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Tóth, Sándor A. - VM - Aniko Ouweneel-Tóth

Sándor A. Tóth: Saint Elizabeth

When Heaven and Earth Meet

by Aniko Ouweneel-Tóth

How do you portray a miracle? What is it like to experience one?

Once upon a time there was, not in a fairy tale but in legendary reality, a medieval princess with unlimited resourses and a heart for the less fortunate. It was the middle of winter. The majority of the people were suffering from starvation. If the princess would hand out bread, she would have to pay for it with her life. She knew, yet continued to hand it out, as her heart could not follow another path than solidarity. Her husband was the ruler of the area. He came and saw and caught her in the act. In order to humiliate her in public the princess had to show the buns of bread in her apron. She was about to face the ultimate punishment. Slowly she opens her apron…

This is the moment of truth, the moment shown in the painting.

But instead of ending in humiliation, the story concludes in miraculous elevation. The main character is brave, she faces her fate, knowing that what she does is right. She looks fearless as well as startled, not quite realizing yet what is taking place. She opens her apron, but even before she can see it herself the buns have changed into roses.

Midwinter. Impossible. A miracle.

This is the legend of Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia, a Hungarian princess who died before turning 25 at Marburg Castle in 1231. Across the world she is revered as a saint and many convents and hospitals have been called after her. Her legend is an example of audacious servitude and in this tale, it is the Creator himself who comes to her rescue.

I keep on being amazed by this painting. It was painted by my grandfather, Sándor A. Tóth, avant-garde painter and puppet player in the 1930s in Paris. The main character looks like a wooden puppet, simplified as to form and proportions. The work is an example of late cubism with expressionistic elements, an explosion of restrained emotion. The way it has been painted suggests something mythical: we look at Elizabeth from the perspective of someone kneeling or in any case looking up at her. The colors, lines and forms have been purposefully used to convey emotion. Elizabeth wears a symbolical habit (later, after the death of her husband, she became a nun), while the red roses form the passionate center. The green lines in the innocent white winter landscape hint at the intrusion of another dimension. This is the moment when love reveals itself and heaven and earth meet. The moment of the miracle. 

A powerful image of a saint by a Protestant artist.

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Sándor A. Tóth:  Árpád-házi Szent Erzsébet (Saint Elizabeth), 1937, oil on canvas, 118 x 45 cm, Museum Kiscelli Budapest.

Sándor A. Tóth (1904-1980) was a Hungarian avant-garde painter, puppet player and teacher. His website is under construction. For an impression of his oeuvre you can view this short video: https://youtu.be/huN99qeF3TQ.

Anikó Ouweneel- Tóth is a cultural historian and art advisor living in the Netherlands. For more see www.visiodivina.eu.   

ArtWay Visual Meditation April 22, 2018