Pursuing the theme of public statues, I was curious as to why Tamás Szabó, who made the Lutz monument in Budapest, had been asked to make a statue of Abraham and Isaac on an isolated housing estate in Kisvárda, a small town in eastern Hungary.
As it happens, the circumstances were similar. Lutz saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and the Kisvárda statue commemorates the ghetto into which local Jews were forced before being sent to Auschwitz.
There is still a Jewish community in Budapest – and in the area around the Lutz monument and the Great Synagogue, it’s chic to eat in Jewish-style restaurants – but there are no Jews in Kisvárda. It was in the Maramures region, the centre of Hassidic Hungary. A few Jews returned after the Holocaust but they left in 1956. Their descendants probably live in Williamsburg now.
The Kisvárda town council features the Abraham and Isaac statue Touch prominently on its website. But in 2009 the figure of Isaac was taken, as the Hungarian website Köztérkép, which helpfully maps public art, explained:
For several months now (if not for a year), Isaac, the third figure, has been missing from Tamás Szabó’s ‘Touch’ on the housing estate in Tompos Street, Kisvárda.
According to a narrative in the Old Testament Books of Moses, the patriarch Abraham, obedient to the his God’s commandment, took Isaac his son to the mountain, built an altar and prepared to sacrifice him. When Abraham raised the knife to Isaac, the Angel of the Lord appeared, declaring that the father and child were merely participants in a divine ordeal, and so prevented the tragedy.
This exemplary, dramatic conflict of faith and sacrifice has been captured in many masterpieces throughout the history of art. In Kisvárda, prize-winning sculptor Tamás Szabó placed a bible-themed public work of art depicting the sacrifice on a pedestal in the urban setting of Tompos Street.
The triple statue was inaugurated on June 9, 1988. At the centre is a standing, stepping male figure. In front of him, slightly sloping and turned towards him, kneels the bound Isaac. To Isaac there comes from above a floating, leaning angel in female form.
In this bronze three-figured sculpture, Szabó created a genuine 360-degree composition. The personality of the mummified Isaac’s is unknowable. His painfully bound and leaning body can be interpreted as the futility of resistance, as impotence, as an expression of helplessness. Or so it would be if the figure were not missing from the base of the sculpture.
This triple form has been vandalised many times and Isaac is probably being guarded in a better place now. But will someone send the angel to return him to the pedestal and back to that missing moment of tragic sacrifice?
Isaac remained in the council’s possession for some time, but it’s not entirely clear whether he was stolen or simply removed and whether he has been returned or not.