Sándor Petőfi’s Wallet

Sándor Petőfi’s Wallet

Contributor: Zsuzsanna Zeke

Location: Petőfi Literary Museum, Károlyi Street 16, 1053-Budapest, Hungary

Description: This leather wallet was given by Júlia Szendrey to her husband, the poet Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849), for a keepsake. It is held in Budapest in the Petőfi Literary Museum, which also houses some of the Hungarian National Poet’s manuscripts, books and relics. A typical Biedermeier souvenir, made of goatskin, lined with silk and decorated with pearl embroidery (Holbein stitch/gobelin), it measures 30 x 15 cm (when open) and contains coins and a pencil with a metal top. On one side there is a chubby, naked putto ’Amor’ flying with a bunch of flowers and the iconographic lettering Petőfi Sándornak Pest 1848 (for Sándor Petőfi [Buda]Pest 1848). On the other side are embroidered laurel branches and the Hungarian national colours, together with a line from Petőfi’s poem Talpra Magyar versért (‘Rise up, Magyar’). There is a clear tension between the two sides of the object.

One side makes quite a formal reference to how Petőfi had become recognised as the national poet after the short-lived Hungarian Revolution of 15th March 1848 in which he and his poem Nemzeti Dal (‘National Song’) were prominent, while the other reads as a sweet personal gesture made by a loving wife. Remarkably, instead of referring to the poem by its title, Júlia uses the first line of the famous poem within an intimate gesture. The difference in the colour of the two sides nicely underpins this tension: you find the national colours (which Júlia often used in her clothing, too) on one side, while the other side is all sweet biedermeier pink and purple, reflecting Júlia’s education within the mainstream girls’ boarding school tradition of the time.

This wallet was made at a time when both husband and wife had entered a critical period of transition: they had to live up to new roles and play new parts in their lives. Petőfi had just become a celebrity as national poet, and Júlia, the young, ball-going, country lady, thus fell unexpectedly into a more intellectual society. Their new ways of life are intertwined in this symbolic object.

Creator: Júlia Szendrey (Petőfi’s wife)

Date: 1848

Subject: Petőfi, Sándor (1823–1849)

Media rights: Petőfi Literary Museum

Object type: wallet, keepsake

Format: goatskin, silk, pearl, metal

Publisher: Petőfi Literary Museum

Digital collection record: http://resolver.pim.hu/bib/PIM1924588

Catalogue number: 2012.55.1.


Kalla Zsuzsa, Ratzky Rita: Beszélő tárgyak – A Petőfi család relikviái, Bp., Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum, 1997, 137.