Contributor: Emese Asztalos
Description: Sándor Petőfi (1823–1849) was not just a poet, but also a cultural hero and icon in Hungary. In his lifetime he was already what we might spell with symbolic capital letters: The Romantic Poet. His name could be transformed into a term, as in the case of Byron or Liszt. Of course this “Petőfism” is not so extensive as Byronism or Lisztomania, but still, the main features and attributes of his character could be also be abstracted to many of the same symbolic Romantic meanings, for instance freedom, youth or independence.
This portrait of Petőfi was painted by Miklós Barabás, who was the main protagonist of nineteenth-century Hungarian Art. All the most important figures of the nineteenth century were portrayed by him, so Petőfi’s popularity is underscored by the fact that the lead portraitist depicted him in 1846. As an engraving, it was published first on the cover of Petőfi’s Selected Poems in 1846, which immediately conveys several metaphorical messages. With its opening or initiating function, the picture reinforces the poet’s intention: his aim was to be considered as the embodiment of poetry itself. In his lifetime, and particularly after his death, this image became the most well-known portrayal of Petőfi, and was reproduced extensively. It gives a characteristic glimpse of the method of the construction of Petőfi’s Romantic authorship through symbolic portraits from the nineteenth century.