the time they got the baron rank, was a sparrowhawk standing on one leg on a green mound or rock, holding a red heart with the other, raised leg (in some depictions, it gnaws the heart). In addition, as a shield holder, a winged dragon (also interpreted as a snake) with a golden crown holding its tail in its mouth wraps around the coat of arms, an ancient symbol of the eternal circle and constant renewal.
During their elevation to the rank of counts in 1712, the family coat of arms was expanded with a number of symbols while also preserving the ancestor, which was now housed in the heart shield of the new coat of arms. The new symbols included a deer perched on its hind legs, a single-headed eagle with extended wings, a two-tailed lion perched on its hind legs and a holding a flag with its forelegs, and a two-winged angel's head and a three-pronged crown with a winged, crown-wearing mermaid.
The coat of arms of the Károlyi family, which also includes the motifs of the family's former baronial coat of arms (Source: Hungarian National Archives / Reference No.: HU-MNL-OL-P 392-I.-7.-39.)
Several plans were made for the palace built by Lajos Károlyi on the corner of Pollack Mihály Square and Múzeum Street. Most of them depicting today's facade of Mihály Pollack Square show the huge family coat of arms on the main facade of the building, which could probably be included in the palace's construction program at the request of the count, as on the Festetics Palace, also designed by Ybl, the family coat of arms has no such special eye-catching role on the facade of the building.
The main facade of the Károlyi Palace in Pollack Mihály Square, the family coat of arms in a prominent place (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
In addition to its size, its location also indicates the distinguished role of the coat of arms: it is on the coronation ledge running along the balustrade. Finally, its aesthetic appearance is enhanced by the fact that, without following heraldic rules, the crowned shield is decorated with a garland of flowers and arranged in a triangular composition by a sitting female figure from the right and left as shield holders.
The family coat of arms with the female figures holding the coat of arms (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The garland decoration on the coat of arms does not follow the heraldic rules (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The crown decorating the family coat of arms (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The ancient coat of arms motif in the so-called heart shield can also be found among the facade decorations of the building. The arcaded driveway on Pollack Mihály Square is a prominent part of the aristocratic palace, and the carved stone slabs above the pillars show the sparrowhawk holding the heart. The same motif is echoed on the stone slabs above the pillars and half-columns decorating and dividing the floor of the main facade of Pollack Mihály Square.
The small driveway of the palace and the first-floor facade with the pillars dividing them (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
Embossed stone slabs above the upstairs pillar decorated with the heart-holding sparrowhawk (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The heart-holding sparrowhawk also appears on the embossed stone slabs above the upstairs pillar (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The relief stone slab with the ancient coat of arms and the heart-holding sparrowhawk (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
Opposite the palace of Lajos Károlyi, on the corner of today's Ötpacsirta és Múzeum Street, there is also a Károlyi palace, built by the children of Lajos's brother, Count István Károlyi: Counts Ede and Sándor Károlyi. The siblings started construction at the end of the 1860s, and the plans for the building, completed in the early 1870s, were made by Antal Szkalnitzky.
Count Sándor Károlyi and Count Ede Károlyi (Source: Gábor Éble: A nagy-károlyi gróf Károlyi család leszármazása a leányági ivadékok feltüntetésével. [The descent of Count Károlyi of Nagy-Károlyi with the indication of the offsprings of the daughter branch]. Bp., Franklin, 1913.)
Unfortunately, only contemporary photographs reveal that the roof of the cut corner of the building overlooking Pollack Mihály Square was also decorated with a huge family coat of arms. It was not located on the Múzeum Street side, nor on today's Ötpacsirta Street side, because due to the narrowness of the streets, the coat of arms would have prevailed less there. In the corner area, however, it was placed on a clearly visible, prominent section of the building. The corner section itself was the most prominent part of the building anyway. The windows on the first floor and the balcony door in the middle are decorated with herms on the corner, and the two side façades are separated by wall mirrors decorated with putts and garlands.
The palace of Count Sándor and Ede Károlyi in the 1870s, photographed by György Klösz, with the coat of arms on the corner (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)
According to the recording made by György Klösz, more details of the elements of the family coat of arms could be seen here than in the palace of Lajos Károlyi. The shield holders (telamons) in this case are not human figures, but - according to the coat of arms - those two-tailed lions turning outwards from the coat of arms, holding the shield itself with one of their first legs and raising a horsetail standard with the other.
The former palace of Count Sándor and Ede Károlyi is now on the corner of Múzeum Street and Ötpacsirta Street, without the family coat of arms (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
The coat of arms once stood on top of the polar cornice facade (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)
Cover photo: Family coat of arms on the main facade of Károlyi Palace Pollack Mihály Square (Photo: Zsolt Dubniczky / pestbuda.hu)