"I am strongly attracted to ceramics, but glass is the wonder in itself." These are the words of a seasoned archaeologist of the Middle Ages, whose typical childlike enthusiasm and exceptional vocabulary and object knowledge have made him one of the foremost connoisseurs of Hungarian glass history.
Gábor Kárpáti was born in 1943 into a family of engineers going back several generations in the paternal line. Although his musical talent had emerged so early that he won national violin competitions and was destined by his violin teachers to the Academy of Music, at the age of 6-7 he decided to become an archaeologist: I didn't want to become anything but an archaeologist, he said. Even as a boy in the early 1950s, he "worked" as a water worker at the excavation of a Roman villa and a medieval cemetery chapel.
In 1962, at the urging of his teacher, he enrolled in the archaeology course at Charles University in Prague, where he was the only one among 1,700 applicants to be admitted and receive a state scholarship. He spent his first year in a small tourist town in northern Bohemia, whose inhabitants were predominantly German-speaking. He learned Czech by borrowing the largest volume in the library, Romain Rolland's novel about Jean Christoph, translated by Karel Čapek, considered the greatest figure in Czech literature. He learned that book to perfection, which was the basis of his knowledge of the Czech language. The head of the university department was the then president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, a famous scholar of the Celtic world. At the university he was involved in the events of the Prague Spring of 1968, which almost broke his career in two. The Hungarian cultural attaché accused him of actively participating in the demonstrations. He was expelled from the country just before the graduation ceremony along with all Hungarian students studying in Prague. Only in 1982 was he given the opportunity to discuss his dissertation in Czechoslovakia. By then he had already conducted important archaeological excavations in Hungary. He was offered a job at the National Museum in Budapest but chose Pécs, a city he adored all his life. On the express recommendation of his professor, he began his career as an archaeologist at the National Museum in Prague without a degree, then from 1970 to 2005 he worked as an archaeologist (with a brief but significant stint in Pécsvárad) and then department head at the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs until his retirement.
From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s he unearthed nearly 300 public wells and cellars in and around Pécs. The excavations returned a significant amount of glass artifacts. The findings show that as early as the 15th century, the trade in glassware, a luxury product at the time, allowed wealthier citizens to use blown Venetian glass bottles from Murano workshops or light-brown, double-tapered glass vessels (six-handled Loštice glass) imported from northern Moravia in their homes.
"Basically the most advanced Italian glassmaking technology of the time arrived in Pécs," he said, "but not by accident, since Janus Pannonius lived here.
"Antal, the crystal goblet you sent me the other day broke during the trip, unfortunately ... send me any gift, but not a fragile gift!" Janus Pannonius 1465
Janus Pannonius (1434-1472) was the first prominent humanist poet of Hungarian literature, known throughout Europe at the time, bishop of Pécs, first a pupil and then a persecutor of King Mátyás Hunyadi, who played a key role in the spread of Renaissance culture in Hungary. In Pécs, for example, a majolica workshop of Mátyás Hunyadi was discovered and, in an extremely adventurous way, Janus Pannonius himself, whose tomb was discovered and identified by Gábor Kárpáti in the crypt of Pécs Cathedral. Unfortunately, until 1991 it was not known exactly where he was buried. From the tarred remains of the tomb, the identification of the lead papal bull issued by Pope Paul II held in the deceased person's left hand, and the location of the tomb, Kárpáti came to the conclusion that the person lying in the tomb was indeed Janus Pannonius. This assumption was later confirmed by anthropological research.
Under the leadership of Gábor Kárpáti, numerous excavations of monasteries were conducted in the urban area of Pécs: the Carmelite monastery of St. Ladislaus, the Dominican monastery of St. Thomas, the building of the hermits of the Order of St. Augustine, and the sanctuary of the monastic church of St. Francis. These buildings are of particular importance because there were only three places in Hungary, Buda, Prešov (now in Slovakia) and Pécs with a large number of mendicant orders, and this fact marked a greater degree of urbanization. Also associated with his name is the excavation of the Jakabhegyi-Pálos Monastery, Hungary's first monastic order founded in 1225, on the outskirts of Pécs and mined out of a three- to four-meter-high layer of earth by uranium miners in the 1970s and 1980s. The monastery is associated with the birth of the Hungarian Pauline order. He also participated in the excavation of the Pécsvárad Castle (the castle is associated with Hungary's oldest Christian royal family, the House of Árpád) and, of course, researched Pécs' Turkish-era monuments (e.g., the baths of Memi Pasha, the excavation of the mass grave of the Battle of Mohács).
He excavated several parts of the ancient Roman city of Sopianae, such as the forum and public baths, which were probably the largest public baths in the Pannonian Region, a large settlement area around the Main Post Office, residential buildings, and also connected to his name are the excavations of early Christian monuments in the center of Pécs, such as the burial chambers I (Peter and Paul), IV, V, and XIX. These monuments are now part of the World Heritage Site. Excavations from the Roman period also yielded a great wealth of glass artifacts, and, often in scrappy conditions, attempts were made in the socialist period to save extremely fragile glass objects using very primitive techniques. According to his wife's recollection, the glass inserts of the sarcophagi of the tombs were first mapped by trying to photograph the interior of the sarcophagus in the dark, slowly sliding the lid of the sarcophagus so that the glass plates would not shatter due to the sudden change in atmospheric pressure caused by opening the tombs after two thousand years.
Until his retirement he worked on nearly five hundred excavations, and his name can be associated with almost every major excavation that took place in the Baranya region in the past century.
In 1988 the first Hungarian glass fair was organized for the first time in a socialist country, with János Jegenyés and Gábor Kerényi, where Hungarian glass designers and craftsmen offered their decorative objects and jewelry. The event included an exhibition on the history of glass and demonstrations of glass technology in the exhibition area. In 1989 the event became international, with Czech artists demonstrating on platforms the art of glassblowing that could also be tried by visitors. His excellent language skills predisposed him to contact Czech, Russian, Polish and Italian workshops and artists, as he spoke Czech, English, German, Italian, Spanish and some French. Such language skills were not common, even among intellectuals of the socialist era.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Kárpáti devoted his private life entirely to glass as well. He set up a glass factory inside his home, where he installed glass furnaces and sold more sophisticated glass utensils and decorative objects in Europe, building on the work of glass designer Erzsébet Asztalos.
During this period, at the urging of János Jegenyés, he began the excavation and subsequent reconstruction of the furnace at Pusztabánya. The excavation work sometimes resembled more a youth camp for enthusiastic glassmakers and museologists than a workplace. Several glass artists visited the site and moved to the site for a few weeks, trying to map the work and lives of the masters and smelters of southern German and Czech-Moravian origin who worked in Eastern Mecsek between 1784 and 1804. The importance of the glass furnaces in the Eastern Mecsek area is demonstrated by the fact that their products (whether rustic bottles or customized and expensive glass) were also sold in Slavonia and the Southern Great Plain, as well as in the Southern Transdanubian region. The kiln in Pusztabánya was at that time the largest industrial plant in Baranya County.
His versatility is demonstrated by the fact that he taught architectural history at the Technical Faculty of the University of Pécs and knowledge of archaeological materials at the Department of Prehistory of the University of Pécs, taught a course on the history of glass at MOME entitled "Excavated Glass," taught furniture history in interior architecture and furniture courses, and gave very special and passionate lectures at various events. His guided tours in Czech, Italian, English, German, Polish, Spanish and many other European countries were very famous. A few days before his death, he was still telling students and glass artists at the Budapest University of Design (MOME), with undiminished enthusiasm, about the triumph of Venetian glass: anecdotes about the history of the Barovier family, which arrived in Murano from Treviso in 1291. Jacobello Barovier (1295), who was succeeded in the trade by his sons Antonio, Bartolomeo (1348) and his son Angelo. Of Antonio Barovier we know that he was greatly influenced by the philosopher and alchemist Paolo Godi da Pergola, who applied his knowledge of metal alloying to glass coloring and invented lattimo, chalcedony and veined agate, in imitation of Chinese porcelain. Angelum Venetum optimum artificem crystallinorum vasorum, crystal = colorless and transparent glass, is first mentioned in 1453. Its raw material was quartz from the Tagliamento River, with low iron content, crushed into powder.
He also told of Barovier's unfortunate son-in-law, Zorzi (Giorgio), a native of Split, when in 1456 a worker dropped a blowpipe on his left leg and due to the pain he jumped in a very strange way, so much so that the nickname of Ballarin (dancer) later became the surname of Zorzi the lame.