Jan Mateika
Arbalet. XV Century. Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw
Flag from Poznane. XV Century. Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw
 

 


EXHIBITION "THE BATTLE OF TANNENBERG"

Jan Mateika "The Battle of Zalgiris"

April 14, 1999- September 1, 1999, Lithuanian Art Museum 
[Museum of Applied Art, 3A Arsenalo St., Vilnius (Lower Vilnius Castle), Lithuania]

  • The exhibition was inaugurated April 14, 1999 by H. E. Valdas Adamkus, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, and H. E. Aleksander Kwašniewski, the President of the Republic of Poland.
  • Organized by: Lithuanian Art Museum, National Museum in Warsaw, Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw, Polish Institute in Vilnius.
  • Initiated by: H, E. prof. Eufemia Teichmann, Ambassador Extraordinary, and
    Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland in Lithuania, and Mr. Jerzy Teichmann.
  • Coordinators would like to thank for the support: Government of the Republic of Lithuania, Ministry of Culture and Art of the Republic of  Poland, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania.
The Painting „The Battle of Tannenberg"
The Battle of Tannenberg

The Painting „The Battle of Tannenberg"

Jan Matejko, the author of the painting „The Battle of Tannenberg" was born on June 24, 1838 in Cracow.
"The Battle of Tannenberg"  is a vast painting. Its impressive size (4,26x9,87 m) alone proves it being a major undertaking by the painter. However, it was not the size that made this painting the higest achievement of Matejko’s art. It several years „The Battle of Tannenberg" was taken for display to almost half European countries and brought its author an international acclaim in monumental painting.
The painting "The Battle of Tannenberg" by Jan Matejko portrays one of the biggest battles of the Middle Ages in Europe. It took place on July 15, 1410 on the field between the villages of Grunfeld and Tannenberg, 90 km from Marienburg (Malbork). The united Lithuanian-Polish army fought against the forces of the Teutonic Order. The Order's force under command by the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was inflicted a defeat and fled. Victorious came the coalition army reinforced by the Russian, Czech and Tartarian units, all of them led by the senior commander king Vladislav Jagellon (Polish - Wladystaw Jagiello, Lith. - Jogaila). The painter captured the decisive moment of the battle, which was the death of the Grand Master.
Matejko based his composition on the description of the battle by Marcin Bielski (1495-1575) in his "Kronika wszystkiego swiata". His primary source, however, was Jan Dlugosz, (1415-1480) with his account of the battle in "Annales". Matejko also used the information from "Banderia Prutenorum" by the same author, a study of the colors seized on the battlefield from different units of the Order and its allies. In 1872 the painter was readywith a complete oil sketch (its size was 1,38 X 7, 38 m), in 1875 he started working on the final version of the painting. After two years of work he took a trip via Marienburg to the actual location of the battle. It was important for -him to see the actual terrain of the battlefield; upon returning he made many alterations in the landscape. The final stage of the work took place in the Town Hall of Krakow, where the painting was hung on the wall. It was only then when the artist could have a full view of the battle scene and relate its elements into a coherent whole.
The idea of the painting rests on two central figures: Ulrich von Jungingen who is fighting back two attacking soldiers and Vytautas the Magnus galloping on his horse. The Grand Master's countenance is a look of hopelessness in the face of death; the Lithuanian duke is radiant with combat zeal. The figure of Vytautas is slightly lifted above the fighting crowd and turns into a token of marshal success.
All the power of the Lithuanian-Polish force in this engagement with the Order seems to be concentrated in this heroic image of the Grand Duke. The pathos of Vytautas is opposed by the tragedy of the Grand Master. This contrast multiplies emotional effect of the painting, as does the strength with which two simple soldiers attack the Grand Master. These two soldiers are not only a formal element of the composition, - they are a part of historical-philosophical concept inherent in the painting. The two privates represent brave and decisive nature of the Polish and Lithuanians.
They also signify the unity of the two nations. The fighting crowd in the background strikes by its variety of type and most diverse emotional reactions. Though the cruel struggle is depicted in a realistic fashion, its members emerge as noble fighters inspired by the complete awareness of their righteous cause. Anonymous soldiers are conceived as heroes of the history.
In its dynamism and expressiveness "The Battle of Tannenberg" surpasses the rest of Matejko's work. It is the most powerful vision of the historic battle decisive for the nations who fought it. It has been left to us by the European painting of the nineteenth century.

The Battle of Tannenberg 

Late summer of 1410 saw the battle that became news for the whole of Europe: the Teutonic Order - also known as the Order of the Cross - was defeated by the Polish and Lithuanians, at that time more Pagans than Christians. The chroniclers of both sides left scarce and contradicting accounts of the engagement called the Battle of Tannenberg in Western Europe and the Battle of Grunwald in Eastern Europe. It entered Lithuanian history still by a different name, the Battle of Zalgiris. In 1226 Polish dukes of Masovia invited the Palestine based Teutonic Order into the lands of Culm (Chelmno) on the river Vistula expecting the Order's help n their struggles against Prussians. Having established itself firmly in this territory, the Order started preaching the word of God to the infidels. They did so by sword and by fire. With all their might the Prussians tried to resist such Christianization, but in vain. They were conquered in the thirteenth century.

The fourteenth century Order's attacks, against pagan Lithuanian State, combined the mission of spreading Christianity and the desire to capture Lithuanian lands. The knights of the Order needed a support to fight effectively in this region, therefore new Well-armed knights •from Western Europe arrived every year to participate in the "Lithuanian crusades". For two centuries Lithuanians were attacked and for two centuries resisted the Order's aggression defiantly. Meanwhile Lithuania entered into a union with the Polish Kingdom. But the attacks by the Order continued, and in 1387 Lithuania was converted into Christianity. However, Jagellon and Vytautas, the Lithuanian dukes, had difficulty in reconciling with the occupation of their lands; neither did they like the idea of the Order gaining more power in the country. In early summer of 1410 preparations for the war started. In June 1410 Polish and Lithuanian troops with their colors assembled in Masovia, on July 3 they started moving to Wards the enemy. They found him in the Prussian territory, in the field surrounded by the villages of Tannenberg, Grunfeld and Luduvigsdorf. Two armies in size, unseen until then, in these quarters lined up against each other. It is considered that the coalition had around twenty or thirty thousand men, while the Order had amassed over twenty thousand. Vytautas the Great brought along Lithuanian conscripted soldiers and conscripts from the Russian lands ruled by the Lithuanian duke. Vytautas also had one Tartarian platoon under his command. Jagellon led the troops manned by Polish conscripts and mercenaries. Several Czech and Moldavian platoons came to fight on the Polish side. On the other side stood the knights of the military Order, German mercenaries, sons of feudal lords and their servants.

The engagement took place on July 15 and continued throughout the day. The crusaders made an advance and then struck the right wing of the Lithuanian force. The Lithuanians fought back for an hour, then they started withdrawing.

Order continued, and in 1387 Lithuania was converted into Christianity.
However, Jagellon and Vytautas, the Lithuanian dukes, had difficulty in reconciling with the occupation of their lands; neither did they like the idea of the Order gaining more power in the country. In early summer of 1410 preparations for the war started. In June 1410 Polish and Lithuanian troops with their colors assembled in Masovia, on July 3 they started moving towards the enemy. They found him in the Prussian territory, in the field surrounded by the villages of Tannenberg, Grunfeld and Luduvigsdorf. Two armies in size, unseen until then, in these guarters lined up against each other. It is considered that the coalition had around twenty or thirty thousand men, while the Order had amassed over twenty thousand. Vytautas the Great brought along Lithuanian conscripted soldiers and conscripts from the Russian lands ruled by the Lithuanian duke. Vytautas also had one Tartarian platoon under his command. Jagellon led the troops manned by Polish conscripts and mercenaries. Several Czech and Moldavian platoons came to fight on the Polish side. On the other side stood the knights of the military Order, German mercenaries, sons of feudal lords and their servants.

The engagement took place on July 15 and continued throughout the day. The crusaders made an advance and then struck the right wing of the Lithuanian force. The Lithuanians fought back for an hour, then they started withdrawing.

This led the German knights to believe they were about to win so they pursued the Lithuanians. Some historical sources newly found in the archives have showed clearly that withdrawing was a deception. It introduced chaos into the crusaders' ranks and enabled the Lithuanian-Polish coalition to inflict a painful blow on them. After this maneuver, the fighting went on for another six hours. The Polish troops and a part of the Lithuanian force continued struggling on the battlefield. It was an engagement fought hard both for the coalition and the crusaders, as the momentum of the battle was frequently changing from one side to the other.

The Lithuanian-Polish coalition did not gain superiority all at once. Jagellon was the  highest-ranking commander on the Polish-Lithuanian side, but contemporaries described the contribution by the Grand Duke Vytautas as having a decisive impact on the outcome of the combat. When the Grand Master of the Order was killed, the crusaders' army dispersed and
started fleeing the battlefield. Those who survived sought shelter in the closest castles. The allied forces headed towards the capital of the Order Marienburg Castle - and besieged it. The siege was a long one, and European capitals started encouraging both sides to make peace. That was the best way out for the Teutonic Order. On February 1, 1411 the Treaty of Thorn was signed. Though the conditions of the treaty were more ffavorable to the Order, Lithuania recovered previously invaded Samogitia. The Peace of Melno 1422, also called the Eternal Peace, established a boarder between the Teutonic Order and Lithuania. This boarder remained the same uuntil 1918, even though the countries on both sides of it did change. This treaty stopped the penetration of the Teutonic Order and its alliance into Lithuania. Lithuanians preserved their sovereign state; by embracing Christianity they destroyed the wall separating them from Europe. Of their own will they opted to share the way of life and fate with European races. The victory in the Battle of Tannenberg laid firm foundations for the direction chosen.

Information of the LAM
Pictures from the book „Zalgirio musis" (Vilnius, 1999)

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