The Tower of Babel (La Tour de Babel) by Endre Rozsda

Endre Rozsda

The Tower of Babel (La Tour de Babel), 1958, Oil on canvas, 82 x 100 cm (?), ©️ 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Photo: Courtesy Atelier Rozsda

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Fragile Empires

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Endre Rozsda’s abstract Surrealist painting of the Tower of Babel offers not so much a clear depiction as a suggestion of ideas and forms. The overall impression is one of chaos and colour.

Dark, ladder-like, horizontal forms erupt from the bottom of the painting. Sets of wavy lines counter the strong horizontals, suggesting human forms, but never defining them clearly. Vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows draw the viewer’s attention toward the upper left of the painting, while cooler colours prevail on the right. Zooming in on the painting does not produce further clarity, but makes it appear even more abstract. Confusion abounds. It is an apt metaphor for the Tower of Babel, and (by extension) for the fall of the great imperial cities that are its descendants.

Like other Surrealists, Rozsda was interested in exploring the unconscious mind through his painting. Instead of representing Babel/Babylon as a symbol of human achievement or as a symbol of human folly, Rozsda allowed his painting of the tower to emerge from a place of complexity and mixed feelings. He described his work as a ‘research space’ where he explored the themes of time, perception, colour, and architectural forms (Rosenberg 1998). The painting represents the tower as a kind of paradox: it seems that people are climbing scaffolding to create the tower and, at the same time, the piecemeal nature of the painting makes it seem as though the tower is crumbling and falling. Construction and deconstruction are happening simultaneously. The painting depicts a kind of history of overweening human ambition. 

The abstract imagery of fragmentation and distorted time feels applicable to the destruction of the city of Babylon, the home of the mythic Tower of Babel. Roszda painted this in Paris after fleeing the Hungarian Revolution before it was crushed by the Soviets. The chaos and disorder of this painting is a haunting memorial to the difficulty of challenging fragile empires, echoing in the biting words of the angel in Revelation 18:6 (NRSV), ‘Render to her as [Babylon] herself has rendered’.



Rosenberg, David. 1998. ‘Entretiens avec Endre Rozsda’, in Endre Rozsda: Retrospective ed. by Magyar Balint (Budapest: Mucsarnok), pp. 75–89

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