The Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko at the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland

In this episode, we’ll be taking a closer look at The Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko at the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland. Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me, Anthony King.

The Battle of Grunwald, painted by Jan Matejko, is an expansive oil on canvas completed in 1878. Measuring 426 cm × 987 cm, it spans nearly 10 meters in length! It’s massive! This monumental artwork portrays the Battle of Grunwald, illustrating the triumphant victory of the allied Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania over the Teutonic Order in 1410.

Jan Alojzy Matejko, also known as Jan Mateyko, was born in the Free City of Kraków in June 1838 and passed away on the November 1st, 1893. The renowned Polish painter was a leading exponent of 19th-century history painting, focusing on pivotal events from Polish history, and spent the majority of his life in Kraków. There are many things going on in this paintings and wherever you look you can find a new story within the story. However, in a nut shell; the central theme of the painting revolves around the death scene of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Ulrich von Jungingen. Another prominent figure depicted is the Lithuanian grand duke Vytautas the Great, adorned in red attire with a raised sword. Heralded for its historical significance, the depiction of the Battle of Grunwald holds enduring fame in Polish consciousness.

This painting also has an incredible world war 2 history. During the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany, the Battle of Grunwald, along with the Prussian Homage, was concealed by the Polish people. These two artworks topped the Nazis’ “most wanted” paintings list, as part of their systematic campaign to eradicate artefacts of Polish culture. Joseph Goebbels offered a bounty of 10 million marks for the painting, leading to the execution of several members of the Polish Underground who refused to disclose its location despite interrogation and torture. Obviously, the painting survived the war years and was hidden near Lublin which a 2 hour drive away south east of Warsaw Jan Matejko actually initiated the collection of materials for the painting in 1871 and commenced the actual painting process around 1872, completing the masterpiece in 1878.

By Anthony King (c)