09 November 2011

Constitutional Iconography

Over at Hungarian Spectrum Eva Balogh has much fun with a series of paintings commissioned by the Hungarian government commemorating various episodes from the recent magyar history.

You can often get a sense of what a regime is about by looking at the art they sponsor: Stalins sturdy tractorists spring to mind, or North Korea’s „mass games„.

Looking at Orban’s choice the sense you get, beside aestethic tooth-ache, is one of bewilderment: There is one picture dedicated to the memory of the demonstrations in 2006, where Fidesz loyalists clashed violently with the police under a socialist-liberal government. You see a policeman stabbing a white-clad angel-like virgin into the chest: Blunt enough, you think. But then again, the whole thing looks remarkably like St. George finishing off that dragon…

Exceedingly weird is the last picture of the series: It’s about our favorite topic with respect to Hungary, the new constitution.

You have St. Steven, naked but for his crown, his lower body disappearing in luminescent mist, mildly watching the scene from heaven above. He grabs a sword with his right hand, not at the grip, but at the blade, which ought to hurt like hell. With that sword he… well, he stabs the constitution lying in the middle, doesn’t he?

You have people standing around it as if they were waiting for the bus, looking somewhat sleepy, most of them seem to have their eyes closed. St. Steven is also nearly asleep, by the way, but that might also be a clumsy way of putting an expression of gentle benevolence on his face, though.

The one person who at least is squinting is a uniformed young hussar who also has his sword drawn, pointing very pointily heavenwards. He has a contemptous smirk in his face.

Then you have a fellow with a blond beard who carries something I can’t quite make out, might be a humungous torch light.

You have ghostly white hands waving in the air, and a shape that looks like a bishop’s hat.

There is not a single woman in the whole picture, aside from a pair of apparently female hands belonging to an invisible body outside the frame that seems to be putting a vase with a violet flower next to the constitution.

Very enigmatic, you have to give them that.

SUGGESTED CITATION  Steinbeis, Maximilian: Constitutional Iconography, VerfBlog, 2011/11/09, https://verfassungsblog.de/constitutional-iconography/, DOI: 10.17176/20181008-115809-0.


  1. Szabi Mi 9 Nov 2011 at 16:32 - Reply

    While it’s true that the paintings are „aestethic tooth-ache“ (thanks for the great metaphor!), and taht the commissioning is SCANDALOUS indeed, I’ll help to interpret the images more correctly.

    First of all, it’s not Orbán’s commission or choice, but of Kerényi.

    Now, let’s look at the „police charge“ picture. First, to understand the iconography (where the maiden is clearly the victim), you need to understand, that the police raid was found illegal by court even under the previous government already (both in terms of scope and violence, and by the fact that the police officers did not carry ID numbers). Second, the „George and the Dragon“ reminescence is deliberate, St. George’s iconography has been used by choice: St. George has been the patron of the police for years now. It ought to be ironical.

    The „hussar“ is — I think — actually a member of the Őr- és Díszezred of the National Defence Forces (Honvédség). This corresponds to Garde of Austria, having representative functions. I also believe that the „torch light“ is a camera, and the guy is a media worker/journalist.

    Well, taken all together still, both the artistic quality of the paintings, the lacking consistency of style, the topics chosen, the procedure of commissioning are scandalous. The first two are an artistic scandal, the last two political.

    (Just as a side note, holding the sword by the blade oughtn’t hurt like hell. Sword blades were not sharp as razors).

  2. Max Steinbeis Mi 9 Nov 2011 at 16:58 - Reply

    Thanks a lot. Some of the befuddlement dissolves, whereas the tooth-ache persists…

  3. Gabriella Balassa Do 10 Nov 2011 at 21:27 - Reply

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