This is the single comprehensive Collection in Hungary where the material culture the Classical Antiquity can be studied directly and inmediately. Amounting to more than 5000 items, the collection, consisting of marble statues, textiles and pottery, as well as bronze and glass objects, embraces the entire period of antiquity. By this means, it provides a lively image of Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Graeco-Egyptian art. One fifth of the entire collection, 1000 works of art are displayed in the halls of the permanent exhibition, with such noted pieces among them as the Greek Figure of a Maiden known as the “Budapest Dancer;” the Grimani Jug, a masterpiece of Classical Greek bronze-smithing; and, evoking the Golden Age of Augustus, three relief plates from the renowned series depicting the Battle at Actium, which was so crucial for the fate of the Roman Empire.
When the Museum was founded, collecting original objects from classical times was not among its aims. Instead, the Museum further developed its collection of plaster casts of Classical sculptures inherited from the Hungarian National Museum. Even the architectural detailing of the museum's ground floor galleries was designed with the exhibition of these items in mind. However, through the efforts of Antal Hekler in 1908, the Museum purchased a series of 135 marble statues assembled for museum exhibition from Paul Arndt's collection in Munich, and these formed the basis of the department of antiquities. In 1914 Hekler was again instrumental in the museum's acquisition from Arndt of a collection of 650 terracotta figurines representing almost every major school from the Mycenaean age to the time of the Roman Empire. For some four decades these constituted the material of the department accordingly named the Gallery of Ancient Sculptures. A law passed in 1934 designated the Museum of Fine Arts as the central collection for antiquities found outside Hungary, but this was only put into effect after World War II. As a result, classical and oriental antiquities from the National Museum and other museums in Hungary came into the central collection of this museum's renamed Department of Antiquities. The collection was augmented by the purchase of some larger private collections and by smaller incidental purchases, as well as by the acquisition of some items by way of international exchange. Together with further acquisitions made after the Egyptian Collection became autonomous in 1957, it currently holds more than five thousand ancient objects.
The collection now includes a broad range of material that has expanded well beyond its original focus on sculpture. First of all there is a collection of more than one thousand vases; there are also Cypriot and Punic antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman bronzes; ancient glassware; painted mummy portraits as well as examples of stucco mummy masks from Egypt of the Roman Imperial Age; and finally some seven hundred relics of Coptic art, including a significant set of textiles, acquired mainly in the last two decades.
Since 1950, the permanent collection of the Department of Antiquities has presented its material in chronological order in a complex arrangement. It starts with neolithic and Cycladic idols and Archaic and Classical Greek art grouped according to artistic centres; emphasises the significant items of Hellenistic sculpture held in the museum; devotes much space to the cultures of Italy before the Roman conquest, including primarily Etruscan antiquities and red-figure vases of Southern Italy; groups relics from Rome and the provinces according to the centres in which they were produced; and concludes with the impressive collections of art objects from Graeco-Roman Egypt and of Coptic material (the latter in process of rearrangement).
Szilvia Bodnár (ed.), Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, Budapest 2006.