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National History-International Encompassing Themes

When portraying national themes, artists employed, shaped, and reinterpreted compositional schemes and pictorial motifs-in other words, encompassing themes-prevalent throughout Europe. Several major 17-18th-century French paintings portrayed the great man on his death bed; and every Hungarian art pupil in Vienna would see The Death of Germanicus by Friedrich Heinrich Füger, one of the most significant artists of Viennese classicism-one version of his painting was on display in the gallery of the art academy. Taking their cue from foreign models, our earliest historical painters hastened to apply the theme to such persons as János Hunyadi, János Szapolyai or Ilona Zrínyi. In the centre of another group of works is The Dream of the Fugitive, a painting by Viktor Madarász. The picture is known as a historical painting representing a scene from the life of Imre Thököly, with its dreadful elements subordinated to the topic. However, this representation of a Hungarian subject matter is actually based on a pictorial scheme popular all over Europe at the time, especially in popular prints. It is not only the subject matter itself that attests to this, but also a series of details, including the position of the figures. While scholarly works written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries emphasised the "sobriety" and down-to-earthness of Hungarian Romanticism and Romantic historical paintings by Hungarian artists, wildly romantic motifs like the horrible ghost in Madarász' picture were ignored. The above proposition was actually based on the 19th century cliché that Hungarians were not given to fantasizing. As can be seen, not only the choice of subject matter in art but also the interpretation of art came to be influenced by beliefs about ethnic characteristics.

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