(b. 1741, Wien, d. 1797, Sopron)

Béla III Founding the Cistercian Monastery at Szentgotthárd in 1183

Oil on canvas, 344 x 227 cm
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest

The Viennese Academic painter István Dorfmeister, who moved to Sopron as a young man became the most productive artist of the last third of the 18th century in the part of Hungary lying west of Danube. A significant part of his monumental paintings have historical subjects, conveying the political messages of the enlightened clerics and the national aspirations of the Hungarian nobility. A scene from the Battle of Mohács was, for example, incorporated in the decoration of the reception hall of the Cistercian Abbey of Szentgotthárd as a counterpart of the pannels capturing the Battle of Szentgotthárd. The main episodes from the history of the Cistercian Order of Hungary provided the theme for the series, beginning with the foundation of the Order.

The painting Béla III Founding the Cistercian Monastery at Szentgotthárd in 1183 was made in 1795-1796. It captures the moment when the French monks were received in front of an antique porticus. The king and his escort are shown wearing colourful Hungarian costumes. In the background we see the distant view of 18th-century Pest-Buda, with a few medieval details added; behind the monks the imaginary view of the Romanesque Church and Abbey of Szentgotthárd is depicted. The pure forms, the simple light effects and the use of light colours - the stylistic marks of Late Baroque mixed with the elements of Neo-Classicism, so appropriate at the end of the 18th century - suggest an optimistic view of history, which is a rarity in Hungarian art.