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King Mathias’ Crossbow Has Been on Display in New York for 100 Years

Tamás Vaski 2021.02.12.

The crossbow of one of the greatest Hungarian kings of all time, Mathias Corvinus, has been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for 100 years. It is currently recognized in the art history community as an original, but Hungarian researchers in the 20th century rejected its authenticity.

In a 1946/7 Budapest journal, art historian István Genthon, a researcher of Hungarian art, announced his doubts around the crossbow, saying “clearly it is an English counterfeit from the beginning of the XIX. Century, a time when it was fashionable to collect the weapons of famous people.”

The artifact was apparently offered to the Hungarian National Museum at the beginning of the 1920s, but the museum’s director, Elemér Varjú, found the appearance of the coat of arms suspicious, and ended up rejecting the offer. Thus, the weapon came into the hands of the Julius Böhler company in Munich, who sold it to Bashford Dean, an expert on medieval and modern armor, in 1925 for 2,000 dollars.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

According to Genthon, Dean came to the Hungarian National Museum six months later to sell them the historical piece, asking for little, but the museum rejected his offer.

Fact

King Mathias Corvinus, also known as Mátyás Hunyadi, Mátyás Corvin, and Mátyás the Just, was the first king born from the famous Hunyadi family. He is by far one of the most popular Hungarian kings, known for revolutionizing the Hungarian Kingdom’s economy and forming the Black Army, one of the earliest professional standing armies in history.

Carved into the ornamented hunting crossbow’s bone plating are various animals, designs, depictions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the various coats of arms of Hungary, Bohemia, and the Hunyadi family. Perhaps the most interesting carving on the artifact, however, is the depiction of Saint George slaying the dragon, but the individual depicted in the heroic act is no other than King Mathias himself.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art describes the piece on its website, saying:

This crossbow is one of the earliest surviving dated examples to include heraldry in its decoration. It was made for Matthias Corvinus (1443–1490), king of Hungary and Bohemia, whose personal coat of arms and the arms of his kingdom are visible. In addition to its rich ornament, the crossbow is remarkable for its sophisticated firing mechanism.”

The museum will include the artifact in its 150th anniversary exhibit next year. New York’s Hungarian community should definitely consider attending.

500 Year Old Remains of Legendary Hungarian King Matthias to Get Worthy Burial?
500 Year Old Remains of Legendary Hungarian King Matthias to Get Worthy Burial?

The Hungarian Research Institute has initiated a historic project to identify the more than 500 year old remains of King Matthias of Hungary, and give him the opportunity for a worthy burial. Miklós Kásler, director of the National Institute of Oncology and Minister of Human Resources, informed the public in a Facebook video that the […]Continue reading

King Mátyás would probably laugh if he was told that more than 500 years later his crossbow would be located between the Empire State Building and the Yankee Stadium, on display for millions of people.

Featured photo via The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website