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Róth Miksa – Life is Prettier Looking Through Colored Glass
Róth Miksa – Life is Prettier Looking Through Colored Glass

In Budapest, near the Keleti Train Terminal is a little street called Nefelejcs utca (Forget-me-not Street).  The name becomes appropriate once one visits number 26, the Róth Miksa Museum’s building.

The world-renowned glass painter and mosaic artist, Róth Miksa’s 150th birthday was celebrated in Hungary in 2015.  He was born at Pest, on December 26, 1865, the son of Roth Zsigmond and Duller Mária.  One of his brothers, Manó, was also a glass painter who did the windows of the Synagogue at Szeged.  Another brother was an actor known by the name Pesti Kálmán, and their sister (whose name could not be found) was the mother of Elek Artúr,  editor of the famed Nyugat magazine.  (N.B.: Zsigmond and Manó spelled the last name without the accent over the “o”.  It was Miksa who added it to ease pronunciation.)

Miksa’s father and grandfather had a glass painting shop where he first learned the trade.  He traveled extensively in Europe, studied Gothic churches and cathedrals and became a master of glass painting and a mosaic artist.  He was only 19 when he took over his father’s workshop.  At the time, glass shops were popping up in Budapest and among those the Roth shop was the most successful.  In the late 1880’s, Miksa had 10 trainees working in his studio.

Róth Miksa’s mentor was the architect Steindl Imre who had designed Nefelejcs utca 26, the house Miksa later purchased, remodeled and to which he had an addition built.  The family apartment was on the first floor, his studio on the second and third.  The museum is now as it was when he lived and created his splendid work there.  In his apartment he surrounded himself with earth colors: browns and beiges, but his glass works are of the most beautiful vivid colors.

In 1886, shortly after construction had started on Steindl’s masterpiece, the Hungarian Parliament building, the gem on the Pest side of the Danube, he was also commissioned to reconstruct the Roman Catholic church at Máriafalva.  He asked the 20-year-old Róth Miksa to make its stained glass windows.  That was Miksa’s first major work, followed by many, many more: in the Parliament, the Gresham Palace, the Academy of Music, the Agricultural Museum, the Hungarian National Bank, St. Stephen Basilica, as well as several other churches in Budapest; St. Stephen Chapel at Pannonhalma, Roman Catholic church at Keszthely, windows of the Törley-mausoleum and a slew of miscellaneous works too numerous to list.  

In 1855, “antique glass” was developed in England, followed by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s “opalescent glass”.  Both gave Róth’s art new inspiration.  He purchased opalescent glass from a Hamburg glass painter, Karl Engelbrecht.  For the 1898 Christmas Exhibition of the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, he created a window from opalescent glass, seen there for the first time in Austria-Hungary.  One of his major works is in Mexico City: the 180 m2 glass ceiling of the Palacio de Bellas Artes which he created with the architect Maróti Géza, and the mosaics surrounding the stage opening of the Teatro Nacional. (For a brief biography of Maróti Géza, see the December 2010 issue of Magyar News Online.) The two of them also designed the crystal curtain separating the stage from the public but, due to World War I, the construction was awarded to Tiffany.

Róth worked with several famous Hungarian architects, designers and builders: Alpár Ignác, Vágó József, Quittner Zsigmond, Lechner Ödön and, most importantly, Steindl Imre. The mosaics of the Hungarian House in Venice were created in cooperation with Nagy Sándor and körösfői Kriesch Aladár.

His art was influenced by many European artists and styles.  Several of his masterpieces were in the Gothic style but he also created windows in Hungarian Secession, Viennese Secession and Art Nouveau.

Although most of Róth’s commissions came from churches, he also designed stained glass windows for the middle class, with colorful flowers: lilies, irises; with birds: peacocks and swans, as well as fairies.

His masterpieces can also be found in cities outside of Hungary: in Oslo, Venice and Milan and, as mentioned before, even overseas.  In Transylvania, the 12 windows of the Great Hall of the Marosvásárhely Culture Palace showing scenes from Székely ballads are his work (see the February issue of Magyar News Online). So are the windows of City Hall at Marosvásárhely.

Many of Róth’s most beautiful pieces in Transylvania were thought to be lost but were found later in basements, attics, secret warehouses, even at the Romanian Communist Party’s headquarters.  One beautiful piece of his art found its way from Buda to Turin, Italy, then to Russia, from there back to Hungary – and then the trail was lost.  A small note was found in the museum suggesting it could be at the Kolozsvár Karolina Hospital, now an Orthodox church. 

Many of his superb works did not survive the two World Wars and the Communist regime. 

From 1897, Róth also made glass mosaics.  The best known are the ones of Széchenyi Fürdő, Török Bank building’s façade, the Deák- and the Kossuth- mausoleum mosaics.

Róth Miksa received many awards.  In 1898, he was the first to receive the National Industrial Arts Gold Award; he was awarded silver at the Paris World Exhibit in 1900 for his “Pax” and “Rising Sun” mosaics, made with opalescent glass.  More gold awards followed in Turin in 1902 and in St. Louis, MO in 1904. He was knighted by Emperor Franz Joseph and, for renewing the glass mosaic technique, he received Victor Emmanuel III’s gold award.

The artist was married to Walla Jozefa. They had two daughters, Amália and Erzsébet, and one son, József.  There are no living descendants.  Róth Miksa died on June 14, 1944 in Budapest, leaving his magnificent creations for us to enjoy.

The Róth Miksa Emlékház (Memorial House) is located in Budapest, Nefelejcs utca 26; open Tuesday – Sunday 2pm to 6 pm.

Karolina Tima Szabo is a retired Systems Analyst of the Connecticut Post newspaper and is Webmaster of Magyar News Online.  She is the proud grandmother of two.


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