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Hungary's Philosopher King: Matthias Corvinus 1458-90

Valery Rees surveys the life of the ruler who put 15th-century Hungary on the map, both culturally and geographically, but whose efforts may have put an intolerable strain on the body politic.

Renaissance-style cameos of Matthias and his Aragonese queen Beatrix, who brought with her an influx of Italian artists

Let me invite you on a journey across Europe in the 1480s. Life in the rich cloth towns of Antwerp or Bruges is easy to picture. We can visualise the glories of Italy in Florence, Siena, Urbino, Rome. Recent restoration work in Rothenburg and Bamberg shows how life was lived in Germany. But what about further east? Let us journey on across the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, eastwards from Bamberg, through Austria, stopping at Linz and the great monastery of Melk, into Bohemia, Slovakia and finally into Hungary. As we follow the course of the Danube through the changing landscapes of hills and river plains, we notice the cultural unity. The cities still look German: the churches are built in the same style, the language of learning and religion is still Latin. The king and queen of this great country are in close personal correspondence with Italian states and are steeped in Italian culture. So we can abandon any idea that Europe in the fifteenth century ends at Vienna.

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