The Károlyi Palace

An important relic of the capital’s neoclassical architecture, only the outside walls of the present Palace originate from the 17th and 18th centuries. Its architectural emphases and decorations were, almost without exception, built in the reform period between 1832–1841, during the extensive reconstruction work associated with the Károlyi family name. The building is the most important of the 19th-century aristocratic palaces in Pest, and its architecture is in keeping with its cultural and historical significance and the historic moments that it witnessed.

With its balanced, pure forms and restful proportions, the two-storey building appears unexpectedly from among the commotion, among the high buildings of the narrow streets in the inner city. The strong, broken dividing cornices, the windows connected with arched, transom architecture lead the eye across the main front of the building. Above the three-wing doorway opening in the middle, a balcony juts out with its stone consoles and ironwork. The stepped gable above is crowned by the Count’s coat of arms of the Károlyi family. On the escutcheon is the family’s heraldic animal, the sparrow hawk, ascending with a heart in its claws. The Ferenczy Street side maintains a neoclassical division similar to that of the main front. The side entrance with a straight hood mould is flanked by two Tuscan pilasters. The side on Henszlmann Street was built after 1934, after the demolition of the neighbouring Harruckern-Wenckheim house, as a careful adaptation of the original architecture. On walking through the woodbrick-paved carriage-entrance, you come to a grassy courtyard behind the main front of the Palace, which is surrounded by the U-shaped wings of the building. Railings separate it from the recently renovated Károlyi Park, which once belonged to the Palace and extended it as far as Magyar Street. It has been public property since 1928. From the garden, the sheer size of the impressive, two-storey inner front of the courtyard is revealed before us. Above the three-axle middle-bay doorways ending in a tympanum, the central motive is once more a balcony, onto which the arched windows of the Museum Library open.

Through the triple, round-arched entrance opening in the middle of the vestibule, we come to the three-flight red marble stairs decorated with cast-iron work and candelabra. Above the dividing cornice on the main stairway run arched, shoulder-ridged blind arcades with two pilasters with ornamental capitals stretching up to the projecting cornice between each of them. The arched, shoulder-ridged form of the three glass doors upstairs rhymes with those on the ground floor, and the motive of the three arcades is repeated on the opposite side of the entrance hall. The area above the resting-place in the entrance hall is closed by the elaborate ironwork of the enormous hipped glass roof. Adorning the pilaster-divided architectural sections of the walls in the Aula (163 m2) situated before the Library is the Károlyi family’s portrait gallery. Built in 1838, the Library, with its neo-classical, mahogany furniture decorated with delicate architectural elements, has remained intact. In addition to the gallery and the bookcases, specially designed furniture for the reading room completes the picture.

Owing to the restoration that affected the whole building and was completed in December 2000, five of the beautiful series of halls in the main wing facing Károlyi Mihály Street have retained their original form. These are the Ceremonial Hall, the Balcony Hall, the Scarlet Hall, the Lotz Hall and the Hall of Mirrors. The reconstruction of the historical interiors and the renovation of the textile and paper hangings, the gilding, the imitation marble and the stuccowork were completed with the reconstruction of the fireplaces and chandeliers.

The most impressive is the Ceremonial Hall (120m2) with its five windows and marble revetment, and its three enormous mirrors over the hand-carved marble fireplace. Each of the window apertures and the two doors and three mirrors opposite are flanked by two pairs of richly gilded pilasters with Corinthian capitals, while at either side of the entrances in the shorter walls, pilasters stretch upwards to the cornice under the opulently decorated stuccoed ceiling. Next to the Ceremonial Hall the white walls of the Balcony Hall (78m2), with its three windows and opening onto the iron-work balcony of the main front, are covered with imitation marble. The reception room, which is now called the Lotz Hall (96m2), was named after the mural on the ceiling. Károly Lotz’s (1833–1904) work depicting the Muses was moved here in 1942 from the Wodianer Palace, which was to be demolished (3, Liszt Ferenc Square), to the institution which at the time functioned as the Budapest Picture Gallery. The ceiling of the Scarlet Hall (94m2) is original, while the drapery covering the walls was designed and reproduced on the basis of material samples uncovered during reconstruction. The Music Hall or Hall of Mirrors has magnificent tobacco and gold-coloured wood panelling (boiserie) on its walls, with embedded mirrors that were such a feature of the interiors of the 19th century.

The adjacent room, today the Bártfay Salon, honours Count György Károlyi’s secretary, László Bártfay (1797–1858). The room was formerly part of the countess’s apartments. Stepping out into the corridor, you find yourself in a room that once functioned as a flower hall, later a picture gallery – its walls, together with the walls of the chapel, are covered with patterned green damask. In the orders of arches for the doors and windows and on the ceiling of the Chapel the magnificent carved wood panelling has fortunately survived in its original form. Once serving as the Károlyi archives, the two rooms on the ground floor have also had their original 18th-century neoclassical furniture returned to them.