Table of Content | Introduction | Freedom (I) | Faith and War | Where we come from... | Imprint


Francearro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The French Revolution of 1789

In France the Great Revolution was a controversial event, splitting the nation into two camps. While one side stressed freedom and progress, the other one pointed to the violence and destruction it was causing. The two camps and their viewpoints found eloquent expression in the so-called »Tennis Court Oath« on June 20th and a few weeks later at the storming of the Bastille (14th July 1789). The storming of the Bastille, that monument which had become a symbol of arbitrary rule and despotism, has entered the national consciousness as the beginning of the revolution.

The pictorial representation of the attack stresses its significance: the sinister, ominous-looking and seemingly impregnable bulwark symbolises the inhumanity of the old order, but at the same time the beginning of the Revolution. This violent act of liberty stands in contrast to the peaceable oath taken in the indoor tennis court by members of the Third Estate who had assembled there, in which they swore not to separate until they had drawn up a constitution, and thus took a stand against the Ancien Régime and the king.



Belgiumarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Revolution of 1830/31

An extensive popular movement, triggered by the July Revolution of 1830, had gathered strength in the southern Netherlands with the aim of establishing an independent nation-state. No other topic in the national history of Belgium played such an important role in the 19th century as this revolution. It resulted in the separation of the southern, Catholic provinces from the kingdom of the United Netherlands and led to the foundation of the independent kingdom of Belgium.

6.jpg (21106 Byte)The memory of the revolution was kept alive above all in two pictures, by Charles Soubre and Gustaf Wappers, which gave expression the sense of identity of the new nation-state. Soubre’s painting shows a contingent of revolutionaries setting out from Liège, but for the viewer it gives the impression that the soldiers are entering the city in victory, as if the picture’s composition were somehow anticipating the historic events. Wappers also based his painting, which he made in 1835 under the impression of the Revolution, on a historical event, the barricade fighting in Brussels. He symbolises the participation of all the different groups of Belgian society in the struggle for freedom and independence by depicting a human pyramid, crowned by a Belgian flag, made up of a sheer impenetrable crowd of battling children, women, soldiers, wounded fighters and famous revolutionaries.


Greecearro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Greek Struggle for Freedom, 1821-1830

The Fall of Missolonghi 1825/26

Greece is one of the countries that gained independence in the 19th century through a series of long, bloody battles. Beginning in 1821 the Greeks battled for nine years to shake off four hundred years of Ottoman domination. The admiration for classical antiquity that had spread throughout all of Europe paved the way for this liberation by bolstering Greek self-awareness and readiness to rise up in arms while at the same time attracting the attention and support of other nations. When the struggle for freedom threatened to founder because of the superior strength of the Turks, Great Britain, Russia and France helped the Greeks to victory. In 1830 Greece became a sovereign kingdom.

7.jpg (16383 Byte)The national identity of the young state rested on two foundations: the memory of antiquity and the orthodox religion, which set them apart from the Moslem occupying forces. Many artworks therefore contained entreaties that God should help the cause of the Greeks. The personification of Greece as a woman in the picture by Theodoros Vrysakis is shown as giving a blessing. She is surrounded by famous warriors and their supporters during the war of independence. The exodus from Missolonghi played a particularly significant role in keeping the memory of the struggle for freedom alive. As a result of a long siege the Peloponnesian city was in a hopeless situation. Instead of capitulating the besieged inhabitants decided to attack the enemy forces, but met with death. Their heroic bravery in the face of a desperate situation, also inherent to the myths of other European nations, made the inhabitants of Missolonghi famous throughout the whole of Europe.


Hungaryarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

Sándor Petöfi's Death, 1849

The Revolution of 1848 was a European event. Its focal points were Paris, Milan, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest, but only in Hungary did it enter the collective memory as a national myth. 8.jpg (15099 Byte)Out of the March demands of the Hungarian Diet for reforms and for their own government came the call for national independence from Austria. Sándor Petöfi, the Hungarian national poet and leader of the »March Youth«, lend his voice to the cause like none other in poems, fairytales and epics. While his work belonged, and still belongs, to the canon of Hungarian national literature, the twenty-six-year-old poet himself was transfigured to a national myth by his heroic death in one of the last battles of the Hungarian war of independence. As his body was never found on the battlefield near Segesvár, it was as if he had been removed to immortality.

Painters took up this theme, portraying Petöfi’s lonely death in innumerable apotheoses. One of the most popular pictures is by Viktor Madarász.It shows Petöfi with his last ounce of strength, and evidently with his own blood, writing »Hazám« (my homeland) on a rock.


Austriaarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Battle of Aspern, 1809

From 1792 to 1805 Austria and France faced each other in war almost without interruption. In April 1809 a three-year period of peace came to an end when Austria declared war again. Commander of the Austrian army was Archduke Karl, a younger brother of Emperor Franz I and one of the few important generals under the Habsburgs.

After initial victories in southern Germany the Austrians had to yield to Napoleon, who had quickly brought his troops from Spain, and were forced to surrender Vienna to the French emperor. As they tried to reach the northern bank of the Danube, the French troops were thrown back again in bloody fighting at the Battle of Aspern (21st and 22nd May 1809). Napoleon had to accept his first defeat. But Austria’s fate was sealed shortly thereafter with a defeat at the Battle of Wagram. Archduke Karl resigned his command after the defeat, but the myth of the »vanquisher of the invincible« (Heinrich von Kleist) was nevertheless born and became part of the 19th century Austrian Habsburg myth based on ruler, commander and battles, as displayed in the Emperor’s Forum at the Vienna Hofburg and along Ringstrasse as well as at the Museum of Military History.

With his monument to Archduke Karl, unveiled at the Emperor’s Forum in 1865, Anton Dominik Fernkorn takes up an episode that was first published in 1812: at the decisive moment in the Battle of Aspern the archduke, with the courage of a lion, is supposed to have taken up the flag of an infantry regiment, placed himself at the head of the advancing troops and thus swept the men along with him. The picture by Peter Krafft shows the archduke in his suite. A larger version of this painting is prominently displayed in the Museum of Military History in Vienna.


Germanyarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Call-Up of Volunteers in 1813

The idea of a popular uprising against Napoleon had been smouldering in Germany since 1809. But it was not until the French defeat in Russia that the resistance to Napoleon turned into a mass phenomenon. When the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III after long hesitation finally let it be known in his famous appeal »To My People« that he had formed an alliance with the Russians against Napoleon and called the people to arms, it was the longed for proclamation of a national alliance between the king and the people.

10.jpg (15393 Byte)»The king called and all, all came,« was the slogan of the wave of national enthusiasm that now set in. The victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig, as recorded in a painting by Johann Peter Krafft, was achieved by the regular troops of the allies (especially Russia, Austria and Prussia). But in German national consciousness (of the 19th century) the view became firmly entrenched that it was the patriotic readiness to contribute, the self-sacrifice of the volunteers and the glowing patriotism of the Germans, as called for by the Prussian king in his proclamation, that had guaranteed the victory.

This national enthusiasm, which had gripped all classes of German society, was symbolised by Gustav Graef in his - especially in Prussia - popular painting »Ferdinande von Schmettau Sacrificing her Hair at the Altar of the Fatherland«. The story of Ferdinande von Schmettau was extraordinarily popular in the 19th century. In 1831 a Prussian schoolbook described the event as follows: »A truly noble young lady in Silesia, too poor to give anything from her personal belongings, sold her beautiful long hair in order to contribute her mite to the fatherland from the earnings.«


Spainarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The »Dos de Mayo« in Madrid, 1808

In 19th century Spain the six-year War of Independence against the superior forces of France was considered a key event in Spanish history. What was to become anchored in Spanish national consciousness as the myth of the heroic urge for freedom began on the morning of the »Dos de Mayo«, the 2nd of May 1808.

On that morning Napoleon had ordered the evacuation of the remaining relatives and entourage of the Spanish king, who had been forced to abdicate, from Madrid. But then the silent protest of the onlookers suddenly exploded into an upheaval that gripped the entire city. The fighting finally came to a head in the »Artillery Park«, the former Parque de Monteleon, where the rebels tried to procure arms. Acting against orders from the governing junta, two artillery officers, Pedro Velarde and Luis Daoiz, together with some 40 soldiers rushed to their assistance.

The uprising of the Madrid inhabitants was brutally crushed that very day. Among the victims were the two officers, whose sacrifice for freedom and national independence was celebrated in the popular painting »The Death of Daoiz and the Defence of Monteleon Park« by Manuel Castellano from 1862. In contrast to Castellano, Francisco de Goya captured his wartime experience in his engravings - but not in order to glorify the Spanish War of Independence, but to condemn the horrors and atrocities of war.


Polandarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Polish Constitution of 1791

The Kosciuszko Insurrection of 1794

The constitution of 3rd May 1791 was one of the pillars of Polish national awareness and pride in the 19th century. It was not only the very first written constitution of Europe, but above all it symbolised the urge for freedom and independence in a country that had been shattered and carved up by the Eastern Powers at the end of the 18th century. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772 the May constitution gave rise to the hope that it could stabilise the disrupted domestic affairs of the kingdom not least of all against the superior power of Austria, Prussia and Russia. The painter Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine takes up these ideas in his widely distributed print, whereby he models it closely on illustrations of the Parisian »Tennis Court Oath«, thus linking the subject to the French Revolution. The oil painting by Kazimierz Wojniakowski closely follows Norblin's print.

The intervention of the Czar destroyed the Polish hopes and resulted in the abolition of the constitution and the Second Partition of Poland of 1793. In the following year an insurrection led by General Tadeusz Kosciuszko broke out, but was put down after initial victories, resulting in the Third Partition (1795). This meant the end of the sovereign Polish nation. One of the best remembered incidents that occurred during the insurrection was when an army of peasants armed with flails joined in the Battle of Raclawice. Jan Matjeko portrays the battle in his monumental painting, which itself is venerated as a national monument.

It was above all in the veneration and glorification of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who became a hero for the entire nation, that national aspirations to a sovereign, independent Poland were kept alive and revived again and again. This is evidenced in the huge production of souvenirs and memorabilia, which is typical of the more private and personal forms of expression of Polish national sentiment in the 19th century.


Denmarkarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

Agrarian Reforms in the Late 18th Century

While the principal aspect of Danish foreign policy throughout the 18th century was »peace and quiet in the North«, the Danish foreign minister Andreas Peter Graf von Bernstorff overcame brief internal disturbances to lead the country to a period of great prosperity. As of 1787 he put through land reforms, thus freeing the peasants, a feat styled in the 19th century as the core of national self-awareness. The Danish image of themselves as a freedom-loving, peaceful people was fed by the fact that - while continental Europe was dominated by the turmoil of war and the violent upheavals of the French Revolution - Denmark was realising the libertarian and humanitarian ideals of the Enlightenment in agrarian reforms achieved not through revolutionary, but instead reformistic methods. The edict of 1788 emancipating the serfs, with which the monarch gave the peasants their freedom for all time, laid the cornerstone for patriotism and the devotion of the people to the crown.

In solemn remembrance of the great reform, the citizens of Copenhagen erected a victory column, which was completed in 1797. The four allegorical female figures surrounding the obelisk symbolise the fidelity, virtue, diligence and bravery, thus completing the image of the good king. Pictorial representations of the victory column were widely distributed in the 19th century. Especially popular was the painting by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg made for the royal Christiansborg castle in Copenhagen in the 1830s. It shows Danish peasants at the victory column thanking - according to some critics not humbly enough - the king, Christian VII, and the crown prince, Frederick, for emancipating the serfs.


Norwayarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll, 1814

Norway attained its sovereignty in 1814, just as suddenly as unexpectedly. It had belonged to Denmark since the 14th century, but as a result of the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig (1813) Denmark had to cede the Norwegian province to Sweden. During the power-political vacuum that occurred until the new Swedish king could be installed, the Norwegians seized the opportunity to become independent. In April 1814 the Danish crown prince Christian Fredrik, who was governor of Norway at that time, called a constituent assembly to meet in the town of Eidsvoll, north of Christiania, which was attended by 112 representatives of the Norwegian people. 12.jpg (19760 Byte)The majority of them spoke out for a liberal constitution and the installation of a constitutional monarchy. To this end they developed a constitution, the so-called »Grundlov«, which was passed on 17th May 1814. It not only realised, in accordance with the Norway’s image of itself in the 19th century, the ideals of freedom and equality embodied in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, but it moreover represented a continuation and advancement of the old constitution from the time of Norwegian greatness and autonomy. In July 1814 the Swedish crown prince and future king Charles XIV John sent an army to attack Norway. The brief war ended with Charles John being crowned king of Norway and for his part accepting the Eidsvoll constitution and giving the Norwegian parliament the power to take care of its own affairs.

Four-hundred years of Danish rule meant that the country had neither its own separate language nor genuinely Norwegian traditions. The core of the newly established national consciousness therefore became the memory of the Eidsvoll assembly.

Oscar Arnold Wergeland immortalised it in 1885 in a monumental painting which still hangs behind the speaker’s desk of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. The assembly and especially the assembly building play an important role in the historical memory of the nation. They are among the most popular motifs recalling the founding of the nation, which is celebrated in Norway on May 17th.


Switzerlandarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Internment of the Bourbaki Army, 1871

Humanity as a national virtue and humane actions as a national trait are an integral part of national awareness in Switzerland.

In the turmoil of the Revolutionary wars it was Heinrich Pestalozzi who stood for the personification of the humanistic ideal. Three-quarters of a century later it was to be embodied by the whole country of Switzerland. The internment of an entire army, when Switzerland, caring for 87,000 soldiers, took in the French Army of the East which, under General Charles Denis Sauter Bourbaki, had suffered a defeat in the Franco-German War, was seen as a humanitarian act by the Swiss. The nature of the nation finds expression in all these happenings, and at the same time it lends prestige and greatness to the small neutral state.

This highlight of national history has no need of heroic figures. The anonymity of the players in Edouard Castre’s congenial panoramic picture of 1881 is therefore an essential part of the message. The narrative tradition of the pictures normally emphasises several different aspects. The unusual thing about this representation of the »compassion-worthiness« of those who seek refuge, however, is the attention drawn to the libertarian spirit of the Swiss as celebrated in their hospitality.


Great Britainarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Magna Charta of 1215

The Landing of William III of Orange at Torbay in 1688

The years 1215 and 1688/89 are two key dates in British history. They stand for the English liberties that became proverbial in the 18th century and for the parliamentary system. In tough negotiations the barons and bishops extorted the Magna Charta from King John I, a charter that curtailed the royal privileges. As the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay phrased it, »Here commences the history of the English nation"; it was then that the »national character began to exhibit those peculiarities which it has ever since retained«, and »then first appeared with distinctness that constitution which has ever since, through all changes, preserved its identity.« In this sense the Magna Charta was celebrated in 19th century England (and beyond that time) as the starting point of civil liberties.

Like the Magna Charta, the landing of William of Orange at Torbay on 5th November 1688 was remembered as a further milestone in English history. Crowned William III at the beginning of 1689, the monarch was styled the saviour of England, the protector of the faith and the generator of British fame. For when the Protestant stadholder and captain general of the Dutch United Provinces was called to England by influential Whig and Tory leaders of the Upper House, it brought the despotic rule of the Catholic king James II to an end and at the same time ended the decades-old struggle between the crown and Parliament. The Glorious Revolution, as the conflict was called, increased the powers of Parliament. The Bill of Rights of 1689 limited the powers of the king in favour of Parliament and established the constitutional monarchy, which brought to a conclusion, as was written in a patriotic Victorian textbook, what »the Magna Charta had begun«.

Joseph Mallord William Turner's painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1832. It shows the future king, William III, immediately prior to his triumphant arrival in Torbay. The painting has been accused of containing a number of historical inconsistencies. Contrary to Turner's depiction, the landing went smoothly, for example. But the "stormy crossing" portrayed by the artist fulfils the function of a political allegory. William of Orange, summoned from Holland, appears here as the ruler of the seas who braves the strom. Turner thus refers to the role in which England saw itself after defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588 and which was summed up in the motto "Britannia Rules the Waves".


The Czech Republicarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Battle of White Mountain, 1620

The Bohemian insurrection began with the so-called »Defenestration of Prague« of May 1618, and these events in Bohemia marked the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. Underlying the uprising of the predominantly Protestant Bohemian estates were years of confrontation with the ruling Habsburg dynasty and its efforts to centralise its rule and restore Catholicism. The break with King Ferdinand II, his deposal and the election of the Calvinist elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate as »Winter King« in 1619 led to the Battle of White Mountain near Prague. After only two hours of fighting it ended in the total victory of the imperial troops and the allied Catholic League over the Palatine-Bohemian army, the flight of King Friedrich and the execution of 27 leaders of the insurrection.

Three hundred years later the Czech national movement determined the 8th of November 1620 as that »fateful day«, as was written everywhere, when »freedom of belief was buried on White Mountain, the people ravished by the imperial army and the freedom of the nation smothered.« The battle became fixed in the collective memory as the beginning of lost national independence, of the subjugation, bondage and humiliation of the Czech people. This is why the actual turmoil of battle was not often the central theme of the artistic representations. Instead they showed the battlefield which the Polish poet of liberty Karol Malisz styled the »Czech Golgotha« in 1848, or scenes on the theme of the restoration of Catholicism in Bohemia.


The Netherlandsarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Defence of Leyden, 1574

The Murder of Prince William of Orange, 1584

In 1555 Emperor Charles V entrusted his son and successor to the throne of Spain, Philip II, with the rule of the Netherlands. It came to an open conflict between Philip and the States-General when, on the one hand, the Spanish king attempted to increase his power and, on the other, the United Provinces, fearing for their independence and religious freedom, revolted.

16.jpg (22009 Byte)The Duke of Alba, who had been sent to the Netherlands in 1567 by the king, had attacked the Dutch cities with relentless severity. He besieged and took one town after the other. The city of Leyden in southern Holland was only able to avoid this fate because Burgomaster Pieter Adriaansz van der Werff succeeded in inspiring the starving inhabitants during the two-year siege to take heart and hold out. In his painting »The Self-Sacrifice of Burgomaster van der Werff« from 1829 Gustaf Wappers therefore does not depict the burgomaster as a glorious hero, but instead as a man marked by the siege and yet ready to sacrifice everything for the freedom of his native city. The town was saved in 1574 when William of Orange decided to flood the land in order to drive out the Spanish forces.

Prince William of Orange was the leader of the rebel forces from 1567 until he was assassinated in 1584. The prince personifies the revolt against Spanish rule. Since the middle of the 19th century in particular he came to be seen as the symbol of national unity in the Netherlands. He entered the memory of the nation as the dying »father of the fatherland« - as he was painted for example by Wouter Mol. Mol’s picture also shows the above-mentioned burgomaster of Leyden van der Werff, himself a celebrated national hero, motioning toward the dying prince with a grand gesture, although it is doubtful that he was actually there.


Italyarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Uprising in Genoa, 1746

In the Austrian war of succession, Genoa sided with France and Spain. However, in the autumn of 1746 the time-honoured city-state had to admit defeat to the superior power of the Habsburgs. But shortly thereafter, on 10th December 1746, the occupying forces were driven out in a popular uprising. According to tradition, the uprising is supposed to have been launched by a boy named Balilla. A squad of soldiers who were occupied with confiscating enemy cannon got stuck in the mud while dragging away a mortar. When a sergeant ordered a group of onlookers to help, they replied with taunts and jibes. When he then began to beat them, young Balilla threw a stone at the soldiers and called out to the bystanders to attack them, thus launching the insurrection.

The picture of Emilio Busi and Luigi Asioli as well as Giacinto Massola's picture show the climax of the struggles. A narrow alley in Genoa is filled with combatants and wounded. Balilla stands in the midst of the turmoil on top of the mortar spurring his compatriots on. As the movement toward national unity gathered momentum, especially at the dawn of the Revolution of 1848, this local incident took on increasing significance far beyond the limits of Genoa. It became a symbol of the yearning for freedom and independence in Italy, which was directed above all against Habsburg rule and fed by the opposition to it.


Swedenarro21n2.gif (960 Byte)

The Foundation of Gustavus Vasa's Protestant Sweden at the Beginning of the 16th Century

The unpopular union with Denmark came to an end for the northern European countries in 1523 when Gustavus Vasa was crowned king of Sweden. After more than a century, national independence was restored. But the preceding war against Denmark had left the country ravaged and impoverished. The monarch, who was taken with the new Protestant creed, placed the blame for this desperate situation on the Catholic clergy. With the support of two ecclesiastical reformers, the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri, Gustavus Vasa began introducing the Protestant faith step by step as soon as he took office. An initial climax was reached at the Diet of Västerås, which, after difficult and often antagonistic negotiations, created the basic tenets for the established Protestant church of Sweden in accordance with the king’s wishes. It transferred the major part of church property to the crown and gave the monarch the right to decide on appointments to high clerical offices.

It was not only the recovery of independence, but above all Sweden’s internal pacification on which Gustavus Vasa’s fame as national hero and pater patriae was founded in the 19th century. Ernst Josephson’s painting from 1875 is also to be understood in this sense. It shows Gustavus Vasa, worried about his country, as the implacable opponent of his sharpest adversary, Bishop Peder Sunnanväder. In 1523 the bishop had tried to provoke an insurrection against the king, but it was discovered before it got started and quelled. Gustavus Vasa placed the bishop on trial, then removed him from his ecclesiastical office and had him executed.



Table of Content | Introduction | Freedom (I) | Faith and War | Where we come from... | Imprint

HomePage Mail Impressum Guestbook