Edina Zsupán (National Széchényi Library, Budapest)

Letter style change – culture change: the emergence and establishment of humanistic writing in Hungary in the circles of Johannes Vitéz de Zredna

The paper will show how visual appearance of writing has become an integral and essential part of cultural transmission in Hungary, reflecting a more comprehensive process, the reception of Italian humanism and Renaissance.

Due to the intensive political, economic and cultural exchanges between Italy and Hungary, humanism became a norm in the culture of the Hungarian elite as early as the middle of the fifteenth century. As a result, a strong and authentic humanistic book culture emerged in the country through the importation of Renaissance codices and scribes. This phenomenon also modified the visual demands placed on written documents in Hungary. The key figure in this movement was Archbishop and Chancellor Johannes Vitéz de Zredna (c. 1408–1472). Throughout his career as a prelate, he has made systematic efforts to improve the cultural standard of the country, based on humanistic ideas. In addition to founding a university and printing press, having circles of learned men in his court, sending talented young people to Italy and creating a humanistic library, Johannes Vitéz also very consciously tried to adapt the appearance of manuscripts, made in his surroundings, to humanistic forms, including writing.  The aim of this paper is to discuss the most important stages of this development as well as its peculiarities: the scribes, the writings to be imitated and the codicological features of the Hungarian Renaissance manuscripts.

Vitéz’s personal effort had a general effect on Hungary’s writing culture. The humanistic writing and codicological features developed under his auspices did not disappear after his death, but decades later laid the foundation for the development of humanistic writing in the royal book-making workshop. They even made it possible to identify the manuscripts copied in the Hungarian court, and not purchased from Italy, among the splendid Renaissance codices of the Corvina Library.

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