1 Month, 1 Object, 1 Archaeologist - August 2019


Maiolica bowl decorated with the portrait of a young man
Chosen by archaeologist Károly Magyar

15-16th century, Italian maiolica
Found at Szent György Square in Budapest in 1999 


The case of the bowl that was almost lost, or: even archaeologists get lucky sometimes


Sometimes it depends solely on luck whether an archaeologist digs in the right spot and gets deep enough during the excavation to discover such a special find under the ground.


Running on for several years, excavations on the south-western side of Szent György Square started in 1994. Its former purpose being unknown (used secondarily as a cesspit, and then as a waste pit), the “extraction” of a rock pit, that played a key role in the discovery, has begun already in the first year. At that time, however, only 18-19th century glass and ceramic objects were found in it, thus its “extraction” was suspended.


When the excavation continued in the autumn of 1999, in 7 to 11 meters depth, Turkish finds (a metal capsule containing a paper roll amulet, Turkish pottery) emerged, and at 14 meters – right at the bottom of the pit – Late Medieval objects, including a gold coin from the time of King Louis II, were discovered.


It was also here that pieces of a maiolica bowl, supposedly an engagement gift decorated with a portrait of a young man, were unearthed. During the excavation, most of the bowl’s pieces were found, but work was discontinued due to the approaching winter and, unlike the usual procedure, the excavated soil was set aside for further inspection. In the spring, the soil was carefully combed through again, and further missing fragments of the bowl were collected. Archaeologists hurried with it to the conservators and watched excitedly as they assembled the entire bowl.


The tradition of gifting a gamelio d’amore, a so-called marriage bowl has spread widely in Italy in the 15th century. Usually the portrait of a man or a woman was painted in the inside of a bowl, the belly of a jug, or the side of a medicine bottle that the groom gave to the bride as an engagement present. Initially, schematic representations were used – however, from the 16th century onwards, the portraits became more and more lifelike, and sometimes they even included the name of the young couple.


The exhibited piece is a bowl with a simple rim. In the inside on the bottom, you can see the bust of a long-haired young man wearing a hat and a coat with a stand-up collar, with a green field and knotted reeds behind him. Its sides are decorated with a very finely detailed pattern consisting of a cord pattern, a twisted ribbon, a tracery-like, triangular, stylized pattern, and rosettes with four petals. The bowl’s outside is decorated with large flower petals arranged in rows. There is also a workshop sign on its bottom: three stars around an “F”.


Károly Magyar



About the series


The Castle Museum of the Budapest History Museum has started a series entitled 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist in October 2017. Since August 2018, parts of the series are also available in English.  


All of the archaeological excavations in Budapest are carried out by the employees of the Budapest History Museum – the archaeologists of the Castle Museum are responsible for the ones connected to the Middle Ages. The objects unearthed during these digs become part of the Castle Museum’s collections.   


The aim of the series is to showcase the beauty and the importance of archaeology through personal stories by the employees of the Museum. There is always an interesting or exciting story connected to the object they one of them chooses in a respective month which not only tells you more about history but also about the relationship of the archaeologist to the item in question.


The series 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist is about showing the people behind the exhibitions – the ones who investigate, search, dig and look for connections between the past and the present; the ones whose choice hopefully provides something exciting to the visitors, joining together personal stories with historical knowledge strictly based on facts.   


The object chosen for a certain month is exhibited in the Királypince (King’s Cellar) which was originally a part of the medieval gardens.  


Parts of the series: