Saturday, May 9, 2015

Anonymous: Miklos Ligeti

One of the most famous sculptures in Budapest is the statue of "Anonymous" (1903), by Miklos Ligeti (1871-1944), outside the Castle in Varosligeti Park.  The sculpture depicts the the anonymous writer of Gesta Hungaricum, a detailed history of the arrival of the Hungarians into the Carpathian Basin, that was written around 1200 by an unnamed scribe. It is thus a key founding document in the Hungarians' sense of themselves as a nation and a people.

Apparently, those commissioning the sculpture wanted Ligeti to use a typical "Hungarian" face. But Ligeti, instead, kept the statue anonymous, hiding the writer's identity, and emphasizing, instead his almost organic connection to the book he was writing.

But in some ways Ligeti himself is also "anonymous," at least to non-Hungarians.  There is virtually nothing in English about him, published or on the internet, save a very brief Wikipedia entry.  There is similarly little about him in Hungarian.  Everyone knows the statue Anonymous; when we visited, we had to stand in line to take a picture, following people who posed with the statue.  But I think few people would know the name of the sculptor.  There is a small book about him, commissioned by his family that is mostly his biography, I think; I located one copy in Budapest and bought it, even though it's in Hungarian and I won't be able to read it. (It does have pictures.)  He is another example of the many extraordinary Hungarian artists who are simply unknown outside of Hungary.

Ligeti is notable, in my view, for his focus on the human body, especially as is it poised in action. Two of his most famous sculptures in Hungary are the statues of Tunde and Csonger, characters in a famous 19th Century play by Vorosmarty.

(There is often something very interesting about the feet.) 

Ligeti studied for a time with Rodin, and you can see that influence in statues displayed in the Hungarian State Art Museum.

There is a kind of natural human lyricism to Ligeti's work--a love of the body.  Below are statues he sculpted for the Adria Palace--then an insurance building, now The Meridien Hotel.  They illustrate different kinds of insurance.

Notice how the foot is grasping the pedestal for balance.

The same human naturalism is present in his funerary statuary.

Ligeti was also famous for his portrait sculptures.  Here Crown Prince Rudolph (who either committed suicide or was murdered at Mayerling):

And here Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz in Szabadsag (Liberty) Square in front of the US Embassy.  Bandholtz was the US representative to the Inter-Allied Supreme Command's military mission charged with disarming Hungary.

Most of the artists I discovered in Hungary were completely unknown to me until I began to plan this trip to Budapest.  I knew some of the architects from earlier trips, and I had located important novels from lists of best Hungarian fiction.  But so many others were, like Ligeti, anonymous--at least to me.

Hungary is one of the most culturally rich countries I have been privileged to visit.  A country the size of New Jersey, it has produced 13 Nobel Laureates.  It has a robust history of pictorial and plastic arts.  Its architecture is astonishing.  Its literary history has produced great writers, many of whom remain untranslated and thus unknown outside of Hungary itself.

Part of the reason Hungarian culture is anonymous for non-Hungarians is that Hungary's most significant cultural border is its "orphan" language.  Arising from the Urals in Siberia, Hungarian is unrelated to Latin or Germanic languages; it thus offers non-Hungarians nothing to hold onto. This linguistic isolation meant that Hungary's verbal art at least was simply unknown outside the country.  I think the  Hungarian language, shared only by those who consider themselves Hungarian, is both a powerful resource for producing a sense of nationality and culture, and a barrier that keeps non-Hungarians outside.  If I had another lifetime, I would learn Hungarian.  As much as possible, I would like to see Hungary from the inside, to learn the name and history of those "anonymous" artists.

#MiklosLigeti  #Budapest  #Hungary


  1. The funerary sculptures in particular are extraordinary.

  2. Yes, the one where the angel is escorting the man into the tomb was the first of Ligeti's sculptures I saw. I immediately wanted to know more about him. I just wish I could read Hungarian.

  3. Hello,

    Do you know how can I get a copy of the biography of ML?


  4. I got mine at a small bookstore in Budapest. I read about it online but never located another copy. It is in Hungarian. I think it was commissioned by Ligeti's family and I believe there is a small museum, run I believe also by his family, in Hungary (can't remember exactly where) which may have it. I am eager to find out more about Ligeti. Do you have an interest in him as well?

  5. Do you know if any copies of the anonymous statue are available.

    1. The Anonymous statue is located across from a museum in Varosliget (City Park) in Budapest. They have a gift shop which might have a copy. Otherwise I would try the Internet