It was in the beginning of the eighteenth century that the present style of Hungarian folk art took shape, incorporating both Renaissance and Baroque elements, depending on the area, as well as Persian Sassanide influences. Flowers and leaves, sometimes a bird or a spiral ornament, are the principal decorative themes. The most frequent ornament is a flower with a centerpiece resembling the eye of a peacock's feather.
Nearly all the manifestations of folk art practiced elsewhere in Europe also flourished among the Magyar peasantry at one time or another, their ceramics and textile being the most highly developed of all.
The finest achievements in their textile arts are the embroideries which vary from region to region. Those of Kalotaszeg in Transylvania are charming products of Oriental design, sewn chiefly in a single color - red, blue, or black. Soft in line, the embroideries are applied on altar cloths, pillow cases and sheets.
In Hungary proper Sárköz in Transdanubia and the Matyóföld in the Great Plain produce the finest embroideries. In the Sárköz region the women's caps show black and white designs as delicate as lace and give evidence of the people's wonderfully subtle artistic feeling. The embroidery motifs applied to women's wear have also been transposed to tablecloths and runners suitable for modern use as wall decorations.
Mezökövesd - The land of Matyo art crafts
Matyó folk embroidery, originating in Mezökövesd, is popular both within Hungary and abroad. Shawls, tablecloths and aprons of black material are thickly embroidered with a dense accumulation of multicolored flowers in rich Oriental colors which harmonize despite their gaudiness. According to legend, there is a symbolism in the colors used in Matyo decorative work: black represents the soil from which life springs, red is the color of summer - representing light and joy - and blue stands for grief and death.
Matyó embroidery decorates men's wear, too, providing men with coats, vests and shirts more ornate than anywhere else in the country.
also ranks high in popularity. "Writing women" in this town on the Danube in Southern Hungary draw their designs on white or pastel colored fabrics. Daisies, marigolds, cornflowers, poppies, lilies, tulips and roses furnish the colorful motifs. Kalocsa designs are also applied to wall decorations.
The reason embroidery has become so widespread in folk art lies in the ancient custom of dowry. It was expected that a well-to-do peasant family provide their marriageable daughter with a dozen ornate pillows and embroidered sheets, two to four decorated featherbeds and six to eight embroidered tablecloths. It was not uncommon for a girl or young woman coming from a prosperous family to possess up to twenty dresses, for the most part richly embroidered.
The peasant costumes of the Székelys in Transylvania are especially distinctive, preserving more ancestral motifs than those in other parts of the country, probably because of their ethnographic isolation. In Transylvania, the easternmost part of the Carpathian Basin, the greater part of the territory is hilly and, as a result, most of the people breed cattle instead of working in the field. Accordingly, the Székelys have been using hides to make clothes for many centuries. Both men and women wear leather jackets of various lengths and shapes (as the conquering Magyars must have done ages ago) richly embroidered with traditional patterns. Another ancestral material long used by the Magyars is broadcloth made of sheep's wool. The Székelys still make this special cloth and color it with vegetable dyes. The tight, close-fitting men's trousers are made of this thick, stiff cloth, as are other garments.
The women's skirts are always striped. Black and red and green and blue, are the usual colors, especially for the younger women. On Sundays after church the streets of a Székely village are most picturesque as the many-colored striped skirts present a different picture at every step.
One of the favorite destinations for lovers of ethnographic art in Transylvania is Kalotaszeg. A famous painter, referring to the beauty of the women's costumes in Kalotaszeg, once asserted that even the ancient Greeks would not have found them barbaric. Their lines and cut conform to the structure of the human body, so that besides being picturesque they are architectonic too. Women's aprons, worn both front and back, are especially interesting parts of their apparel. Both aprons are gathered into small folds. The back apron is hemmed with broad, colored cloth - generally bright red - and is fastened in such a way that the colored hem shows curious shapes and, especially when walking, the movements of its wearer are accentuated.
The pearly headbands worn by the girls in Kalotaszeg are modeled after those worn by the noble ladies of earlier times, while their soft red leather boots with turned-up toes are Turkish derivatives. The Rumanians living in the Kalotaszeg area have borrowed much from the Magyars in clothing and footwear styles.
Another locality in Transylvania known for its unique folk wear is Torocko, whose people use an unlikely, but pleasing, blend of materials in fashioning their wardrobe. Silk, lace and other expensive materials juxtaposed with primitive ancient robes made of leather and linen are blended into a harmonious ensemble. Form, color and ornament produce a uniform effect and show an extraordinarily developed taste.