Praying Saviour | Art for Proper 12C

Praying Saviour
CSONTVÁRY KOSZTKA, Tivadar
Praying Saviour
1903
Oil on canvas, 100 x 82 cm
 Janus Pannonius Múzeum, Pécs
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Praying Saviour, oil on canvas, 1903, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, 1853-1919

During the lifetime of Hungarian artist, Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, great changes were taking place in European art. During the first two-thirds of his life – a time when he was not painting at all – the Impressionists and Post-impressionists in France already had changed conventional thinking about art and were opening the way for developments that would take place during the twentieth century. Csontváry, as he was known in Hungary, was forty-one years old at the time he began studying art and his major works were not painted until after the turn of the century. By this time, Les Fauves (“The Wild Beasts”) in Paris were revolutionizing the way color was being used and shortly after that the Cubists would be challenging the concept of pictorial space. Instead of following areas being explored by the avant-garde however, Csontváry, after a brief time in Paris, chose to follow his personal vision. The result is an art that does not fit easily into a specific category; it tends to be an “outsider art” with elements of fantasy.

It is difficult to discern the full meaning of paintings that are based on personal visions. An interpretation is often speculative and even when artists offer explanations their paintings may not support what they say. In the “Praying Saviour,” Csontváry places an elongated Christ with lengthy hands and upraised arms close to the center of the painting; his white robe stands out against the dark foreground. To the upper far left and on a higher level is Moses with stone tablets and to his right the city of Jerusalem is glowing in the distance. In the bottom foreground are mask-like faces; they have been interpreted as disciples, yet we cannot be sure. Their expressions seem to indicate something foreboding is near. They appear to be alarmed. Perhaps they have just learned that Christ will be put to death.

Painters often utilize well known symbols but artists also are known to employ personal signs. Among Christian symbols, a cedar of Lebanon represents Christ and Csontváry visited Lebanon to make paintings of them. In “Praying Saviour,” a tall cedar tree is included with two figures clad in dark clothes at its base kneeling over a slab on top of a tomb-like rectangular stone. It would be reasonable to assume the tree represents Christ and the stone represents Christ’s tomb. Csontváry, however, sometimes used a tree as his own personal symbol; the tree may have been his way of placing himself symbolically in the painting. [It is of course also possible this tree is only meant to be a tree representing nothing more than itself.] At an upper level behind the tree is a modern day church with its lights on and the sky glowing as it would at dawn. The church lights seem to be a beacon and people are being drawn toward it. Taken together, these images may be interpreted as representing the journey of Christianity. Moses with the tablets represents the Old Testament, Christ represents the New Testament, and the light from the church and sky represents the dawning of hope and enlightenment that was brought by Christ’s word.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

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