Roma people are often depicted in Central European literature and fine arts in the end of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. The topic was likely chosen not only because of an ethnographical interest, but also because orientalism in the nineteenth century meant for several Austrian artists the depiction of the life and customs of Hungarian and Transylvanian gypsies, who were believed to be originally from the East. In the second half of the century August Pettenkofen, who had often visited the town of Szolnok in the Great Hungarian Plain with his painter friends, also turned to the ‘exotic’ life of Hungarian peasants, csikós (horse-herdsmen) and nomadic gypsies. The artists of genre artworks depicting the folk, a genre flourishing in Hungary since the middle of the nineteenth century, also often choose the life and customs of Roma people as the topic of their art, usually presenting them in a detailed way and using stereotypes.
This study examines a different kind of depiction of Roma people in the nineteenth century in literature, artworks and music. The so-called ‘Three gypsies’ topic is currently believed to have appeared for the first time in 1836 in Ferenc Pongrácz’s painting, however, it became truly popular because of Nikolaus Lenau’s poem, which had a title similar to the painting’s and was published soon after the painting. The topic appears in several contemporary paintings and illustrations, and Ferenc Liszt also created a musical composition based on it. Lenau’s poem and the artworks inspired by it include a certain symbolical-philosophical approach instead of the ethnographic interest popular at the time or the anecdotical depiction of the everyday life of Roma people. The image of the three gypsies in the poem and the artworks and illustrations – the first one is playing a fiddle, the second one is smoking a pipe and the third one is sleeping – symbolizes not only the longing for a poor but free life without the yoke of social norms, but also illustrates different attitudes and philosophies of life (vita activa, vita contemplativa, turning away from the world).
The symbolical-philosophical nature of the poem and the artworks is emphasized by a significant part of these works, the motif of the instrument hung upon a tree, which first appears in Psalm 137 from the Old Testament. The psalm depicts the pain of the Jews suffering in the Babylonian captivity, who in their sorrow hung their harps upon the willows. The song about the sadness felt because of their exile and the loss of their home was later interpreted in the context of those times. The heartbreaking description of the destroyed home of the exiled Jews in János Thordai’s psalm written in the seventeenth century was likely inspired by the grief caused by the destruction of Hungary during the Ottoman rule. The motif of the instruments hung upon the tree, earlier related to society and nation, was enriched with new, individualistic meanings during the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The depictions of the atypical Three gypsies topic in literature and fine arts are more closely related to allegorical paintings from earlier centuries, for example Giorgone’s The Three Philosophers or The Three Ages of Man, than to the genre artworks in the nineteenth century depicting the life of Roma people in an anecdotal way.
In German literature Heinrich Heine is regarded as one of the founders of musical feuilleton, a genre that he developed to the highest mastery with the means of irony and satire. In his music reviews Heine discussed repeatedly many of his musical contemporaries; he met leading composers of his time like Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner personally. The fact that the relationship between Heine and Liszt (they got to know each other in 1831 in Paris) was not without problems, is a commonplace. Rainer Kleinertz describes it as ambivalent. The essay examines Heine’s musical judgements about Liszt, focussing on the question of Liszt’s interest in the fine arts. In the tenth letter from Über die Französische Bühne. Vertraute Briefe an August Lewald (1837), Heine accused Liszt of philosophical eclecticism, because he would change his beliefs like hobbyhorses. Are there contradictions and inconsistencies also in Liszt’s thinking about art and music that justified such an ambivalent attitude on the part of Heine? Finally, Liszt replied Heine in the seventh of his Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique, dated Venice, 15 April 1838.
The third Earl of Shaftesbury accorded a political mission to the arts capable of evoking rational moral visions in an enlightened public that have learnt to trust their natural moral sense and sociability. His rational, neo-classicist art theory contains a program for the education of taste leading to the experience of the plastic truth of artworks and to aesthetic pleasure in their natural simplicity. The family portrait paintings and the engraved emblematic frontispieces to Characteristicks,commissioned by Shaftesbury, relied on a particular form of cooperation between patron and artist. The nine engravings present a visual argument for the freedom of thought, the last of which is shown to refer to Locke's unpublished Defence of Nonconformity. The reconstruction of Shaftesbury's ‘virtuoso’ knowledge and classicist art theory is set against Karl Mannheim's sociological theory of connoisseurship.
Liszt followed the education of his own children through letters, but he rarely saw them while they were young. The education that Marie Sayn-Wittgenstein received in Weimar, when her mother settled there with Liszt, was completely different. The young princess was only ten years old and she read many classic and modern writers; she even translated some of them. Greek mythology had a privileged place in her education. She attended several concerts. Private teachers gave her lessons in drawing, history, and art history. She travelled with her mother to Berlin and Paris in order to visit artists’ ateliers, art galleries, and museums. Liszt gave them names and addresses of personalities to visit. Special orders of portraits sometimes followed these visits. The young princess served as a model for some of these painters. Princess Carloyne Sayn-Wittgenstein possessed a personal collection of drawings and paintings, and the young girl was encouraged to do the same. This can be seen in the letters that Liszt wrote to the young princess before her marriage.