The lights dimmed on Budapest’s art scene when the Museum of Fine Arts closed for renovation in 2015, but they’re about to brighten again as the museum reopens its doors to reveal a unique wing that’s been closed off to the public for 70 years.
As the Museum of Fine Arts slowly prepares to reopen in October, visitors to Budapest can get a preview of the renovated museum until Easter. Although the paintings haven’t been hung up on display yet, there’s plenty to satiate any art lover in the fresco-clad Romanesque Hall, which has reopened for the first time to the public since it was bombed in 1945.
As the crowds step through the grand arched stone doors adorned with stone kings and lions, visitors stop in their tracks, craning their necks up, snapping photos in the hall set to the side of the museum that looks like it belongs in a basilica. Mural paintings covering nearly 2500 square metres of surface area in a regal palate of royal blues, deep reds, ocre and forest-green set against accents of gold leaf. The Romanesque-style hall supports a diverse cast inspired by Christian iconography and elements from Hungarian history, where you’ll find castles, Hungarian saints and kings, angels, and even Zodiac symbols, griffins, dragons, and peacocks co-starring amidst the intricate ornamentation.
Despite its antique appearance, the Romanesque Hall (initially constructed to house medieval plaster casts) was built in the early 1900s along with the rest of the museum, but in WWII its windows shattered after a bomb landed on the museum building causing not only immediate damage to the hall, but also long-term exposure to water which eroded the hall’s artistic features.
In December 2016, renovation of the hall began with a restoration team of over 70 conservators, who worked to repair the water damage and decades of neglect on the 100-year old murals. Now the once forgotten hall has reclaimed its former glory and opens its doors to the public once more. Until 2 April 2018, anyone can visit free of charge, every day from 10am to 5.40pm, and if you miss that slot, you’ll get plenty of time to gawk at the room when the museum reopens in autumn 2018.