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Colloque La physiognomonie à la Renaissance / The Arts and Sciences of the Face 1500–1850

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The Physiognomy of King Matthias Corvinus
Enikő Békés (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest)

14 décembre 2007

Les usages de la physiognomonie - session Les interprétations politiques présidée par Lina Bolzoni (Pise).

The aim of this paper is to analyse the representations, both textual and visual, of King Matthias Corvinus in the light of Antique physiognomical theories. I intend to focus mainly on those descriptions and portraits which were influenced by the lion’s physiognomy.
The method of my analysis is mainly philological: I have compared the characteristic traits of the textual and visual portraits with the physiognomical writings, and demonstrated that the theories could indeed have influenced the representations. The paper is related to the topic of the imitatio Alexandri which had a long tradition during the Middle Ages, often interwoven with the lion’s symbolism, and it was actualised according to the historical and political situation in the case of King Matthias. The Alexander metaphor existed earlier than the descriptions and portraits to be presented, since it was originally elaborated by the Italian humanists after having realised that Europe’s last hope for defeating the Turks was the Hungarian king. The paper aims at presenting how was the Antique, pagan lion-metaphor reinterpreted in the entourage of King Matthias.
The physiognomical analysis of King Matthias’ portraits, which has hitherto not been elaborated in detail, has supported the hypothesis that the ruler’s representations were indeed constructed according to certain ideals by applying patterns inherited from Antiquity onwards. It also can be stated that in the shaping of Matthias’ physiognomy the ruler had an as important role as the Italian Humanists. The Antique theories of physiognomy contribute to a more exact interpretation of his images, and the physiognomical comparison has resulted in a more nuanced picture about his iconography. Due to the research we can plausibly place the leonine images of King Matthias among the Renaissance state-portraits, after having taken into consideration the king’s political intentions as well.
The analysis has also proved by philological evidence that physiognomy could indeed have influenced the descriptions and portraits of the king. The examination of the sources has resulted that the role of Galeotto Marzio must have been crucial in mediating the physiognomical theories towards the Buda court. I have also demonstrated that in his work physiognomy appears as an element of the theories related to the good governance.

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Enikő Békés Enikő Békés (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest)