Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942),  HOW THE KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS PREACHED THE GOSPEL - 1220 to 1466

Kossak shows the German crusader knights engaged in characteristic activities: burning the village settlements of pagan Balts; and, after their fighting men have all been killed, dragging the women and children off into slavery.  This painting is one of a series illustrating German oppression of Balts and Slavs throughout the ages, satirically entitled "The Prussian Spirit."

Jan Matejko (1838-1893),  BATTLE OF GRUNWALD -  15 July 1410

Despite Lithuania's conversion to Christianity in 1386, the Teutonic Order refused to terminate its efforts to conquer Lithuania.  In 1409, the Order declared war on Poland-Lithuania. 


Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942),  GRUNWALD -  15 July 1410



Mucha, the great Czech Art Noveau painter, included the Battle of Grunwald in his series of twenty monumental murals on the history of the Slavic people, entitled The Slav Epic.  King Wladyslaw Jagiello, here depicted as some sort of Romantic Slavic demi-god, covers his face in sorrow at the sight of the carnage produced by the great battle, as he inspects the battlefield the following morning.



Jan Matejko (1838-1893),  BATTLE OF VARNA (detail) - 10 November 1444

Wladyslaw III (1424-1444) was a child when he succeeded his father Wladislaw II Jagiello to the throne of Poland in 1434.  The boy king had been molded by the influence of his tutor, Bishop Zbigniew Olesnicki, to embrace eagerly the role of defender of the Christian Faith.   In 1440, Wladyslaw accepted the throne of Hungary, pledging himself to defend that country against the Turks.  In 1443, he launched a military campaign in the Balkans which liberated Sofia, and inspired a revolt in Albania, forcing the Turks to sign a peace treaty.   Wladyslaw was promised support from a number of European nations and the protection of a strong Christian fleet, and urged to resume the offensive.  On August 4th, he proceeded to break the truce.   No support was forthcoming, and it has long been rumored that the Genoese accepted substantial fees to ferry the Turkish Army across to the European shore, where Wladislaw and his army was trapped their backs to the sea.  Some authorities think the Christian Army might have possibly fought its way out of the encirclement, but faced with overwhelming enemy forces, the boy king simply placed himself at the head of two squadrons of Polish heavy cavalry, and charged directly at the center of the Turkish line.  The king's body was never recovered.         

Jan Matejko (1838-1893),  STANCZYK - July 1514

Stanczyk, the famous jester of Sigismund the Old, was renowned for his cynical humor, but Matejko shows the jester in a private moment of despair in a palace anteroom outside the royal ball being given by Queen Bona Sforza.  On the table next to the jester, we see dispatches announcing the fall of Smolensk to the Muscovites.  Alone among the denizens of Poland's royal court, only Stanczyk the jester forsees with dread the rise of Moscow and the destruction of the Commonwealth.


BATTLE OF ORSZA -  8 September 1514

Following the Muscovite capture of Smolensk in July, 1514, a Polish-Lithuanian army under the command of the Lithuanian Hetman Konstanty Ostrogski numbering around 35,000 men marched east to retake the city.  They were met by a Muscovite force of 70,000 under the command of Ivan Andreevitch Czeladin at a bend if the River Dneiper near Orsza on September 8, 1514.  The Muscovite army attacked first on the right, then on the left.  A feigned flight of Lithuanian cavalry led their pursuers into the fire of cannons hidden in the woods, precipitating panic, retreat, and the collapse of the Muscovite Army.  It was a major victory: Czeladin and several thousand of his troops were made prisoner.  Several important castles were taken in the aftermath of the battle, but the Polish-Lithuanian Army proved insufficiently large in the face of Muscovite manpower to recapture Smolensk. 


Josef Simmler (1823-1868), DEATH OF BARBARA RADZIWILL -  8 May 1551


Jan Matejko (1838-1893), THE UNION OF LUBLIN -  1 July 1569

Jan Matejko (1838-1893), DEATH OF SIGISMUND AUGUSTUS - 7 July 1572

"He left no heir but Liberty."



Artur Grottger (1837-1867), THE ESCAPE OF HENRY OF VALOIS FROM POLAND - 18 June 1574

Józef Brandt (1841-1915),   SKIRMISH WITH TARTARS


Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942),  KIRCHOLM -  27 September 1605

The Swedish King Charles IX laid siege to Riga 23 September 1605 with an army of 14,000 men.  The Lithuanian Hetman [Field Marshall] Karol Chodkiewicz raised 3500 men, and moved 80 kilometers in 36 hours to meet the Swedish Army.  Battle was joined at Kircholm on the 27th of September.   The Lithuanians killed 6000 Swedes, captured all eleven Swedish guns, killed two of four Swedish division commanders, and wounded King Charles IX who commanded a third.  This overwhelming victory was particularly impressive in the light of the disparity of forces.  In the Kossak painting, we see the winged hussars who played a decisive role in several stages of the battle.




Josef Chelmonski (1849-1914), CASIMIR PULASKI AT CZESTOCHOWA - 1769


Jan Matejko (1838-1893), REJTAN - Parliament of 1773

At the Parliament of 1773, meeting to ratify the First Partition of Poland-Lithuania by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, the leading prelates and officers of state, corrupted by foreign bribery, were actively collaborating with their country's enemies.  The Lithuanian delegate from Nowogródek, Tadeusz Rejtan, is depicted in this painting, having rent his clothes, and flung himself on the floor, attempting to block the door to the Chamber of Deputies, and prevent the fatal vote. "On the blood of Christ, I adjure you, do not play the part of Judas; kill me, stamp on me, but do not kill the Fatherland," Rejtan implores.  The deputies react variously.  One commands him to get out of the way; another looks at the floor in shame.  The Russian ambassador, Repnin, can be seen smiling cynically from the box above, surrounded by his Polish mistresses.  Rejtan, in despair at his country's fate, took his own life seven years later.  


Kazimierz Wojniakowski (1771-1812), THE VOTE UPON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE 3RD OF MAY 1791

Jan Matejko (1838-1893), THE CONSTITUTION OF THE 3RD OF MAY 1791


Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), KOSCIUSZKO TAKES THE OATH AS NATIONAL LEADER,  - 24 March 1794

Kosciuzko taking office as Commander-in-Chief of the Insurrection, swore before "God and the Innocent Passion of his son... not to use the powers entrusted to him for any personal oppression, but only... for the defense of the integrity of the country's boundaries, the restoration of the independence of the nation, and the establishment of universal freedom."

Jan Matejko (1838-1893), THE BATTLE OF RACLAWICE -4 April 1794

Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine (1745-1830), BATTLE OF RACLAWICE - 4 April 1794


Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine (1745-1830), BATTLE OF MACIEJOWICE -10 October 1794

Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine (1745-1830) KOSCIUSZKO AT MACIEJOWICE -10 October 1794






Piotr Michalowski (1800-1855), THE CHARGE AT THE PASS OF SOMOSIERRA - 30 November 1808

January Sucholdowski (1797-1875), THE BATTLE OF SOMOSIERRA - 30 November 1808


Advancing on Madrid via the pass of Somosierra through the Guadarrama Mountains, Napoleon and the French Army encountered a Spanish force of 12,000 regulars and militia (division strength) and sixteen artillery pieces blocking the summit of the pass.   Napoleon first attempted to clear the pass using French infantry, but by late morning all efforts to take the crucial position had been in vain.  Napoleon lost his temper, when one of Berthier's aides-de-camp reported that a quick result was impossible.  The Emperor turned to single squadron of Polish Light Horse, serving as his personal escort, the Third Squadron (consisting of the 3rd and 7th companies) of the Polish Light Horse of the Imperial Guard, and ordered them to take the pass.  The squadron under the command of Squadron Chief Jan Kozieltulski, numbering somewhere between 125 and 150 men, cried "Vive L'Empereur!" and charged four abreast up the narrow 1500 meter high pass directly into the face of an entire division and the mouths of sixteen cannons.   The Polish Squadron lost 81 men, and three of its seven officers were killed outright, and the other four seriously wounded (one of those died later), but the charge was delivered home, scattering the Spanish infantry and driving their artillerymen from all four batteries.  The  Polish charge at the Pass of Somosierra was undoubtedly one of most extraordinary feats of cavalry in the history of war. 


January Sucholdowski (1797-1875), THE STORMING OF THE WALLS OF SARAGOSSA - 16 January 1809



Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), PRINCE JOSEPH PONIATOWSKI IN 1812

January Sucholdowski (1797-1875), THE CROSSING OF THE BERESINA -25-28 November 1812



Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927),  PONIATOWSKI'S LAST CHARGE AT LEIPZIG -October 18, 1813

Prince Joseph Poniatowski (1763-1813) was the nephew of the last King of Poland, Stanislaw-Augustus Poniatowski. 

General Roman Soltyk wrote of him: "Poniatowski was one of the most handsome men of his time.  His skill in military exercises was  astonishing.  He distinguished himself equally by his courage and by his presence of mind in danger.  Full of enthusiasm and animated by a noble ambition, no obstacle was capable of stopping him.  His heart was excellent and in perfect harmony with his straightforwardness and the purity of his principles.  One can say he had his faults and they found their sources in excess as did his qualities.  He was always courageous to the point of being reckless, enthusiastic to the point of rapture, generous to the point of profligacy.  He was like a knight of ancient times.  If he had been born two centuries earlier, perhaps he would have been better understood and better appreciated than in the present, where a calculated cold and guilty egotism tears the soul and crushes the spirit of heroism.  Happily, Poniatowski appeared in a country where the influence of the time was less felt.  In Poland, he was looked upon as a hero."

Following the defeat of Prussia by France in 1806, Poniatowski was appointed to command the 1st Polish Legion in French service.  He became Minister of War for the Duchy of Warsaw in 1808.  He defeated Archduke Ferdinand in 1809, and captured Cracow in July.  In 1812, he commanded the Poles and Saxons comprising the Vth Corps of the Grande Armee in the invasion of Russia.  He fought at Smolensk and commanded the right wing at Borodino.  He was wounded at the crossing of the Beresina in the retreat from Moscow.  In 1813, he commanded the VIIIth Corps, and was wounded by a lance thrust shortly before Leipzig.  

On October 16, he received the baton of a Marshall of France. He was charged with covering the French retreat and fought with exceptional bravery in the "Battle of the Nations," losing half his Corps and being wounded personally four times while falling back slowli in the course of a fighting retreat toward the last bridge over the River Elster. 

January Sucholdowski (1797-1875), DEATH OF PRINCE JOSEPH PONIATOWSKI - October 18, 1813

 Surrounded and cut off, while covering the retreat of the French forces, rather than surrender, he attempted to swim the River Elster with his horse, and was drowned in the attempt. 



Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), THE FIGHT AT THE BELVEDERE PALACE - November 29, 1830

Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), A NOVEMBER NIGHT - November 29, 1830

The succession in 1825 to the throne of the Congress Kingdom of Poland of the autocratic Nicholas I, who made clear his contempt for constitutional government, led inevitably to revolt.   The reactionary order imposed the Congress of Vienna was tested all over Europe in 1830.  Greek independence was recognized by Britain.  In July, the Bourbon monarchy fell in France.  In August, the House of Orange was expelled, and Belgium declared its independence.  Fears that the Tsar might use the Polish Army to suppress the revolutions in France and Belgium led to revolution in Poland.  In two different portraits of the outbreak of the revolt, Kossak illustrates Polish cadets and Warsaw civilians in combat with Russian cuirrasseurs in the attack on the Belvedere Palace, the Polish equivalent of the White House, then the residence of Grand Duke Constantine, the Russian Governor General.   The statue of King Jan Sobieski appears to be leading the Polish assault.  This was the opening battle of the November Insurrection of 1830-1831. 


Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), COUNTESS EMILIJA PLATER IN COMBAT - 1831

And our commander, though in soldier’s uniform,
Was she not the maid the fairest of face?
The fairest of form?  Ah, she was the fairest:
Hero maiden, Lithuania’s daughter,
Leader of the Insurrection - Emilia Plater!

--Adam Mickiewicz

Emilija Plater (1806-1831), countess and descendant of an ancient German family long settled in Lithuania, in 1831 organized an insurrectionary unit from the local inhabitants of her neighborhood of Dusiaty  [Dusetos].  With 60 mounted noblemen, 280 mounted riflemen, and several hundred peasants armed with scythes, Plater defeated Russian forces in several skimishes and captured the town of Jeziorossy [Zarasai].  She was repulsed by Russian forces as she advanced attempting to seize Dyneburg [Daugavpils, Dunaburg].  She proceeded to join another unit in the successful capture of Wilkomierz [Ukmerge].  She then participated in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the Russian garrison from Vilnius.  Soon thereafter, Her unit was incorporated into the regular Polish forces under Generals Gielgud and Chlapowski.  She fought in the battle of Kaunas, in which she was nearly captured.  On the retreat from Kaunas, her regiment was surprised and defeated near Szawlany [Siaulenai].  When the regular Polish forces crossed the border into Prussia, and laid down their arms, Emilja Plater refused to surrender, and tried to reach the fighting continuing in Poland.  She fell ill, and died at Justinawa manor near Kopciowo [Kapciamiestis] December 23, 1831.     


Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), SOWINSKI AT THE REDOUBT OF WOLA - September 8, 1831

On September 6, 1832, Russian forces launched the final assault on the outnumbered Polish defenders of Warsaw.  Fighting went on for two days.  General Jan Sowinski (1777-1831), a veteran of the Prussian and Napoleonic Armies who had lost a leg in Russia in 1812, commanded the key position of Redoubt 54 and the churchyard of Wola.  When the Russians finally succeeded in capturing the stronghold, no one was left alive and General Sowinski's dead body was found still standing erect, propped upon its wooden leg, leaning on a cannon.  

Artur Grottger (1837-1867), THE PATROL

A mixed group of Polish cavalrymen, some manifesting obvious exhaustion, ride patrol.  The fading light of sunset represents the fading of Polish hopes in the struggle for Independance. 





Artur Grottger (1837-1867), THE INSURRECTIONARY'S FAREWELL -1863

A young gentleman leaving for the fighting bids farewell to his wife, who pins on his cap a cockade bearing the red & white Polish colors.


<="" a="">Maksimilian Gierymski (1846-1874),  THE INSURRECTIONARY PATROL ON PICQUET - 1863

The traveller on foot seems to be warning the rebel patrol that the enemy is not far off.  One rebel cavalryman looks back over his shoulder, while another rides off to alert the main body.


Artur Grottger (1837-1867), RECONCILIATION - 1863

Polish rebels and Russian infantry lie united in death on a snowy battlefield of the January Uprising.


Artur Grottger (1837-1867),  LITHUANIA

The story of the January Insurrection told in a series of six prints, secretly published between 1864 and 1866.  These patriotic images were immensely popular, and
would have been kept hidden, and brought out "to lift up the heart," in a great many of our ancestors' homes in the latter years of the 19th century.

1. The Lithuanian Wilderness

Death broods over the primeval Lithuanian forest.  

2. The Signal.

In their cabin, as her husband nods off, the young wife hears the signal calling for the rebels to defend their country.

3. The Oath.

The young man takes the oath of the Insurrectionary.

4. The Battle.

The Lithuanians go into battle.

5. The Ghost.

As the wife comforts her baby, and dreams of her husband away in the war, his ghost --shot through the heart-- looks on.

6. The Vision.

In Siberia (or perhaps in the coal mines of America), a vision of the Blessed Virgin comforts the widow in her brutal labor.


Michał Elwiro Andriolli (1836-1893), INSURRECTIONARY COMBAT

Rebels advance to the attack under Russian fire. The artist actually fought personally in the January Insurrection, and after being captured escaped from a Czarist prison in Kaunas.


Jan Matejko (1838-1893), POLONIA-1863

The aftermath of the failure of the Insurrection: Under the watchful eyes of brutal Russian officers and soldiers, a blacksmith installs fetters on the wrists of a proud and beautiful woman representing Poland. The blonde woman behind her, next in line for the manacles, may be taken to represent Lithuania.  The crowd of captives awaits transport to Siberia.