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Mucha continued working on the cycle for 18 years. He gradually handed over the finished paintings to the city of Prague. In 1919, the first part of the series, comprising eleven canvases, was displayed in the Prague's Clementinum. In 1921, five of the paintings were shown in New York and Chicago to the great acclaim of the audience.
After finishing the work in 1928, the complete cycle was displayed in the Trade Fair Palace in Prague. It was the first exhibition of the work in the Czechoslovak capital.
Alfons Mucha died in July, 1939. Shortly before his death he was interrogated by Gestapo as an important exponent of public life in Czechoslovakia. During World War II, the Slav Epic was wrapped and hidden away to prevent seizure by the Nazis
13. GEORGES DE PODRBRADY ET KUNSTAT. [ TREATIES TO BE OBSERVED.] The Hussite King Ji?í z Pod?brad (1923)
By the 1430s, Rome was forced to acknowledge the strength and determination of the Hussites and officially recognise the beliefs of the Utraquist Church in a treaty called the Basel Compacts.
In 1458 Bohemia elected its first native Czech king in around 150 years, Ji?í z Pod?brad, who became an extremely popular ruler. In 1462, King Ji?í sent a delegation to Rome to confirm his election and the religious privileges that had been granted to the Utraquist Church in the Basel Compacts. Not only did Pope Pius II refuse to recognise the treaty; he sent one of his cardinals back to Prague to order Ji?í z Pod?brad to ban the Utraquist Church and return the kingdom of Bohemia to the rule of Rome.
In this painting, Mucha depicts Cardinal Fantin’s visit to Prague and his ensuing confrontation with King Ji?i. Cardinal Fantin stands arrogantly in red robes as the king kicks over his throne in anger and defiance. His refusal to acknowledge the papal authority is met by awe and astonishment among the members of his court. A young boy in the foreground closes a book entitled Roma, indicating that the period of cooperation with Rome has come to an end.
14. NIKOLAI ZRINSKI DEFENDING SZIGET AGAINST THE TURKS. [THE SHIELD OF CHRISTENDOM] 1914
In 1566, the Turkish army advanced upon the city of Sziget in their campaign to expand the Ottoman Empire eastwards. Under the leadership of the Croatian nobleman Nikola Zrinski, the inhabitants of Sziget and the surrounding area gathered within the city walls and closed the gates. When the Turkish soldiers finally broke down the fortifications 19 days later, Zrinski refused to surrender. Despite his courageous efforts to push his army out of the city, he and his men were killed in a ferocious assault. When Zrinski’s wife Eva saw that the Turks had taken the city, she decided to set fire to the city walls, killing countless soldiers and halting the Turks’ advance into Central Europe.
Mucha’s composition immortalises Eva’s decision to sacrifice the city and many of its inhabitants in order to protect her country from the Turks. A column of black smoke bellows up from the spot where she has thrown a burning torch. To the left of the column, the men prepare for the final assault while, to the right, the women attempt to hide from the Turks.
15. THE IMPRESSION OF THE KRALICE BIBLE. GOD GAVE US A LANGUAGE (1914).
The Unity of the Brethren formed in Bohemia in 1457. Informed by the teachings of Jan Hus and Petr Chel?icky, the Brethren believed that education was the key to true faith. In the Bohemian town of Ivan?ice – Mucha’s birthplace – Brethren scholars produced a Czech translation of the New Testament. Later known as the Bible of Kralice when printing transferred to the nearby town of Kralice, this work became an important symbol of Czech national identity and was instrumental in keeping the Czech language alive.
Mucha depicted his home town of Ivan?ice on a sunny autumn day. The industrious Brethren gather around the printing press to inspect the first printed pages. In the foreground a young student reads to an old man. He looks out to the viewer and his stern expression seems to foretell the impending persecution that will force the Brethren to flee the country.
16: JAN AMOS KOMENSKÝ [A FLICKER OF HOPE]. 1918
In 1619 the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II became King of Bohemia. He set about reinstating the Roman Catholic Church in the predominantly Protestant region, prompting a revolt which culminated in 1620 with the Battle of White Mountain near Prague. 30,000 Bohemians defending religious liberty were crushed by King Ferdinand's imperial army of 25,000 soldiers. 27 noblemen involved in the insurrection were executed and Protestants were given the order to either convert to Catholicism within 3 days, or to leave Bohemia.
One of the country’s most celebrated religious exiles was Jan Amos Komenský. Komenský was one of the Bohemian Brethren’s spiritual leaders. He believed that education was the key to true faith and his innovative approach to teaching earned him a reputation throughout Europe, particularly among fellow exiles. Komenský spent the last years of his life in the town of Naarden in Holland. Each day he would walk along the coast, and when he felt his death approaching, he asked to be taken there on a chair.
Mucha’s composition is dominated by greys and blues that capture the melancholic nature of Komenský’s solitary death on foreign shores. He is overlooked by mourning followers who attempt to comfort each other. The small flickering lantern offers a vague hope that one day the exiles will be able to return to their native Bohemia.