The Cup of Prince Bocskai / The History of Romania in One Object

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Photo 1: Prince Stephen Bocskai’s Cup, detail, The National Museum of Transylvanian History (MNIT)

On August 29, 1526, at the Battle of Mohács, the forces of the Ottoman Empire, led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, annihilated the Hungarian army. This major defeat was followed in 1541 by the fall of the city of Buda, which led to the division of Hungary into three parts. The Western part was placed under the rule of the Habsburg Empire, the Eastern part became an Ottoman province, and Transylvania remained an independent principality for the next 150 years. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Principality of Transylvania was ruled by Prince Stephen Bocskai, who was born in the Transylvanian city of Cluj, on January 1, 1557 and completed his education at the imperial court in Vienna and Prague. He returned to Transylvania in 1581, after the death of Prince Christopher Báthory, as the teacher and adviser of the minor prince, Sigismund Báthory, his nephew.

Stephen Bocskai was one of the main promoters of the anti-Ottoman struggle and actively advocated the joining of Transylvania to the Holy League (an alliance of Christian states initiated in 1571 by Pope Pius V intended to break the Ottoman Empire’s control of the eastern Mediterranean Sea). In 1604 he became the great leader of an anti-Habsburg insurrection which resulted in the elimination of the imperial influence over Transylvania, and the conclusion of the Peace of Zsitvatorok, which put an end to the Fifteen Years' War between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy.

Photo 2: Prince Stephen Bocskai, watercolor, 18th Century, MNIT

Photo 3: The house where Stephen Bocskai was born in Cluj-Napoca

Photo 4: Prince Stephen Bocskai, 17th Century engraving

In November 1604, Stefan Bocskai was appointed prince of Transylvania by the Sublime Porte, the high institution he opposed so fiercely just a decade earlier. In February 1605, his appointment was confirmed by the Diet (assembly) of Miercurea Nirajului, and on September 14 by the vote of all the privileged classes of the province, reunited in the Diet of Mediaș. The same year, in November, the Turks offered Prince Bocskai, in a lavish ceremony, the crown of King of Hungary. Bocskai received it in custody but refused to be crowned.

Stephen Bocskai was a great personality who met all the qualities of a great statesman: he was a skilled politician, a valuable military commander and a gifted diplomat. He was also the first of the great Transylvanian Calvinist princes of the 17th Century.

Photo 5: The royal crown of Prince Stephen Bocskai (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)

Photo 6: Prince Stephen Bocskai mace (MNIT)

Photo 7 and 8: Stephen Bocskai's silver coin reverse and obverse, 1606 (MNIT)

Photo 9: Prince Stephen Bocskai’s Cup (MNIT)

Prince Stephen Bocskai’s Cup is a truncated cone-shaped gilded silver cup with a domed sole, domed lid, an S-shaped handle and a palmette-shaped hinge, combined with volutes. The lid is decorated with the ronde-bosse representation of the coat of arms of the prince, a lion sitting on big rocks, with his snout wide open, holding an arrow in his right paw. The central register of the cup, decorated by granulation, depicts the engraved coat of arms of the prince, framed by an oval laurel wreath and the inscription STEP [hanus] BO [cskai] DE KIS MAR [ja] PRI [nceps] TRANSYLVA [niae]. The same coat of arms appears on the lower part of the handle, on a Renaissance like shield.

Photo 10: Prince Stephen Bocskai’s Cup, detail

The inscriptions engraved on the lid tell us the history of the cup, which was probably sold during the 19th century, getting on the antiques market. On July 26 1859, in Cluj, it was offered as a horse race prize to Baron István Wesselényi. The cup was donated by Baron Stephen Wesselényi to the Transylvanian Museum Society, the forerunner of the National Museum of Transylvanian History. Prince Stephen Bocskai’s Cup was made in the first decade of the 17th Century in an unidentified foreign workshop.

Text by curator and historian Melinda Mihály. Video presentation by curator and historian Ana-Maria Gruia. Film concept by Geanina Simion and Dragoș Popa. A team of The National Museum of Transylvanian History in Cluj-Napoca.

The second season of THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with two of the most important history museums in the country, Moldavia's History Museum in Iași and The National Museum of Transylvanian History in Cluj-Napoca.

#TheHistoryofRomaniainOneObject #TheCupofPrinceBocskai

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