A Biblia a magyar képzőművészetben


Translated by Robert Bernard

Krisztus megkeresztelése
Orlai Petrics Soma: Krisztus megkeresztelése, 1859, olaj, vászon, 106x72 cm, Békés,
római katolikus templom,
Soma Orlai Petrics: The christening of Christ, 1859, oil painting, 106x72 cm, Békés,
roumain catholic church

This book is a unique endeavour, being the first comprehensive collection illustrating Hungarian art-works which are based on Biblical themes.

Mosaics, frescoes, panel-paintings, watercolours, oil paintings, drawings, etchings, tapestries, statuary – artistic achievements stretching back a total of some 800 years – are here presented according to the sequence of the respective subjects in the Bible itself. For each work the Editor provides a detailed account of the Biblical episode which the artist used as their inspiration – and in a commentary points out how their own interpretation of it is expressed in the language of art. Thus, information on the Bible and artistic analysis are presented at one and the same time.

The earliest examples of Hungarian Biblical art are wall-paintings and winged altar-pieces (triptychs), dating respectively from the Romanesque and the Gothic periods of the Middle Ages. All six panel-paintings attributed to the world renowned late-Gothic master, known to us only by his initials, “M. S.”, are included in the collection. One of these, Calvary, depicts the suffering of Christ, the agony of “second death” (to use a theological term), in a manner unrivalled in the history of European art.

Works from the subsequent Baroque and Classicist periods are relatively few in number. The revival of national painting in the 19th century begins with Károly Markó the Elder (who in fact spent most of his life in Italy); and is further represented by Bertalan Székely, Gyula Benczur, and Pál Szinyei Merse. The Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem by Szinyei Merse is an outstanding presentation of this widely-employed subject. The Christ-trilogy of Mihály Munkácsy achieved world fame and was much celebrated by his contemporaries. When they were on travelling exhibition in the United States, local churches hired for the purpose of divine worship the museums and galleries which hosted them.

Mihály Zichy worked for many years in Russia as a court-painter to the Tsar. His work Cain, revealing a deep understanding of the theme, is from his late teens. Zichy’s huge apocalyptic vision, The Weapons of the Evil One was painted for the 1878 World Exhibition in Paris.

The first generation of Hungarian plein-air painters stemmed from the “Nagybánya School” group of artists. All the Biblical paintings by the leading figure of the group, Károly Ferenczy, are included in this volume. Some of these works which are thought to be lost, or may perhaps survive in unidentified private collections, are here represented by contemporary photographs which the Editor has sought out. It was Ferenczy’s work The Journey of the Magi that led to a confrontation between this artist and his colleague, Béla Iványi-Grünwald; this and similar controversies are dealt with in detail. In some cases, the artists’ comments on their own works are noted (Ferenczy on Abraham’s Sacrifice and on Joseph Sold by his Brothers; Lajos Kunffy’s comments on Job).

Besides Károly Ferenczy, this talented family is here further represented by two of his children, the tapestry-designer Noémi Ferenczy and the sculptor and graphic artist Béni Ferenczy.

Included in the book are the works of Hungarian “Academic” artists (such as Gyula Benczur), as well as those of others who aimed to pioneer new standards – József Rippl-Rónai, Adolf Fényes, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, Lajos Gulácsy, János Kmetty. A whole chapter is devoted to an analysis of Christ cries out to God by Csontváry Kosztka, who may be counted as the most notable figure in Hungarian painting besides “Master M. S.”

Some works in this volume will probably come as a revelation even to connoisseurs: we may mention the Biblical watercolours of József Egry (who would not have called himself a religious person); The Flight to Egypt, a finely-crafted oil painting by Imre Vinczellér; the etching-series by Adrienn Füleky on themes ranging in sequence from The Great Flood up to The Apocalypse; and the daringly-coloured paintings by Csilla N. Virók.

One particular surprise is the large-format cartoon with diverse Biblical scenes created by the openly-atheist Aurél Bernáth; as well as Biblical-theme works by artists such as János Kmetty, Endre Domanovszky, and Jenő Kerényi. In addition to works by the figures mentioned, those by several renowned artists of like persuasion – Gyula Derko­vits, Róbert Berény, and Károly Kernstok – find a place in the book.

Artists of Jewish origin (Béla Iványi-Grünwald, Adolf Fényes, Imre Ámos, and Piroska Szántó) – even if they are converts to Christianity – may be expected to have a special attitude to the Bible. Here again we may be surprised, when we find that the most comprehensive Hungarian graphics series ever produced of the Apocalypse (from the end of the New Testament) was that made by Imre Ámos.

As for Hungarian artists of the recent past Miklós Borsos, known for his public sculptures located in several towns, deserves special mention for his Biblical images of remarkable intimacy and depth.

Hungarian sculpture on Biblical themes is here represented by works of István Ferenczy, Miklós Izsó, Márk Vedres, János Fadrusz, Béni Ferenczy, and Dezső Bokros-Birman.

It is true that there may well be further substantial numbers of valuable art-works hidden away in the store-rooms of museums and galleries, or in private collections. Nevertheless, we are convinced that this compilation presents the bulk of the most significant items relevant to our theme.

Lastly, in the course of producing this compilation the Editor discovered two talented contemporary Hungarian artists, László Hegedűs, originally from Szentes in the south-east of Hungary, and Nándor Szúdy from the northern Hungarian region of Ipolyság. Both have created numerous works on Biblical subjects, but are undeservedly little-known. To help introduce them to a wider public, their works are represented here in a greater number than would otherwise be customary.

An annotated index of the artists, with brief biographies and bibliographies, is provided to enhance the utility of the volume. With detailed summaries in three languages, and rounded off with a comparison between these Hungarian art-works and their European counterparts, the book contains some 300 art-reproductions.

János Reisinger (b. 1954, Mosonmagyaróvár) is a literary historian. He gained his degree in Hungarian and French Literature and Linguistics at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where he was particularly influenced by Professors Béla G. Németh and Endre Török. After graduation, from 1978 to 1989 he worked at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as a researcher in the Institute of Literary Studies. He has for many years given popular lectures on topics connected with the Bible and art, and has to date published some 20 books and 200 essays on these subjects.

Some of his major works are: On the ‘Beatitudes’ (1990); A Bible-reading companion (1992); ‘Our Father in Heaven’ (1998); Bible prophecies in our time (2004); Conscience (2005); What is the Book of Revelations all about? (2006); Rembrandt (2007).

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