This is a personal blog about Hungarian art history. A rather niche subject in the grand, global scheme of things, you might say. That is the beauty of blogging: one can write about the most obscure subject ever, without having to worry about finding a publisher, and in the vast and endlessly diverse universe of the internet there will inevitably be some readers with whom it resonates. It doesn’t matter how many, really. If the number of people who want to read about Hungarian art history in English on the internet turns out to be minuscule, I am still happy to offer these posts to them. That said, I also believe that the idea that the art of any country, any geographical area can be “niche” needs to be seriously challenged, and I hope this blog can contribute to that in its own modest way. Isn’t art history an academic discipline with principles and methodologies that cut across national borders? If it is, then the art histories of small or lesser-known cultures should possess the exact same relevance as those of the big ones. Art historians often centre the art of places such as Italy of France, using it to draw conclusions that they then project onto art produced elsewhere. But if art history is truly global, it should be possible for this to work the other way round too; it should work in all possible directions. Hungarian art history is my anchor, my guide, my beloved research topic, my own culture which I can never deny, but what I say about it is hopefully meaningful outside the country’s borders. Indeed, if you still think that what happens in a small country like Hungary has no relevance elsewhere, read the news and think again.
Although it may seem so from the previous paragraph, this blog is not just for art historians. In my posts, I consciously try to avoid academic language, and instead of overloading them with footnotes I only refer to the most recent publications of original research (those who are interested can consult these works for further literature). The blog intends to be accessible because its aim is to build bridges: bridges from the past to the present and from Hungary to the wide world. In a post about ruined castles, I described history writing as a form of communication, and this is what I attempt to put into practice in this blog. I arrange the fragments of the Hungarian art historical past into a form that I expect – hope – my non-Hungarian readers will find relatable; what they do with it afterwards is up to them. The blog as a genre helps a lot with this, particularly its personal aspect. All these posts are based on “proper” art historical research, all of the facts and conclusions derive from my best knowledge of the subject, but they are presented in a subjective way that no “serious” scholarly journal would tolerate. As I said, this is a personal blog, and it describes what these artworks mean to me. The freedom this gives me is hugely enjoyable, and I hope it encourages my readers to be equally personal in their interpretations. Is the Biedermeier post really about the Biedermeier? It is, I promise. But it also isn’t. And if it means something entirely different to you, I have no problem with that.
The relationship between general and personal is a theme that meanders through this blog. An artist reimagines national history in a “feverish, youthful, poetic frenzy”, a curator threads his subjectivity into a gallery intended for the Nation, people use generalised frameworks, pictorial clichés to properly grasp the singular, irreplaceable things that mean the most to them. Scholarly art history brings the artworks of the past closer to their present viewers by explaining their imagery, their background and their context. It offers encompassing storylines that connect these works together. But it is by adding our own stories, our own interpretations, that we can make this great body of knowledge, this respectable tradition, truly relevant and truly ours. It is the subjectivity that brings it to life.
My name is Nóra Veszprémi, and I am an art historian specialising in 19th- and early 20th-century art. I currently live in Birmingham, in the UK.
Texts © Nóra Veszprémi
Photos of artworks from the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery © Hungarian National Gallery