Restoration of Géza Gárdonyi's Oil Lamp

Géza Gárdonyi's sons looked after the writer's estate after his death in 1922. His house in Eger, consisting of three rooms, became a real place of pilgrimage, visited by many friends and interested visitors. Sándor, one of Gárdonyi's sons, welcomed guests, showing them around Gárdonyi's virtually intact study.

The Gárdonyi Collection is one of the most comprehensive literary legacies in Hungarian literary history. In 1952 the Gárdonyi's home opened as a memorial museum. The writer's former residence is one of the best-preserved memorial sites, thanks to the efforts of the Gárdonyi family and the István Dobó Castle Museum, which now curates the writer's former home.


Géza Gárdonyi Memorial Museum (photo by Gábor Szinok, István Dobó Castle Museum)


There was a lamp in the study used by the writer himself. An unfortunate accident led to the floral glass shade breaking. Only the lamp's metal base was visible to visitors for many years. In 2019, the lamp's restoration began as part of a student thesis at the University of Fine Arts in Applied Arts in Budapest.


The petroleum lamp before restoration (photo by Gábor Nyíri, Hungarian National Museum)



The oil lamp consists of two parts, the metal base and the glass shade.

The metal base consists of nine brass and iron components. The cylindrical font made to store the oil is beautifully shaped. The base, stem and font are made of brass, the counterweight in the base is iron. The glass shade is richly decorated. The lamp’s knob bears the Viennese manufacturer's inscription “GEBRÜDER BRÜNNER *WIEN*”.


Manufacturer's mark (photo by Gábor Nyíri, Hungarian National Museum)



The glass shade has a colourless lower section and opaque hemispherical top. Pale blue enamel paint and a floral pattern in red, yellow, green and brown with highlights in gold cover this top. The floral design running around the shade consists of three symmetrically placed bouquets. Two golden stripes decorate the top.

Glass object design aims to provide an optimal combination of function and appearance. The glass materials influence the nature and projection of light. The opaque hemispherical shade throws a diffuse light into the room. The clear glass of the lower section provides a more intense, direct light, ideal for reading and writing.


Glass shade fragments (photo by Gábor Nyíri, Hungarian National Museum)


The first oil lamp manufactured in Europe dates from 1862 based on American designs. There were two significant manufacturers in Austria, Ditmar and Gebrüder Brünner. According to the knob, Gebrüder Brünner in Vienna manufactured the lamp. This factory was founded in 1857 by Gustav Brünner together with his brother Ferdinand Brünner. The company’s oil lamps were of a comparable standard to the R. Ditmar lamps with which they competed worldwide. The company had subsidiaries in Budapest, Lviv (Lemberg) and Prague. The company continued to expand and survived in Vienna until the turn of the 20th century. In 1907, Gebrüder Brünner merged with R. Ditmar. The company not only operated a subsidiary in Budapest but also opened a shop. An archive photo from 1911, showing the shop on Kossuth Street, bears witness to this.


Shop on Kossuth Lajos Street in Budapest


An example of their advertising is this coloured counting slip showing a child studying under a lamp, supervised by his father. Similar advertising material survives in several variations.


Counting slip advertising the company (source:



Customers could find out about products on offer using a trilingual catalogue in Hungarian, German and Czech. The company provided price details, serial numbers and illustrations to simplify the order process.

Gárdonyi’s oil lamp with its cast-iron base bears the serial number 11333.

The lamp chimneys and shades were essential parts of oil lamps. Various glassworks manufactured these items in the 19th century, with catalogues surviving that illustrate these products. These catalogues offered glass shades in a wide variety of shapes and colours. They also manufactured a diverse range of other glass items, including tableware, glasses, moulded glassware. It is, however, not possible to ascertain which glass factory made the lampshade, as these parts contained no factory mark. What we know for sure is that the Gebrüder Brünner factory manufactured Géza Gárdonyi's oil lamp.


Price list for lamps (source:


Before starting the restoration work, we thoroughly studied the lamp to establish the materials used in its manufacture, its state of repair and technical and historical significance. We examined the shade with a microscope to ascertain the painted surfaces' layers, thickness, and application sequence.


Brushstrokes and layering of the coloured decorations (photo by Melinda Sikéné Kovács, István Dobó Museum)


Dirt patterns became visible, along with residual glue smeared on the surface not visible to the naked eye. An earlier attempt to glue the glass pieces together had clearly occurred. We further investigated the body of the shade and the painted decorations, helping us to clarify its history and provenance. We have identified the manufacturer of the base and burner based on the name marked on the knob. Still, We cannot say who manufactured the glass parts due to the lack of manufacturer's marks. The results of analytical tests may one day shed light on this question. We carried out analyses using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and electron microprobe measurements.

The lampshade had broken into 57 pieces, several smaller ones and one missing piece of around 6×9 cm. The restoration aim was to reconstruct and strengthen the shade, recreating its original appearance and making it fully displayable. One of the most significant challenges involved replacing the missing piece, a technique little applied in Hungary and joining and glueing the pieces accurately together. The photos show the stages of this process:


Compiling the fragments (photo by Anna Focht)


Temporary glued fragments (photo by Gábor Nyíri, Hungarian National Museum)


Forming the wax for the addition (photo by Anna Focht)


Wax prepared for the mould (photo by Melinda Sikéné Kovács, István Dobó Castle Museum)


The glass opened out of the mould (photo by Melinda Kovács Sikéné, István Dobó Castle Museum)


Glass with a matt finish after removal of the moulding stub (photo: Melinda Sikéné Kovács Kovács, István Dobó Castle Museum)


The glued glass addition (photo by Melinda Sikéné Kovács, István Dobó Castle Museum)


Retouching the white layer with a retouching gun (photo by Anna Focht)


Retouching the floral ornamentation (photo by Anna Focht)


The restored and assembled petroleum lamp (photo: Gábor Nyíri, Hungarian National Museum)


The experience gained during my thesis, particularly the experimental work to replace the missing glass fragment, will be extremely helpful in my future endeavours. By restoring the oil lamp, I have helped preserve the legacy of one of the most famous Hungarian writers, Géza Gárdonyi.

Melinda Sikéné Kovács

Ceramic, China and Glass Restorer - István Dobó Castle Museum