The Slav Epic
"It was as early as 1900, that I decided to devote the second half of my life to work that would help to build up and strengthen the sense of national identity in our country.
I am convinced that every nation can only continue to develop successfully if its growth is incessantly and organically connected to its roots and that the knowledge of one's history is essential for maintaining this connection.
Our literature offers us beautiful works that present the course of our history – sometimes glorious, sometimes sad – to the inner sight of our people.
Even music, symphonies and cycles connected to our history awaken the love for our homeland through art. I wanted to speak to the nation's soul in my own manner, through the bodily miracle that carries the impressions to consciousness the fastest.
I would say that the image works forcefully: it can penetrate the soul through the window of an open eye. It is up to the observer to deal with the perception as they wish. They can dismiss it, not fully acknowledging its existence, or they can get seduced by its alluring exterior, stop in front of the sight and perhaps even search for its meaning and significance, eventually finding the core from which it arose, be it beauty or truth.
I considered this, now completed, work to be my duty. However, it would be impossible to carry out such an enormous endeavour without material support.
My friend, Mr Charles R. Crane, who, although American, harbours a great love for Pan-Slavism, understood my efforts and helped me realise my dream. In 1910 in Chicago, we agreed that he would help carry the costs associated with my work, which would then be given as a gift to the city of Prague.
In all the paintings, I steered clear of everything that could resemble harsh quarrels and the blood spilt during such altercations.
The purpose of my work has never been to destroy but to create constantly, to build bridges because we must all seek solace in the hope that all of humanity will become closer, all the easier, if they know each other well.
I will be happy if I am allowed to contribute to spreading this knowledge with my modest share – at least for now among us, in our Slavic family."
Alfons Mucha, Prague, 1929
SLAVS IN THEIR ORIGINAL HOMELAND
The Slavs' original homeland was located in the wetlands stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Small families and larger tribes – Veneti, Antes, and Sclaveni – settled around the Vistula, Dnieper, Dniester and Western Dvina rivers. They lived by hunting and agriculture. Both them and their possessions posed enticing prey for the nomadic tribes from the east and the south: the Turanians and the Sarmatians. From the north and the west, they were often attacked by Goths. They built their settlements in the swamps to protect themselves from the raiders.
The image represents a clear starry night. On the left, in the back, a Slavic village is burning, invaded by a horde of nomads. The wild raiders killed the old and infirm. They took away the cattle as well as the young villagers. They plan to sell the captives profitably at the large slave market in the city of Kherson at the shore of the Black Sea.
At the bottom of the picture, a man and a woman crouch huddled together. They are the only ones who have saved their lives tonight. Their gaze radiates dread and terror. The overwhelming fear keeps them pinned to the ground, but other emotions start to push through, even stronger: hatred, a desire for revenge, and a craving for life in peace and tranquillity. All these feelings take on a corporeal form, ascend to the stars, and symbolically materialise into the figure of a zhrets, an Old Slavic priest who begs the gods for help.
On the right, he is propped up by an armed young man in red, a symbol of war, and on his left, by a girl in white, a symbol of peace.
The painting expresses the idea that sometimes it is necessary to fight to protect oneself, but one can only flourish and prosper in peace. It has been chosen as an introduction to the whole cycle as it shows the conditions the original Slavs came from and hints at what they are capable of in the future.
JAN MILÍČ from KROMĚŘÍŽ
1st painting of the triptych "The magic of the word"
Jan Milíč came from a burgher family; he was a son of a master weaver from Kroměříž. Initially, he worked as a notary in the royal office of king Charles IV in Prague. He later became the royal vice-chancellor and a canon at St. Vitus. Both posts were very profitable. However, Milíč soon realised that many high-ranking dignitaries, both secular and clergy, lived immorally, and burghers and lower classes followed their lead.
Around that time, Charles IV invited the German preacher Konrad von Waldhausen to Prague to give sermons condemning local citizens' sinful and immodest ways. Jan Milíč felt deeply influenced by Konrad's teachings and followed the example of Francis of Assisi. He resigned, lived in voluntary poverty, led by example, and spread the word. He preached in Czech, Latin and German in churches and on the street and fought against pride, adultery and greed. It went so far that he was accused of heresy and had to defend himself before the pope.
In 1372, he achieved an unusually great success. His words deeply affected many Prague prostitutes, who have decided to repent. Milíč begged the king to donate him the land in the Old Town, where the brothel called Venice used to stand. He partly bought and partly received several construction sites in the vicinity. He built a chapel and a New Jerusalem, a monastic shelter for women.
In the background, the image shows the remnants of the brothel and the crowd of onlookers. On the left, Mucha depicted the gothic architecture of Konviktská Street in Prague. In the foreground, there is scaffolding rising over the construction site of the new shelter. Under the scaffolding, Jan Milíč speaks to the women, who, under the influence of his words, put down their jewellery and repent. The woman with her mouth bound symbolises repentance, rectification and doing good deeds.
MASTER JAN HUS PREACHING AT THE BETHLEHEM CHAPEL
2nd painting of the triptych "The magic of the word"
The painting captures the last sermon of Master Jan Hus in the Bethlehem Chapel in 1412. The chapel originally had four naves and a Gothic vault. It was named to honour the children murdered at Herod's command after Jesus Christ was born. In Hus's time, it was the only place in Prague where sermons were preached in Czech. The chapel is painted from the view of someone sitting at the altar steps. Master Jan Hus preaches to Prague citizens of all classes. Pupils sit under the pulpit, listen and carefully take notes. At that time, Master Jan was not only a preacher but also the rector of Charles University. On the left, near the chapel wall and next to a veiled figure in white, there is Jan Žižka of Trocnov, at the time a courtier of King Wenceslas IV and Queen Sophia's doorman. The man clad in black sitting in front of him is the tradesman Kříž, who donated part of the land to construct the chapel. Next to him, dressed in red, is Hanuš of Mülheim, who obtained a building permit and provided funds to build the chapel.
Under the canopy on the right, Queen Sophia watches the sermon. Jan Hus was her confessor, and she had often defended him in front of her spouse, King Wenceslas IV. Her lady-in-waiting has the appearance of Mucha's wife Marie, née Chytilová. This figure looks to the right, where a hooded figure lurks in the corner behind the Romanesque baptismal font. He spies for Catholic priests who want to be informed about the content of Hus's sermons. When preaching, Hus fought against the church's iniquities and selling indulgences as a form of repentance.
In 1412, an interdict was declared over Prague, banning all church rites, and it was in effect until Jan Hus left the city.
The painting was created in 1916 when a residential house still stood on the site of the former Bethlehem Chapel. Prominent Czech historians and the Club for Old Prague have led the effort to rebuild the chapel. In 1948, the Czech government approved the Bethlehem Chapel restoration. The renovation was carried out based on the project of Ing. prof. architect Jaroslav Fragner and completed in 1954. Therefore, the chapel's interior painted in the picture does not correspond with its current state.
MEETING AT KŘÍŽKY
3rd painting of the triptych "The magic of the word"
After the death of Jan Hus, the religious reform movement spread mainly in southern Bohemia. At first, its ideas were simple and non-violent. The goal was to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. The initiators wanted to achieve this through a religious revival according to the spirit of the Gospel. The rallies took place on the hills: at Hradiště (later Tábor), at Beránek near Vožice, at Oreb near Třebechovice. The followers of the movement wanted to live as the first Christians. Pilgrimages were very popular, and they spread like a "spiritual contagion" among the commoners, and neither secular nor ecclesiastical authorities could do anything about it.
However, the radical branch from Tábor soon took over. On September 17, 1419, during a meeting on Bzí hill, the municipality of Tábor issued a written proclamation to all devoted Czechs. Václav Koranda Sr., a priest from Pilsen, was the author, and it read: "Brethren! Know that the vineyard has blossomed, but the goats want to eat it up, so don't walk holding sticks but weapons!" Another meeting, this time already armed, took place on September 30, 1419, on the hill behind Jesenice, called Na Křížkách. This place is still called U Křížků and is located 20 km south of Prague towards Benešov, near Velké Popovice.
Václav Koranda, who stands on a scaffolding built hastily above the thatched roof of the cottage, is preaching to the gathering. Down below stretches a camp of pilgrims that followed him from Pilsen. Under the pine trees, communion takes place at a long table. The pilgrims drink from the chalice, which later becomes a symbol of religious opposition. Some brothers water their horses; others wash clothes, prepare food and watch the procession coming from Prague. Ominous gloom covers the whole landscape; the only ray of light shines above the pilgrims and symbolically heralds the dawn of a new era.
The painting is overflowing with symbolism: the dry tree with the white banner signifies war and death, and the green pine and red banner represent life. The dark sky pierced by lightning embodies changes that have recently occurred: the death of Wenceslas IV, the first defenestration in Prague, and Jan Žižka forming the military division of Hussites. The whole picture should be perceived as a challenge and a call to arms, to the fight for the truth for which Master Jan Hus laid down his life.
THE CELEBRATION OF SVANTOVIT ON RÜGEN
The Slavs could no longer make a living in the overcrowded region, so they set out in search of a new homeland. This era of tumultuous changes is known as the Migration Period. As early as the 7th century, some tribes settled along the coast of the Baltic, which was back then called the Slavic Sea. The Slavic immigrants assimilated the remnants of the Celtic and Germanic populations in the area.
A large island with many lakes lies near the Odra estuary to the Baltic Sea. It's called Rügen, and it was the home of the Rani tribe for centuries. At the northernmost tip of the island, protected by ramparts and steep chalk cliffs, was the capital of Arkona and the temple of the god Svantovit.
This painting shows the autumn festival celebrating the aforementioned god. The priests thank the deity for the rich harvest and prophesy the future. In that regard, Arkona's significance for Slavs is comparable to Delphi for the ancient Greeks. On the right, a procession led by the high priest emerges from the temple. At the head of the crowd, he drives a bull, a symbol of strength, to be sacrificed. It's a sunny afternoon; people rejoice, sing and dance, and only a mother with a child on her lap - situated at the centre in the bottom part of the scene - is gloomy, perhaps predicting how unhappy the future of the Rani tribe will be.
During the Crusades against the Baltic Slavs in 1168, the Danes, led by Valdemar of Denmark, managed to conquer the Arkona, demolish the temple and burn down the statue of Svantovit. This event is symbolically depicted at the top of the image. On the left, Wödan, the Germanic god of war, holds a shield, and a pack of sacred wolves surrounds him. The last Slavic warrior dies on a sacred white horse in the top centre. Svantovit takes the sword from man's hand to fight for his worshippers. A group of chained people symbolises the Slavic peoples conquered by the Germans. The figures of the bards remind us that we know about the Baltic Slavs only from chronicles, myths and legends.
At the bottom right, a young carver creates a new idol as a replacement for the destroyed statue of the god Svantovit. Mother and son were painted with darker colours, and they stand out vividly from the two-dimensional environment. This pair symbolises the twilight and the eventual demise of the Baltic Slavs.
TSAR SIMEON OF BULGARIA
The reign of Tsar Simeon at the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries represented the peak of medieval Bulgarian power and glory. After fierce fighting with the neighbours, he seized control over almost the entire Balkans and got very close to claiming the Byzantine throne. At the height of his power, he won the imperial crown for himself and Bulgaria.
When Bishop Methodius died in Great Moravia on April 6, 885, it sparked a dispute between supporters of Latin and Slavic liturgies. Although Methodius promoted Gorazd as his Moravian successor, the Roman Curia entrusted the administration of the Moravian Church to Bishop Wiching of Nitra and at the same time banned the use of the Slavic language in worship. Slavic priests were driven out of Great Moravia, and most of them found a home in Greater Bulgaria. Among them were Clement of Ohrid - pictured at the top left, the first Bulgarian bishop of Slavic nationality, and - in the upper right corner - Naun and Angelarij, who simplified Glagolitic to Cyrillic, the predecessor of the current Cyrillic alphabet.
Simeon was an educated man; he loved and spread art, especially literature. He declared the language of the Bulgarian Slavs to be the state and church language in 894 and supported the literary schools in Ohrid and Velká Pereslav. The painting shows him sitting on a throne in a palace in the capital city of Velká Pereslav and supervising the work of scribes who write down the elders' memories, so they do not fall into oblivion. The available literature is translated here, and monks transcribe and reproduce literary works.
The whole painting is stylised with Byzantine richness and opulence.
AFTER THE BATTLE OF GRUNWALD
In the 12th century, during the Crusades, the Teutonic Order settled on the territory of the then Slavic Prussia. Its original task was to spread the Christian faith, but the Order also aimed to extend its power and got into territorial disputes with its neighbours. In 1409, war broke out between Prussia and Lithuania. Poland became an ally of Lithuania, as family ties also united the two countries. The decisive battle took place at Grunwald on July 15, 1410. Mercenary corps from Bohemia and Moravia also arrived to help Poles and Lithuanians. The Moravian knight Jan Sokol from Lamberk led the mercenaries, and Jan Žižka from Trocnov was most likely among them.
The painting represents the site of a bloody battle at dawn the next day. The Teutonic Order suffered a defeat, and king Władysław II Jagiełło, accompanied by his entourage, came to see his victory.
Under the hill lies the fallen Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Ulrich von Jungingen, with a cross on his chest. The king witnesses the number of slain enemies and the immense sacrifices that his warriors had to make. Overwhelmed by unnecessary death, he covers his face in pain.
In the background, the Orthodox Patriarch blesses all the fallen, especially the Smolens, who stood in the front row. Numerous white cloaks with black crosses covering the battlefield symbolise the broken power of the Order, and Poland and Lithuania managed to defend their freedom. In a crusader cloak, a figure kneels to the left, and behind it stands a warrior in armour and a broad helmet. Directly behind him is Jan Sokol from Lamberk, and on the left next to him is Jan Žižka from Trocnov with a tip over his right eye.
Mucha portrays this victory in his typical fashion. Even this great triumph of the Slavs is not depicted as a celebration of the victorious battle but as a piece condemning the violence, serving as a call for the peaceful coexistence of nations.
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SLAVONIC LITURGY AT GREAT MORAVIA
The Great Moravian Empire was not just a loose union of tribes but a close-knit state that successfully faced the onslaught of the Franks. However, the local church was subordinate to the Bavarian bishops, and Moravia's ruler, Prince Rastislav, understood that only establishing an independent church organisation would strengthen the country's position. In the years 860-861, he asked the Roman Pope Nicholas I for spiritual help. However, Pope refused his request. Rastislav turned to the Byzantine Emperor Michael III with a plea to send teachers to Moravia who would be capable of spreading the Christian faith in an understandable, i.e. Slavic, language.
In 863, the educated Constantine, who later took the name Cyril, and his brother Methodius arrived from Thessaloniki. They compiled a new script, the Glagolitic, and used it to translate the Gospels. The apostles selected able disciples, taught them the scriptures and worship in the Slavic language. Although Latin priests fought a fierce battle against these services, Methodius' consistency prevailed, and Old Slavonic became an equal ecclesiastical language in Great Moravia.
The painting represents the capital of Great Moravia: Velehrad. In the middle of the courtyard, Prince Svatopluk sits on a high stool, surrounded by his entourage, and bishops and nobles stand before him. The deacon reads a letter where the Pope appoints the new Archbishop, Methodius, who will be superordinate to Bishop Wiching, who resides in Nitra, and will be allowed to serve services in the Slavic language. The Frankish knights watch him humbly. The rotunda in the background was painted according to the church of St. George in Thessaloniki. In front of it, Methodius stands at the head of a procession of his disciples. In 880, he returned from his third trip to Rome. His brother Cyril entered a monastery there and was buried there.
The group of people at the top left symbolises the then violent spread of Christianity by the Franks. Dressed in a cowl, Cyril protects the Moravians from heaven at the bottom left. On the top right, Mucha used four figures to symbolise the liturgical connection of Great Moravia to Kievan Rus, St. Olga with her husband Igor, and to Greater Bulgaria, St. Boris with his wife. The two figures in the middle, sitting on a sword shaped like a ship, are the sons of St. Vladimir of Kyiv, Gleb and Boris, patrons of sailors and protectors of merchants. Mucha depicts Christianity as a metaphorical port to which all Slavic nations gradually arrived. The figure of a young man with a circle and a clenched fist represents strength and cohesion.
THE CORONATION OF STEFAN UROŠ DUŠAN
It took a long time for the Serbian tribes to unite. They lived in valleys separated by high mountains and did not overthrow Byzantine rule until the end of the 12th century. Stefan Nemanja united most of the Serbian tribes in the Drina basin and Montenegro into a state that consolidated its position during the 13th and 14th centuries. Stephen IV Dušan incorporated additional territories into Serbia: southern Macedonia, Albania, Thessaly, the Belgrade area and others. He built a great empire that stretched from the Danube to the Gulf of Corinth. In 1349, he issued a Code, codifying the rights of Serbian feudal lords, enserfing their subjects and curbing the rights of free peasants.
In 1346 at Easter, Stephen IV. Dušan held a coronation ceremony in Skopje, where he was crowned Tsar of Serbs and Romans (Greeks). The painting represents the moments immediately after the ceremony. At the head of the procession, the nobles carry the tsar's helmet, shield and sword, while the chancellor has the state seal. The tsar, dressed in a lavish coronation robe, holds a sign of his power: a sceptre. The girls with the branches sprinkle flowers in front of him. In the tsar's footsteps follows Stephen V. Uroš, his son, who was awarded the title of king of all Serbian and coastal territories on that day. The Serbian patriarch walks close behind. The procession ends with priests, envoys from all significant European courts, and the nobility. Ladies in beautiful clothes stand on raised platforms at the temple and pay tribute to their new tsar knight.
The procession also includes an envoy of the Czech and Roman King Charles IV, who ended his written congratulations to tsar Dušan with the words: "I am happy to see that at this time the whole of Europe is in the hands of two Slavs."
A girl with a long braid and a flower crown, situated at the bottom centre, concludes the composition. Her figure is a typical example of Mucha's richly elaborate Art Nouveau style.
KING OTTOKAR II OF BOHEMIA
Wenceslas I left his son Ottokar II (1253–1278) with a rich legacy. The Czech lands experienced a period of prosperity, and the Přemyslids were among the most powerful rulers in Europe. Kutná Hora provided an abundance of silver, resulting in a large income. Due to his wealth and generosity, Ottokar was called the "Golden King". The Czech Empire expanded in Austria to include Styria, Egerland, Carinthia, Carniola and other territories.
Ottokar had a major long-time rival, Béla IV, from the Hungarian Árpád dynasty. Their disputes culminated on July 12, 1260, with the Battle of Kressenbrunn. Ottokar's famous "iron cavalry", which earned him the nickname the "Iron King", dominated the field and forced the Hungarians to flee chaotically. Ottokar seized Bratislava, coercing Béla to engage in peace negotiations.
After the victory, Ottokar II wanted to consolidate a lasting peace through a series of political marriages to Árpáds. He divorced Margaret of Babenberg and married Kunigunde, the granddaughter of Béla IV. He also arranged the marriage of Béla's second-born namesake son, Béla, to his niece Kunigunde of Brandenburg. The wedding of Béla and Kunigunde took place on October 25, 1264, on Žitný ostrov river island. Ottokar II used the ceremony to demonstrate that his reputation was absolutely justified. The painting shows the most influential European ruler of the 13th century in a tent town built especially for the wedding. He warmly greets his recent opponents. There are King Daniel of Galicia and Serbian King Stefan Uroš I, with both sons Dragutin and Milutin, Duke of Croatia, Bosnian, Transylvania and Bulgaria, princes, counts and knights from Germany, Poland, Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Ottokar II was the most serious contender for the throne of the Roman Emperor. The electors, however, decided to choose the then inconsequential prince: Rudolf I of Germany, from the house of Habsburg. Even the peace gained through political marriages did not last long. In 1273, the Hungarians invaded Moravia again. In 1276, Ottokar II had to face the invasion of the troops of the new Roman Emperor. He was forced to sign the armistice with Rudolf and lost numerous territories. Ottokar also had to face the rebellion of Czech noblemen. His last fight took place on August 26, 1278, in the Battle on the Marchfeld, where Ottokar II was defeated and killed.
THE BRETHREN SCHOOL AT IVANČICE
The Unity of the Brethren was a religious denomination that originated in the early second half of the 15th century in response to the corruption and vices of the Roman and Utraquist churches. Under the influence of humanism, they softened the initially strict approach to education, and their schools were among the best in the Czech lands at this time.
Mucha presents his hometown, Ivančice, in the form it had in the 16th century, with the city walls and the church tower. The town was home to one of the most famous Brethren schools: the aristocratic law school. Karel the Elder of Žerotín, the then lord of Rosice and Náměšť nad Oslavou, generously supported the institution. Distinguished people taught there, including the erudite Jan Blahoslav from Přerov, known for his translation of the New Testament from Greek to Czech. This translation was considered a gem of Czech literature. The Brethren set up a printing press at their church in Ivančice and began printing the Bible. In 1578, the press was transferred to a Romanesque fortress situated at the nearby Kralice. Due to that, this version of the Bible is called the Kralice Bible.
The painting shows the classes taught at the Brethren school in nature. To this day, the place in Ivančice is called "Ve Sboru", meaning "At the Brethren’s place". The lessons are interrupted by the visit of Karel the Elder of Žerotín. He sits on the right, under the shelter and looks at copies of the Bible. His second wife rests nearby. It is known that she has been ill all her life, and the fact is reflected in her face. There is a printing press on the right edge of the screen. A young man with the face of Alfons Mucha reads from the Bible to the blind man seated on the left as a comfort. The sunny autumn with abundant harvest symbolises the time of fruitful prosperity that follows after the scorching summer of the Hussite wars. The swifts circling the tower of the Ivančice church are preparing to leave, indicating that the members of the Unity of Brethren will soon have to undertake a long journey. After the Battle of White Mountain (1620), many left home because of their faith and sought refuge abroad.
THE ABOLITION OF SERFDOM IN RUSSIA
Russian Empire had fallen behind, politically and economically, and only caught up to the countries in Western Europe in the 19th century. The defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856) and several peasant uprisings forced the government to implement changes. The Emancipation reform laid the foundation for the country's industrial development. Keeping 47 million people in serfdom was no longer sustainable. No further progress would be possible without free workers.
On February 19, 1861, in the sixth year of Tsar Alexander II's reign, a tsarist Manifesto was passed, proclaiming the abolishment of serfdom.
The painting depicts a cold March morning on Red Square in Moscow in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. The Kremlin towers loom in the background. To the right of the temple - built in the 16th century by the first Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible, is a round tribune from which the Tsar's order abolishing slavery was announced on March 5, 1861. Officials leave it after the announcement. The village and town people remain in the square, and it is clear from the facial expression that everyone deals with their new freedom in their way. Some rejoice at the new possibilities; others are unsure what to expect.
Above the towers of the Church of Vasily the Blessed, the first rays of the sun, symbolising dawn and freedom, gradually penetrate the thick fog. Alfons Mucha painted this painting in 1914–1915, after returning from his study trip to Russia in 1913. He changed his original intention - to paint the Abolition of Serfdom in Russia as a glorious historical event because he recognised the oppression of ordinary Russian people and their actual standard of living.
PETR CHELČICKÝ AT VODŇANY
Petr Chelčický ranked among the most influential religious thinkers of the 15th century. He lived in the village of Chelčice near Vodňany, and his pacifist teachings distinguished him from the main Hussite factions. He knew the leaders of the Hussite movement personally, especially Jan Hus. His religious principles included the complete equality of all Christians. According to Chelčický, people living in secular coexistence must endure evil without resistance to be rewarded in the afterlife. This belief sets him apart from the Hussites, who were not hesitant to defend their truth and religion with weapons.
The painting represents an event in autumn 1420 when the victorious Hussite army marched from Prague back to southern Bohemia. At that time, the powerful feudal lord Oldřich of Rosenberg, an implacable enemy of the Hussites since his defeat at Tábor, invaded the town of Vodňany with his mercenaries. He murdered or banished supporters of the reform movement, demolished the city walls and appointed new, anti-Hussite town councillors. The news of this act quickly reached the Hussite army, which set out from the camp near Písek and stormed Vodňany to right the wrongs perpetrated by the attackers.
Smoke rises from the plundered and burning city in the background. The inhabitants flee to the pond near the Chelčice village and lay their dead and wounded on its shore. Hopelessness, fear and anxiety reflect on many faces: on the left is a crying little girl who was able to save only the dishes in the basket and a bird in a cage from her home. Next to her, a young woman mourns the death of her loved ones. The sight of destroyed homes evokes other feelings in the hearts of the inhabitants. The desire for revenge overwhelms everything else. At this moment, Petr Chelčický steps in and proclaims his great faith in the power of love, tolerance and forgiveness. He holds the man's raised fist and tells him: "No, you must not repay evil with evil because then it multiplies, and it does not end. Let the evil perish."
In his tractates, Petr Chelčický condemns everything that contradicts Christian love, faith and hope, especially violence in any form. He lived to see his ideals fulfilled: In 1457, Jan Řehoř founded the Unity of Brethren in Kunvald according to his teachings.
THE DEFENCE OF SZIGETVÁR BY NIKOLA ZRINSKI
The Ban of Croatia, Nikola IV Zrinski, was a descendant of the old noble house of Šubić Bribirski. He rose to fame by defending his homeland against the Ottomans. In 1563, he was appointed a commander of the royal army on the Danube and in Szigetvár.
In 1566, the Turks invaded Hungary with a large army, and in early August, they besieged Szigetvár. Though the Ottoman forces vastly outnumbered them, the defenders fought fiercely for every part of the city, palace and old fortress. Ultimately, Zrinski and his garrison were defeated, but their courage and the enormous casualties suffered by the enemy postponed the Ottoman campaign to the west for several years.
The painting captures the last moments of the defenders when the Turkish army had already taken over the city. The palace and the old castle are engulfed in flames, and Zrinski gives a fiery speech to what remains of the garrison and prepares them for the last charge. Exhausted fighters lay aside their heavy gear, so it doesn't slow them down.
The right part of the picture shows a gunpowder magazine that the defenders did not want to surrender to the enemy. The commander of local women lights a torch she will later throw into the magazine. Other women follow her on the scaffolding because they prefer death to captivity and slavery.
The dark column of smoke dividing the image symbolises the explosion of the fortress and the nobility of the terrible sacrifice: the lives lost in the name of freedom.
AFTER THE BATTLE OF VÍTKOV HILL
One of the famous chapters in the history of the Hussite era was the Battle of Prague between the troops led by Jan Žižka of Trocnov and the army of the Roman Emperor Sigismund. Sigismund was a younger brother of King Wenceslaus IV, and after Wenceslaus's death, he laid claim to the Czech throne. The emperor's large army, composed of mercenaries hired all over Europe, besieged Prague. Žižka set out from Tábor to help the people of Prague. As an experienced military leader, he realised Vítkov hill's importance for the city's defence. He fortified a part of his forces there, but he could leave only a small garrison on the spot because his army was disproportionately weaker.
Zikmund occupied all access routes to Prague, except the road leading from the Poříčská gate under the Vítkov hill to Tábor. To ensure that Prague won't lose contact with its surroundings, Žižka built two defensive log cabins on Vítkov, protected by a small moat and surrounded by a wall. He defended this key position personally, along with twenty-six men, two women and one girl.
Sigismund's armies launched an attack on Prague on Sunday, July 14, 1420. The cavalry from Meissen and Thuringia stormed the Vítkov. With a powerful assault, the horse regiment managed to reach the log cabins, where it encountered the defenders' heroic resistance. The uneven battle raged for a long time. In this desperate situation, the people of Prague used the Poříčská gate to attack the mercenaries from behind. In the ensuing panic and confusion, the enemies fled down the steep slopes, which have proven fatal for many of them.
The painting captures the scene after Žižka and his fighters descended victoriously from the Vítkov hill. The priest from Tábor stands at the field altar and holds the host. The other priests lie on the ground in deep humility. Together they thank God for their victory. A man sitting on a wicker basket behind the altar is accompanying prayers by playing on a field organ. On the left, on the road, a young warrior bandages his wounds, and a Tábor woman breastfeeds a child, a symbol of a new generation. In the background on the left, you can see the Poříčská gate and the city walls, brightly lit by the rays of sunlight. Vítkov looms on the right. Žižka, clad in a red cloak, stands deep in thought and thanks God for this miraculous victory. In front of him lie captured weapons and equipment.
JOHN AMOS COMENIUS
The Comenius family took its name from the village of Komňa near Uherský Brod. Martin Komenský worked for his brother, a miller, when his son Jan was born on March 28, 1592. Comenius's birthplace is uncertain - Uherský Brod or Nivnice are mentioned as the two most likely possibilities. Soon the whole family moved to Uherský Brod, where they belonged to the class of wealthy burghers and became important members of the Unity of Brethren. The Unity's help allowed Jan to attend the school in Přerov. He graduated from colleges in Herborn and Heidelberg. During his studies, he began writing the Treasure of the Czech Language and prepared an encyclopedia for young people, Theatrum Universitatis Rerum, the Theatre of the World.
After returning to Bohemia, he became a priest and teacher at the Přerov school and later the rector of the school in Fulnek. After the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 and the Old Town Square executions in June of the following year, Comenius learned about an arrest warrant on his head. He obeyed the warning of Karel the Elder of Žerotín and hid near Šternberk on the Žerotín estate, but then he had to flee from Moravia to Brandýs nad Orlicí.
In 1628, after the proclamation of the Renewed Land Ordinance, he permanently went into exile - first to Leszno in Poland, then he travelled to England, France, Sweden, Hungary and back to Leszno. The Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, meant long domination of the Habsburgs over the Czech lands and a lifelong exile for Comenius. He channelled his disappointment in his work The Last Will and Testament of the Dying Mother The Unity of Brethren. Swedish and Polish troops swept through Leszno, and the town burned for three days. He lost the manuscripts for the Treasure of the Czech Language that he kept there. He spent his old age in the Netherlands in Amsterdam, where he managed to get published half of his works.
In the Netherlands, he often went to the seashore to reminisce about his distant homeland before his advanced age and illness strapped him to a chair. His friend's gesture, full of hopelessness, and the grief of his wife and others in his company indicate that the picture depicts the last days of his life. The dream of returning home fades like a flame of the lantern sitting on the sand. He knows that he won't see his homeland as a free country.
In the distance is the silhouette of Naarden, where Comenius is buried. He died on November 15, 1670.
GEORGE OF PODĚBRADY
Mucha has chosen to dedicate one of the canvases to the "King of both people", George of Poděbrady (1458-1471), due to the sovereign's exemplary manners, directness and uprightness. The painting depicts an event that happened during George's reign.
Zdeněk Kostka of Postupice and Prokop of Rabštejn delivered a message to Pope Pius II in Rome, who did not take it kindly. On April 3, 1462, the envoys returned to Prague, along with the permanent representative of the Czech Kingdom in the Vatican, Fantinus de Valle. He brought forward the pope's demand that King George, his family and the whole nation renounce the Hussites, as well as his decision not to continue to recognise the validity of the Compacts of Basel that regulated relations between the Hussites and the Catholic Church. The King receives ambassadors from Rome at the King's Court in Prague's Old Town during the Diet. His reaction to the pope's request is furious. He rises from the chair so fiercely he knocks it over and answers: "I do not recognise the pope as a judge over my conscience, my family, or my nation." The papal envoys had to stand as no one offered them seats to mirror the fact that the Czech envoys had to stand before the pope in Rome. The horror over the sharpness of the king's answer reflects on the faces of the papal legate's entourage. The Czech nobles watch the scene with proud postures and expressions.
Several historical figures are present in the painting. The five-petalled rose on the back marks the lord of Rosenberg, a member of the royal council and ruler of southern Bohemia. Sitting opposite him is Archbishop Jan Rokycana, with a cross on a purple robe. In the right corner, we can see a figure with a fool's cap, a wise and educated man who has renounced all privileges to advise the king: Brother Paleček, the most famous court jester in Czech history. To his left, a boy vigorously closes a book with the inscription "Roma". Mucha used this to symbolise the end of all negotiations between the Pope and George of Podebrady.
At the end of this audience, the king dismisses all papal envoys. The next day, he summons Fantinus de Valle and imprisons him for betraying and misrepresenting the interests of the Czech Kingdom. The pope responds by anathematising George, even refusing to accept him as the King of Bohemia. When George heard of these decisions, he declared that he would die a Czech king. And he did, almost ten years later, in 1471, at the age of 51, at the peak of his diplomatic and political power.
THE OATH OF OMLADINA UNDER THE SLAVIC LINDEN TREE
According to Alfons Mucha, cruel moments arose after the Thirty Years' War ended. Recatholicization, centralisation and Germanization culminated in the 18th century under Maria Theresa and Joseph II. However, after a period of the most intense political and linguistic oppression, the Czech national revival flourished.
The people of Prague fought hard to restore their cultural and national identity. At the end of the 19th century, a progressive youth group, Omladina, has formed. The movement was accused of high treason, and in the 1894 trial, 76 people were prosecuted, 68 of whom were sentenced to a total of 96 years in prison. Among them were the future representatives of political and cultural life such as Alois Rašín, Karel Stanislav Sokol, Stanislav Kostka Neumann and others.
The painting depicts a sacred Slavic linden tree. Alfons Mucha used a real linden tree in the Žamberk region as a reference. In the fork of its branches sits mother Slavia. Young people kneel before her, swearing allegiance to the nation and mutual cohesion. To the left, in the background, stands an older man with a huge grey moustache - a figure from the history of Serbia reminding viewers that a similar movement also existed there. Sokol member takes the oath on the right.
The details of the faces of many figures were intentionally left out; Alfons Mucha avoided portraying the acting politicians of that time. In 1925 and 1926, when Mucha painted this piece, the criticism of his work culminated, and the resulting bitterness might have discouraged him from completing the painting.
Only the lower part of the scene is worked out in detail: on the left is a girl playing the harp, who has been modelled after Mucha's daughter Jaroslava. For the boy on the right, the painter used his son Jiří. Their companions embody youth: the future of the nation. According to Alfons Mucha, only a nation that knows its history and roots of its origins can live and work for the present and the future. On the right, the old guslar sings about the famous deeds of his ancestors and the youth listen. On the far right, we see the swastika - a symbol of the sun in motion - worshipped by the ancient Slavs and other pagan nations.
Mount Athos is the easternmost and largest of the three promontories of the Chalkidiki peninsula in the Aegean Sea, with the 47 km long Athos mountain range and 2033 m high peak of the same name. The whole promontory belongs to the Orthodox monastic state and comprises about 20 monasteries. Currently, about 2,000 monks live there, and according to the ancient tradition, women are still not allowed there. Athos has unique significance for Orthodox Christians as one of their spiritual centres.
According to legend, the Mother of God found refuge there during the apostles' persecution, and Athos is allegedly her final resting place. Even though Mount Athos is consecrated as the "garden of Virgin Mary", hers is the only female presence allowed there. By law, no female can set foot on the entire peninsula, not even the female animals except cats. This law was established in 1045 by a decree of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX.
Emperor Theodosius the Great had the first Church of the Virgin built there in the 4th century. The first monastery was built in the 5th century. In 885, Byzantine Emperor Basil I declared Athos an official residence of monks and hermits. By the 11th century, most of the 20 monasteries were already standing, as well as kelies (cells) and hermitages. The Byzantine Empire heavily supported the monasteries, and by the 15th century, Athos became an Orthodox cultural and religious centre. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the situation worsened, and the monasteries survived only thanks to the sponsorship of Christian rulers from the Danube countries. In 1794, the Athos School was founded. Around that time, monasteries were growing, new monks were coming, and Athos was experiencing its golden age. Another revival came in 1826, after the monks who fled the Turks returned.
In the 19th century, many Russian monks flocked to Athos. On November 5, 1912, the Greek flag was hoisted in a small port town, and in 1924, Greece recognised the legal sovereignty of Athos.
The painting represents the interior of one of the Athos temples, the apsis with the mosaic of the Virgin Mary. On the right, rays of sunlight enter the temple, illuminated by numerous candles. Priests stand before the iconostasis and let the pilgrims kiss the holy relics. Cherubs hovering in the bright light carry models of four other Orthodox monasteries: Serbian Hilandar, Russian St. Panteleimon, and Bulgarian monasteries Zograf and Vatopedi. Behind the cherubim, we see the portraits of four igumens, the heads of the monasteries mentioned above. In the foreground is a young man who supports a blind old man - the young man is again Mucha's self-portrait.
APOTHEOSIS OF THE SLAV HISTORY
The last painting sums up the Slavs' history and, at the same time, the whole Slavic epic. Four colours section the scene.
At the bottom right, the colour is blue - it symbolises antiquity and the Slavs in their homeland when they still worshipped pagan gods. Zhrets, the Old Slavic priest, presents a burnt offering to the gods.
In the upper third of the painting, the colour is red, commemorating the famous moments of Slavic history - the most important Czech rulers - Přemysl Ottokar II, Charles IV and the last Czech king George of Podebrady. Furthermore, the reformational ideas of Jan Hus and the success of the Hussite movement.
Under the red, the black section follows, symbolising the lost battles and the period of oppression of the Slavs: raids by the Franks, Avars, and Turks and 300 years of oppression of the Czech language after the Battle of White Mountain.
The largest area of the canvas is painted yellow - the colour of joy and freedom. The First World War ended in 1918, and after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, many Slavic nations achieved freedom. At the bottom left, people welcome legionnaires returning from abroad. Women in Slavic national costumes knit garlands and prepare flags for the celebration of independence. On the right, an old man thanks God that he let him live long enough to experience freedom. The flags of the victorious powers flutter behind them. On the left, we see representatives of the Slavic nations.
The figure of a young Slavic man dominates the upper part of the painting. He spreads his arms wide to show that he is finally free. He holds wreaths of victory and unity with ribbons of a Czechoslovak tricolour tied to them. Behind him, Christ blesses all the Slavic nations. The image ends with a rainbow, symbolising the most important idea of the entire Slavic Epic cycle: peace between nations.