Jan Matejko

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Jan Matejko
Jan Matejko-Auto portrait.jpg
Jan Matejko, Self-portrait, 1892
Birth name Jan Mateyko
Born June 24, 1838
Kraków, Free City of Kraków
Died November 1, 1893(1893-11-01) (aged 55)
Kraków, Austria–Hungary
Nationality Polish
Field Painting, drawing
Training School of Fine Arts, Kraków
Movement History painting
Works Battle of Grunwald
The Prussian Homage
Kraków Academy of Fine Arts named after Matejko in 1979, where he served as president of many years

Jan Matejko (About this sound Polish pronunciation ) (also known as Jan Mateyko; June 24, 1838[nb 1] – November 1, 1893) was a Polish painter known for paintings of notable historical Polish political and military events.[2][3] His most famous works include oil on canvas paintings like Battle of Grunwald, paintings of numerous other battles and court scenes, and a gallery of Polish kings. He is counted among the most famous Polish painters.[2][3]


Matejko was born on June 24, 1838 in the Free City of Kraków.[2] His father, Franciszek Ksawery Matejko (Czech: František Xaver Matějka) (born 1789 or 13 January 1793, died 26 October 1860), a Czech from the village of Roudnice, was a graduate of the Hradec Králové school who later became a tutor and music teacher.[2] He first worked for the Wodzicki family in Kościelniki, Poland, then moved to Kraków, where he married the half-German, half-Polish Joanna Karolina Rossberg (Rozberg).[2] Jan was the ninth child of eleven that his parents had.[4] He grew up in a kamienica building on Floriańska Street.[5] After the death of his mother in 1845, Jan and his siblings were cared for by his maternal aunt, Anna Zamojska.[4]

At a young age he witnessed the Kraków revolution of 1846 and the 1848 siege of Kraków by the Austrians, the two events which ended the existence of the Free City of Kraków.[2] His two older brothers served in them under General Józef Bem; one died and the other was forced into exile.[2]

From his earliest days Matejko showed artistic talent, but he had great difficulty with other subjects.[6] He never mastered a foreign language.[7]

He attended St. Ann's High School, which he dropped out of in 1851 because of poor results.[6] Despite that and because of his exceptional talent he studied at the School of Fine Arts in Kraków from 1852 to 1858.[2] His teachers included Wojciech Korneli Stattler and Władysław Łuszczkiewicz.[8] He finished his first major historical painting, "Tsars Shuyski brought by Żółkiewski to the Warsaw Sejm in front of Zygmunt III", in 1853.[8] During this time, he began exhibiting historical paintings at the Society of Friends of the Fine Arts there (such as "Sigismund I Bestowing Nobility on the Professors of the University of Kraków in 1535."). After studying under the historical painter Hermann Anschütz in Munich (1859) and then briefly and less successfully in Vienna, Matejko returned to Kraków. It would be however years before he would gain commercial success; for a time he was the proverbial "starving artist", who celebrated when he sold a canvas (Tsars Shuyski) for five gulden.[2]

In 1860 Matejko issued an illustrated album, Ubiory w Polsce (Clothing in Poland), a project reflecting his intense interest in historical records of all kinds and his desire to promote such interest among the Polish people in an effort to intensify their patriotic feelings.[9]

During the January Uprising of 1863, in which he did not participate because of poor health, Matejko gave financial support, donating most of his savings to the cause, and personally transported arms to the insurgents' camp.[9] His "Skarga's Sermon" finished in May 1864. It was displayed in the gallery of the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Art (Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Sztuk Pięknych w Krakowie), which gained him much publicity.[9] On 5 November that year, in recognition for his contributions to recreating historical themes, he became a member of the Kraków Scientific Society (Towarzystwo Naukowe Krakowskie).[10] Soon afterward, on 21 November, he married Teodora Giebultowska, with whom he would have four children: Beata, Helena, Tadeusz, and Jerzy.[9] Tadeusz, his first son, was a painter who studied under his father's supervision.[11] Helena, his daughter, also an artist, was a patriot who helped victims in World War I and was awarded the Cross of Independence by president Stanisław Wojciechowski.[12]

At that time Matejko (literally a starving artist during his younger days) started to gain international recognition. In 1865 Matejko's painting "Skarga's Sermon" was awarded a gold medal at the yearly Paris salon; soon afterwards Count Maurycy Potocki bought it for 10,000 guldens.[2] In 1867, his painting "Rejtan" was awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris and acquired by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria for 50,000 franks.[13][14]

Beginning in 1873, he was for many years the principal (rector) of the Academy of Fine Arts.[9] Matejko died in Kraków on November 1, 1893. He was buried in the Kraków's Rakowicki Cemetery. [9]

Copernicus, in Conversation with God, (1872)

Historical themes[edit]

Art critics listed Matejko as one of the most important European historical painters.[2] From the Polish perspective, he succeeded in propagating Polish history, and reminding the world about Poland which, while partitioned and without any independent political representation, still commanded the hearts of many.[2]

The national defeats forced him to abandon the Christian religious painting which, he believed, was his vocation and to devote himself almost exclusively to historical painting. In fact he created a vision of Polish history that has remained influential despite the criticism of historians. Matejko often placed in his paintings people who were not present at the scene depicted (e.g. Hugo Kołłątaj and General Józef Wodzicki in The Battle of Racławice). He was not interested in presenting factual events but in representation of a historical-philosophical synthesis. Matejko's work has to be viewed not only in artistic terms, but also in terms of the social function it performed and continues to perform today. He considered history as a function of the present and the future. His paintings are not historical illustrations, rather they are powerful expressions of the artist's psyche and his attitude to the world.

Matejko was focusing on major themes in Polish history and using historical sources to paint events in minute historical detail. He created two groups of historical paintings. The earlier one starting with the painting Stańczyk (1862) was directed against the magnates whose lack of patriotism caused, in his opinion, the fall of Poland. Stanczyk, the court jester to King Sigismund I (1437–1548), to whom Matejko gave his own features. The jester is presented as a symbol of the nation's conscience: he sits glumly in a chair apart from the other figures, alone in seeing that events during the wars against Moscow would ultimately end in tragedy. This group of paintings included among others also Kazanie Skargi (Sermon of Piotr Skarga) (1864) and Reytan (1866).

The second group, painted after the defeat of January Uprising, is dedicated to famous events in Polish history. Matejko depicted many major events and battles in Polish history. His most famous work is Bitwa pod Grunwaldem (Battle of Grunwald) (1878) depicting the 1410 Polish and Lithuanian victory over the Teutonic Knights; a painting showing "clearly nationalist endeavour"[15] which garnered it international acclaim as "an unrivaled icon of Polish nationalism".[16] Other paintings in this group include Unia Lubelska (Union of Lublin) (1869), Stefan Batory pod Pskowem (Stefan Batory at the siege of Pskov) (1872), Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus), Dzwon Zygmunta (Sigismund's Bell) (1874), Hołd Pruski (Prussian Tribute) (1882), Sobieski pod Wiedniem (Jan III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna) (1883), Wernyhora, Kościuszko pod Racławicami (Tadeusz Kościuszko at the battle of Racławice) (1888), Dzieje Cywilizacji w Polsce (History of civilization in Poland) (1889) and Konstytucja 3 Maja (Constitution of the 3 May) (1891). From 1890 to 1892 he also painted all of the Polish kings compiled in his book Portraits of Polish Kings (1890); his dedication to detail is evident in that he attended the opening of Queen Jadwiga's sarcophagus in 1887 to make sketches of her skull.

In addition to history paintings Matejko made also several portraits. Among others: Żona w sukni ślubnej ("Wife in the wedding dress") (1879), A. Potocki (1879), S. Tarnowski (1890), Autoportret (1892). Altogether Matejko authored 320 oil paintings and several thousands drawings and watercolors. Finally he painted a monumental polychrome in St. Mary's Basilica, Kraków (1889–1891). His most important paintings were hidden during World War II (Bitwa pod Grunwaldem was buried in Lublin). After 1945 many of his works were found and subjected to restoration. They are now mainly in Warsaw's National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie). His works, disseminated in thousands of reproductions, have made him one of the most famous painters in Poland, and became almost standard illustrations of many key events in Polish history.


His more prominent students included Maurycy Gottlieb, Jacek Malczewski, Józef Mehoffer, Witold Pruszkowski, Leon Wyczółkowski, Stanisław Wyspiański, Ephraim Moses Lilien, Antoni Piotrowski.

Selected works[edit]

Below is the list of Matejko's most famous works, in a chronological order.

# Title Year Technique and size Location Illustration
1. Stańczyk (Stańczyk w czasie balu na dworze królowej Bony gdy wieść przychodzi o utracie Smoleńska) 1862 oil on canvas
120 × 88 cm
National Museum, Warsaw Matejko Stańczyk.jpg
2. Kazanie Skargi 1864 oil on canvas
224 × 397 cm
Royal Castle, Warsaw Kazanie Skargi.jpg
3. Polonia - Rok 1863
(Zakuwana Polska)
oil on canvas
156 × 232 cm
Czartoryski Museum, Kraków Rok 1863 Polonia.JPG
4. Rejtan – Upadek Polski 1866 oil on canvas
282 × 487 cm
Royal Castle, Warsaw Rejtan Upadek Polski Matejko.jpg
5. Unia Lubelska 1869 oil on canvas
298 cm × 512 cm
Lublin Museum Unia Lubelska.JPG
6. Stefan Batory pod Pskowem 1872 oil on canvas
322 × 545 cm
Royal Castle, Warsaw Jan Matejko-Batory pod Pskowem.jpg
7. Astronom Kopernik, czyli rozmowa z Bogiem 1873 oil on canvas
225 × 315 cm
Collegium Novum Jan Matejko-Astronomer Copernicus-Conversation with God.jpg
8. Zawieszenie dzwonu Zygmunta 1874 oil on wood
94 × 189 cm
National Museum, Warsaw Matejko Hanging of the Zygmunt bell.jpg
9. Śmierć króla Przemysła II 1875 Modern Gallery in Zagreb Śmierć króla Przemysła II.jpg
10. Bitwa pod Grunwaldem 1878 oil on canvas
426 × 987 cm
National Museum, Warsaw Matejko Battle of Grunwald.jpg
11. Hołd pruski 1880-82 oil on canvas
388 × 875 cm
National Museum, Kraków Prussian Homage.jpg
12. Jan III Sobieski pod Wiedniem 1883 Vatican Museums Sobieski Sending Message of Victory to the Pope.jpg
13. Wernyhora 1883-84 oil on canvas
290 × 204 cm
National Museum, Kraków Matejko Wernyhora.jpg
14. Założenie Akademii Lubrańskiego w Poznaniu 1886 National Museum, Poznań JMatejko Akademia Lubrańskiego.JPG
15. Bitwa pod Racławicami 1888 oil on canvas
450 × 890 cm
National Museum, Kraków Bitwa pod Raclawicami.jpg
16. cycle Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce 1888
17. Zaprowadzenie chrześcijaństwa 1889 oil on wood
79 × 120 cm
National Museum, Warsaw Zaprowadzenie chrzescijanstwa 965 Matejko.JPG
18. Konstytucja 3 Maja 1791 r. 1891 oil on canvas
247 cm × 446 cm
Royal Castle, Warsaw Konstytucja 3 Maja.jpg
19. Russian Tsar Vasili IV Shuyski compelled to kneel before Polish King Sigismund III Vasa at Sejm in Warsaw 1892 oil on wood
42 cm × 63 cm
Jan Matejko House in Kraków Carowie Szujscy na sejmie warszawskim Jan Matejko 18 century.jpeg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ While the date of June 24 is most commonly given, some recent biographers of Matejko note that there are reliable documents for two other dates: July 28 and July 30.[1]


  1. ^ Maria Szypowska (September 2011). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany (in Polish). Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. pp. 7–8. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Jan Matejko: The Painter and Patriot Fostering Polish Nationalism". Info-poland.buffalo.edu. Retrieved 2011-09-12. 
  3. ^ a b "History's Impact on Polish Art". Info-poland.buffalo.edu. Retrieved 2011-09-12. 
  4. ^ a b Maria Szypowska (September 2011). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany (in Polish). Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. p. 12. 
  5. ^ Maria Szypowska (September 2011). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany (in Polish). Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. p. 11. 
  6. ^ a b Maria Szypowska (September 2011). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany (in Polish). Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. pp. 18, 22–23. 
  7. ^ Maria Szypowska (September 2011). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany (in Polish). Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. p. 18. 
  8. ^ a b Maria Szypowska (September 2011). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany (in Polish). Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. p. 25. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Bochnak (1975), p. 186
  10. ^ Henryk Marek Słoczyński (2000). Matejko (in Polish). Wydawn. Dolnośląskie. p. 81. ISBN 978-83-7023-820-9. 
  11. ^ Maria Szypowska (1996). Jan Matejko wszystkim znany. Fundacja Artibus-Wurlitzer oraz Wydawn. Domu Słowa Polskiego. Retrieved 11 September 2011. [page needed]
  12. ^ AB (2002-12-05). "Helena z Matejków Unierzyska". Miasta.gazeta.pl. Retrieved 2009-09-19. 
  13. ^ Projekt. Prasa-Książka-Ruch. 1992. p. cxliii. 
  14. ^ Jan Matejko (1993). Matejko: obrazy olejne : katalog. Arkady. p. 1963. ISBN 978-83-213-3652-7. 
  15. ^ Brettell, Richard R. (1999). Modern Art 1851-1929. Oxford University Press. p. 202. 
  16. ^ Mendelsohn, Ezra (2002). Painting a People. UPNE. p. 3. ISBN 1-58465-179-2. 


  • Adam Bochnak; Władysław Konopczyński (1975). "Stefan Batory". Polski Słownik Biograficzny (in Polish) XX. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]