Lajos Vajda and the Russian idea of universalism

Author: Boros, Lili
Source document: Art East Central. 2021, vol. 1, iss. 1, pp. 105-124
Extent
105-124
  • ISSN
    2695-1428 (online)
Type: Article
Language
English
Abstract(s)
This study focuses on the problem of interpreting Lajos Vajda's Icon Self-Portrait Pointing Upward (1936) while attempting to rethink the artist's relationship to the ideas of Russian religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948). In one of his letters dedicated to Júlia Richter, his future wife, Vajda wrote that Berdyaev's book entitled The New Middle Ages had greatly influenced his thinking. Through it, he became acquainted with the notion of universalism – the synthesis between East and West as part of a critique of Western individualism and positivism – which would gain in popularity in the early twentieth century. Based on the proximity between the dates of the letter and the time that Vajda formulated his so-called 'Szentendre Programme,' this article argues that the establishment of the Programme was directly influenced by Berdyaev's thinking. Consequently, it suggests that Icon Self-Portrait Pointing Upward can be read as a summary of Vajda's thoughts on culture as renewable through the synthesis of 'two types of European man.' From this perspective, Vajda's criticism of Western individualism leads to a re-thinking of his relationship both to European modernism and to conservative artistic and cultural ideas. This article connects all these broader questions to the interpretation of Icon Self-Portrait Pointing Upward, offering new directions in research into this enigmatic key work and masterpiece.
Document
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