The Collection of Old Sculptures came into being as a result of the millenary law that established the Museum of Fine Arts, and it was formed through careful collecting specifically for the Museum. When Károly Pulszky, the highly cultured and open-minded director of the National Picture Gallery, went to Italy on a government commission in 1894 and 1895 to buy artworks for the future Museum of Fine Arts, he broadened the scope of his activity to include the collection of sculptures. Among one hundred and twenty-one pieces, he acquired such outstanding works as Agostino di Duccio's Archangel Gabriel. Pulszky established a collection of significance that illustrates the development of Italian sculpture from the 14th century to the first half of the 16th century.
During the following years, however, hardly any sculptures were bought. It was not until 1914 that the turning point came; the Museum of Fine Arts purchased the bequest of sculptor István Ferenczy (1792–1856), a collection consisting mainly of small Italian bronze statues, which he had acquired during his Italian sojourn. The most outstanding items of these are Leonardo's Equestrian Statuette and the Rape of Europa by Andrea Riccio.
Elek Petrovics, who became general director of the Museum in 1914, recognised the significance of this fairly small but valuable collection and despite the hardships of World War I, did much to augment it. In addition to increasing the Italian Renaissance material, he aimed to purchase works from the northern regions, from Germany, France and the Low Countries. As a result of his efforts, the Museum was able to acquire such important works as a painted stone statue belonging to the type known as Beautiful Madonnas, wooden statues of the Virgin and St John the Evangelist from Grosskönigsdorf, originating from the Cologne workshop of Master Tilman, as well as the Madonna by Tilman Riemenschneider.
Simon Meller arranged the first exhibition of the collection in 1921 in two halls in the southern part of the Museum of Fine Arts. The Collection of Old Sculptures has been an independent department since 1935. The long-time head of the department, Jolán Balogh, between 1936 and 1967 gradually built up a permanent exhibition of sculptures on the second floor of the Museum and on the mezzanine floor below. During her long career she doubled the material in the department. Her successors have further enriched the collection, which has risen to international significance.
Szilvia Bodnár (ed.), Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, Budapest 2006.