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The Monk by the Sea stands alone in the oeuvre of Caspar David Friedrich. Unlike the majority of his works, which are generally overburdened with meaning, making them easy to understand from a Romantic, Christian or nationalist perspective, this painting remained resistant to interpretation by almost all of his contemporaries – even by the artist himself – because the reduction and “minimalism” in the work was so unprecedented and extreme that it would take several generations before it became common practice. This was also the first work to feature Friedrich’s famous innovation, the Rückenfigur, the picture’s internal spectator, who forms a close and subjective bond with the external spectator, while the subject of the spectacle itself, for the very first time in the history of painting, is “nothing”.

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The Glass Cabinet

An essay about the place of the Hungarian crown

Acta Historiae Artium Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae
Sándor Radnóti


Emergence of a scientific need for museum display. Emergence of the political need for museum display. Siting and visibility of the Hungarian crown jewels. Invisibility and visible theology of the regalia. Treasure turned work of art. Profanation of relics. Profanation of crown jewels. The Schatzkammer in Vienna. The membership of the holy crown and the holy crown. Musealization of the crown. “Re-sacralization”of the crown. Present-day status of the crown. Sacrality and museality

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Claude Lorrain was one of the first painters in the art history to break away from literary (religious, mythological) themes and to veer in the direction of more open interpretations of meaning. Works by Claude Lorrain that have positively identifiable themes are scenes of a narrative nature, yet the titles that were applied to such paintings – for instance Landscape with Acis and Galatea, Seaport with Ulysses Returning Chryseis to Her Father – would have been inconceivable to members of earlier generations. In the paintings of Claude, the viewer could celebrate not only the embodiment of beauty but also the art of beauty. Instead of being treated as a parable, subject to constant reinterpretation in accordance with the concept of the idea, the image could now be seen simply as a visualisation of the ideal of the individual. It is the landscape that takes precedence over the events themselves. Nature is not subjugated to expressing or suppressing human passions; nature is never anything but beautiful and indifferent, a backdrop to human action. In my study, I examine in detail a little known 1667 painting by Claude, which is in a private collection and the iconographic status of which is uncertain.

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This paper reconstructs Ruskin’s work from the perspective of the landscape, building upon the assumption that Modern Painters played a cardinal role in the emancipation of the genre. This reconstruction is complicated by the internal contradictions within the work: it cannot be regarded as a systematic work of philosophy, but belongs rather to the genre of sage writing. In volume I, Ruskin approached the landscape not from an aesthetic point of view, but from the direction of scientific truth. The aesthetic consequence of this was his anti-mimetic attitude, which differentiated between the imitation of nature and the uncovering of the truths of nature, and in this respect, he considered Turner the greatest master who had ever lived. Truth takes precedence over all aesthetic considerations, and for this reason Ruskin was resolutely against artistic tradition. Seen from his perspective, the history of landscape painting appeared as a series of scientific illustrations, which, with the forward march of science, came ever closer to truth-to-nature. The other two essential conditions of art, the other side of truth, were its moral and religious messages. Beauty is the work of God, and God must be praised in His work, in Nature. Only later did Ruskin introduce a historical dimension to the experience of the landscape. The modern era is characterised by the rise of the pre-eminent interest in the landscape, accompanied by a parallel decreasing interest in gods, saints, ancestors and humans. This later became the main motif of Ruskin’s activities as a social critic and reformer. In relation to the loss of faith and the prospect of regaining it, Ruskin saw landscape painting as the representative art of the modern era. In the later volumes of Modern Painters, Ruskin carefully distinguished between the task of science, which is to investigate the essence and uncover the truths of material nature, and the task of art, which is to explore the possible viewpoints or aspects of material nature. In volume V of Modern Painters he firmly asserted – in diametric contradiction to his earlier views – that the greatness and truth of Turner did not rest on scientific truth, for in this respect the artist was completely ignorant. This paper interprets and evaluates Ruskin’s extraordinarily harsh criticism of Claude Lorrain, which contrasts with the fact that Turner spent almost his entire life idolising and attempting to rival Claude.

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