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The Relief of Vienna, 1683

There are few events whose memory has remained so alive in future generations as the siege of Vienna by the Turkish army under the command of the grand vizier Kara Mustafa and the relief of the imperial city in September 1683. Ever since, the glorious victory over the Ottoman Empire has been appreciated throughout Europe. In the 19th century it was only in Austria and Poland that the breaking of the siege by the combined forces of the emperor, the imperial provinces and Poland became an integral part of their national self-awareness.

For Poland it meant the victory over Islam, but above all it was the defence of the Christian West by the Polish king John III Sobieski that inflamed Polish patriotism. Jan Matejko created a monumental painting of the triumph on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the event in 1683.

20.jpg (16250 Byte)For Austria, on the other hand, the glorious repulsion of the Turkish siege of 1683 marked the beginning of the »Heroic Age« and Austria's rise to the status of a great power. This self-identity came to life in the art of the 19th century. Carl von Blaas' depiction of the Viennese commander Rüdiger Graf Starhemberg, who defiantly and determinedly fought on to victory despite his wounds, is seen in the context of the painting of the weapons museum in the Vienna Arsenal, the present museum of military history, the decoration of which was carried out in order to underpin the myth of the Habsburgs through its great military events. In his painting of the Turkish storming of the so-called Löwel Bastion, Leander Russ recalls one of those dramatic moments when it took the greatest efforts and most bitter fighting for the defenders to drive back the enemy.


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Don Pelayo and the Battle of Covadonga, 718

The Surrender of Granada, 1492

For 19th century Spain the supremacy of the Moors was not only a political but also a religious threat. The memory of the Muslim rule of the Moors had a special place in the historiography and national consciousness of Spain.

22.jpg (20223 Byte)The Moors invaded Spain in 711 and quickly spread their rule across the entire Iberian peninsula. Resistance began to stir in northern Spain under the leadership of the Gothic prince Pelayo. When the Muslim governor of Cordoba sent forces to the north in 718, Pelayo's troops apparently lured the Moors into an ambush and defeated them. There is no historical document to verify this incident, but it was often related and painted in the 19th century. The illustrations show Don Pelayo specifically as a Christian hero. In the painting by Luis Madrazo y Kuntz he is portrayed leaning on a cross while he speaks to his people, and a Christian church was built at the site of the victory.

The Moors stayed in Spain for more than 700 years. Their last bastion fell in 1492 when the combined armies of Castile and Aragon took Granada. The rulers, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, had united the two largest kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula through marriage in 1469. The final victory over the Moors reinstated the territorial unity of Spain. For contemporaries as well as later for historians the need was felt to pay tribute not only to the political and military successes, but also to the victory of Christianity over Islam. This is also reflected in the honorary title of »Catholic Kings« given to Ferdinand and Isabella by Pope Alexander VI.

The Spanish victory is usually depicted at the moment when Granada is handed over by the Moors. The royal couple with their entourage dominate the scene. The Moorish prince approaches to present them with the keys to the city.


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The Fall of Constantinople, 1453

It was not easy for the Greek state to find historical foundations on which to base the young nation. The reference back to antiquity was just as impossible to fuse with Christianity as theocratic Byzantine was with the libertarian ideas of antiquity and the Enlightenment. And very few Byzantine rulers and events were suitable for a national mythology. One episode that was suited, however, was the fall of Constantinople on 29th May 1453 and the death of the last Byzantine emperor in the course of the fighting. The capture of the city by the sultan, Mohammed II, the heroic death of Constantine XI and especially the last Christian liturgy held in the Hagia Sofia were the central elements of the depictions.

The dramatic end of Byzantium, erected on the ruins of antiquity, proved the ideal symbol for the reconciliation of modern Greece with mediaeval history. For the fall of Constantinople lent itself to an explanation both of the historical turning points since 1453 and of the struggle for independence since 1821, which in contemporary understanding was seen as a revision of the events that had occurred four hundred years before. The artist Panagiotis Zografos makes use of this construction in his work on the fall of Constantinople, which belongs to a portfolio of 25 prints about the struggle for independence and other important events in Greek history. In a contemporary description of the engraving, the flight of the Byzantines was explained thus: »The brave and patriotic Hellenes would not let themselves be subjugated, but fled to the mountains, where they lived for many years until, through the power of God and the help of the European powers, they recovered their independence.«


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Jan Hus at the Council of Constance, 1415

Jan Hus, like none other, was the pre-eminent symbolic figure for the Czech national movement. He was remembered as a patriot who standardised the Czech literary language and honoured as representative of Czech nationalism because of his struggle for the rights of Czechs at Prague University. But he advanced to a figure of national integration primarily through his death as a martyr. However, Hus did not enter Czech national consciousness primarily as an ecclesiastical reformer who sacrificed his life for his works and belief, but above all as a champion of freedom in the late middle ages.

The Czech myth of Hus and most of the artistic and literary representations of him in the 19th century concentrate on Hus' last days in Constance, from his defence to his death in the flames. Among the most popular history paintings is the large-format oil painting »Jan Hus at the Council of Constance« by Václav Brozík from 1883, shown here in a print, which depicts him in the famous pose of Luther at the Diet of Worms: »Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me! Amen.« In his painting »Black Earth« Karel Javurek portrays two Bohemian nobles in mourning at the site of Hus' execution, a work that aims to keep alive the memory of the sacrifice of the Czech national hero.


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Luther Burns the Papal Bull Threatening Excommunication, 1520

In the 19th century Luther was honoured to a lesser degree as the founder of a religion than as a national hero – at least in the Protestant parts of Germany. There he was celebrated as the man who liberated Germany from the domination of Rome, while in Catholic Bavaria or Westphalia he was seen and vilified as the divider of the nation. The celebration of Luther crystallises around the burning of the papal bull threatening him with excommunication in December 1520. In the eyes of the protestant nationalists of the 19th century this act represented a symbolic separation from Rome.

Paul Thumann depicts the reformer in his painting as a raging revolutionary. Luther adulation reached a climax during the celebrations in Wittenberg on the occasion of his 400th birthday in 1883. Many souvenirs in the form of cups, lanterns or flags printed with Luther's portrait or his words were manufactured to celebrate the occasion.


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The Death of Gustavus II Adolphus at the Battle of Lützen, 1632

Gustavus II Adolphus (1594-1632, ruled 1611-1632) was revered in 19th century Sweden as the most extraordinary figure of national integration. The figure of the king recalled the beginning of the period of Swedish greatness, but he was seen above all as the defender and saviour of Protestantism.

In 1630 Sweden joined in the Thirty Years' War in order to protect its interests along the Baltic coast, on the one hand, and to support the Protestant Estates in the empire against the imperial Catholic party, on the other. After achieving major victories, Gustavus Adolphus, one of the most charismatic personalities of the Thirty Years' War, fell at the Battle of Lützen on 16th November 1632.

25.jpg (21988 Byte)He was portrayed and symbolically glorified in the history painting of the 19th century as the king who sacrificed himself for the cause of faith. Gustav Hellquist shows in his monumental oil painting the embarkation of the body of Gustavus Adolphus at the port of Wolgast. The mourners gathered under the flag of Sweden behind the corpse represent the Swedish people mourning for the loss of their king.


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The Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in the Year 1410

The interconnection between conflicts of belief and those of power politics can be seen in the example of the confrontation between Poland and the Order of the Teutonic Knights. In the 13th century, the militant order, which was originally founded to convert the heathen and protect the crusaders, began to penetrate into the area of the lower Vistula River. Their alleged objective was to missionise the heathen Prussian tribes, but in reality they were hoping to develop new settlement areas for the rapidly growing population of the German Empire. The conflict with Poland began when the powerful order procured Eastern Pomerania and Gdansk and thus obstructed access to the Baltic Sea. It culminated in the battle of 15th June 1410 when the army of the order was annihilated by a combined Polish-Lithuanian army at Grunwald (Tannenberg). Even though Poland did not gain any territories through the battle, the victory nonetheless destroyed the power of the Teutonic Knights and allowed Poland's influence in the Baltic area to increase continually from this time on.

27.jpg (16678 Byte)Since the 15th century the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) was shrouded in legend and inflamed feelings in Poland especially after the divisions of the kingdom at the end of the 18th century. Hence, it took on particular importance in the Polish nationalist thinking of the 19th century and served the memory and self-awareness of Polish eminence and independence. Moreover, the brilliant victory was suited to bolster Polish self-consciousness in the face of Prussian supremacy. For Prussia, which was responsible for the division of Poland, was equated with the Teutonic Order.

So it was no coincidence that Jan Matejko painted his picture of the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) shortly after the abortive Polish insurrection and the renewed growth of Prussian power resulting from the founding of the German Empire in 1871. The painting was enthusiastically celebrated and frequently reproduced in Poland.


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The Death of Lajos II after the Battle of Mohács, 1526

The 29th of August 1526 entered Hungarian national memory and self-identity as a symbol of national self-destruction. And it served as a foil for all later national catastrophes, such as the abortive Revolution of 1848/49. The date represents the day on which the Ottoman forces under the sultan, Süleyman I the Magnificent, annihilated the Hungarian army in the Battle of Mohács. The greater part of Hungary, which had become unstable due to internal conflicts, fell under Ottoman rule for nearly a century and a half.

In the illustrations of the 19th century it was made to appear that the truly tragic symbolic figure for the collapse of Hungary was King Lajos II (Louis), who was left in the lurch by the nation and whose fate personifies that of Hungary, as it were. The young king, urged by his followers to flee during the battle, was drowned in a creek. In his popular painting from 1860, Bertalan Székely treats the death of Lajos II, showing a dramatic, idealised scene in which a small group of nobles and ordinary soldiers have just found the royal corpse, which is portrayed in the style of illustrations of the body of the anointed Christ.


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St. Joan Liberates Orléans, 1429

The story of Joan of Arc is an episode from the Hundred Years' War (1339-1453) in which France and England grappled with each other for the succession to the throne of France. As England had occupied almost the entire north of France in the 1420s, young Joan, a peasant girl from Lorraine, is supposed to have appeared before French dauphin, the future Charles VII. Allegedly guided by heavenly »voices«, she urged Charles to give her an army, at the head of which she in fact then liberated the city of Orléans in 1429. This victory marked a change for the better in France's fortunes in the war. Joan herself was captured by the enemy, however, and burned at the stake as a heretic.

30.jpg (17985 Byte)The legend of Joan became so popular in 19th century France primarily because it could be adapted to the interests of all different political factions. The Catholic monarchists emphasised her piety and drew a parallel between St. Joan and the Virgin Mary, while the liberal Republicans praised her as an honest patriot and woman of the people. The decisive message, however, can be found in both interpretations: it was the courage of a single individual and her deep belief in the righteous cause of her people that brought victory to France.

This is the sense in which Joan is depicted in most illustrations. Standing upright or mounted on a white horse, decorated with the lily as the symbol of the mother of God and carrying the white flag of innocence, she leads the army to victory.


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The Battle of Trafalgar and the Death of Lord Nelson, 1805

In the naval battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805 the united forces of France and Spain were destroyed almost piecemeal. This was a monumental victory for the British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson. The triumph assured British supremacy on the seas up until the 20th century and was therefore celebrated in England as the greatest naval victory since the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. It was also considered a decisive contribution to the European struggle for independence against Napoleon, who was described in the British press as a tyrannical aggressor. In the person of Horatio Nelson, finally, who was fatally wounded in the battle, British historians found a hero who stood equally for the successful conduct of war and the patriotic fulfilment of duty. His words »England expects every man to do his duty« were handed down from generation to generation in all English schoolbooks.

33.jpg (16225 Byte)One of the most famous artists to paint the Battle of Trafalgar was the American Benjamin West, who depicted the death of Nelson in several different paintings. His most famous work consciously departs from historical fact by portraying the death scene on the ship's deck instead of below decks. West believed that historical accuracy was less important than immortalising his subject in a heroic pose.


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The Arrest and Execution of the Counts Egmont and Hoorne, 1567/68

Shortly after Emperor Charles V transferred the rule of the Netherlands to his son Philip II, an insurrection broke out there. The northern, Protestant provinces fought against Philip because they feared for their right to self-determination and freedom of belief. The southern, Catholic provinces, which were later to make up present-day Belgium, were embroiled in a conflict of interests. They, too, opposed rule by the Spanish crown prince, who governed from Spain and did not even speak their language, but on the other hand they valued him as the preserver of the true (Catholic) faith. The examples of the Counts Egmont and Hoorne clearly reflect this conflict. They had both attempted to mediate between the Spanish king and the Netherlands, but in 1568 they were sentenced to death under the trumped-up charge of »lese majesty«, although they had left no one in doubt of their loyalty toward Philip and their firm Catholic belief.

Nineteenth century historians saw the Counts Egmont and Hoorne as victims of a reign of terror. Their fate served to illustrate the clash between despotism and freedom, between authoritarian determination by others and free self-determination. The topic also evoked important motivations for the insurrection of Belgian revolutionaries in 1830/31.

In his painting »The Counts Egmont and Hoorne Are Paid the Last Honours«, Louis Gallait shows deeply moved members of the Brussels shooting guild before the bodies of the counts lying in state. The horror in the faces of the mourners can be generally interpreted as their strong aversion to foreign rule, from which Belgium liberated itself in 1830/31.


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The Heroic Sacrifice of Jan van Speyk, 1831

Jan van Speyk, a sublieutenant in the Dutch navy, is one of the »futile« heroes. On 5th February 1831 he blew himself up in a gunboat in order to prevent the flag of the Netherlands from falling into the hands of the Belgians. His sacrifice during the Revolution of 1830/31 could not prevent the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands, which was seen by the Dutch as a disgrace. But from this time on van Speyk was celebrated as a hero who had tried to save the dignity of his country. Like the Swiss hero Winkelried and Lord Nelson in Britain, van Speyk symbolises the honourable death of the soldier for his country.

A picture by Jacobus Schoemaker-Doijer shows van Speyk at the very moment in which he ignites the gunpowder and takes a number of the enemy with him to death. The almost sacral adoration of the naval sublieunenant found expression in the fact that the remains of his uniform and ship were made into various patriotic devotional articles.


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The Battle of Kringen, 1612

The Battle of Kringen in 1612 was basically an episode of little consequence during the Kalmar War (1611-1613) between Denmark and Sweden. Norway, which was a province of Denmark, was drawn into the war when the Danish king, Christian IV, demanded that the Norwegians supply an army of 8,000 peasants. Mass desertions began as soon as the troops began to assemble. The reason the peasants deserted, according to 19th century historians, was their love of freedom and attachment to their native land, which they placed above their loyalty to the crown. It was not until an army of some 900 Scottish farm labourers serving for the Swedish king landed on the Norwegian coast on their way to Sweden that the Norwegians took up arms and defeated the invaders near Kringen in the Gudbrandsdal valley.

35.jpg (16369 Byte)The memory of this victory – and thus of their contribution to the Danish triumph over the Swedes – enhanced the Norwegians' national pride in the 19th century. An important part of this tradition is the idealisation of the Norwegian peasants, their courage, their cleverness in fighting and above all their love of freedom. Hand in hand with this image was the glorification of the Norwegian mountains as the home of an intensely freedom-loving, proud and daring people. So the pictures of the event are as much a monument to the mountainous landscape as they are to the battle itself, as depicted for example by Adolph Tidemand and Morten Müller.


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Winkelried's Death at the Battle of Sempach, 1386

In the Battle of Sempach (1386) the Swiss Confederation successfully defended itself against attempts by the Habsburgs to subjugate the Swiss. The battle became famous and was made particularly unforgettable to the Swiss because Arnold Winkelried sacrificed his life for the cause. With the words »I want to create a path for freedom«, he is supposed to have gathered as many enemy spears as possible and drawn them into his own body. This created a gap in the Habsburg phalanx which allowed the confederate forces to break through and eventually win the battle. Winkelried's example was used in the 19th century to illustrate the readiness of the individual to make sacrifices for the common cause. In 1902 the cupola of the Swiss parliament building was adorned with a motto that expresses this sentiment: Unus pro omnibus – omnes pro uno.

In 1865 a monument to Arnold Winkelried was erected in Stans; like almost all of the pictorial representations of this subject it shows the principal scene in the battle. The hero lies dead on the ground with spears stuck in his chest while the confederate forces charge past toward the enemy.


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Niels Ebbesen Murders Count Gert, 1340

The German-Danish War in the Year 1864

In 1863 Denmark adopted a joint constitution for the Danish kingdom and the duchy of Schleswig. In doing so the Danes violated international agreements about the indivisibility of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. In the resulting German-Danish War, Denmark was defeated and had to cede Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria in 1864. This defeat further convinced the Danes that Germany was aiming to expand and that Denmark was constantly under threat from the south. In retrospect, the war of 1864 was exalted to the status of the heroic struggle of a small country defending itself against the overpowering enemy.

The memory of the Battle of Dybbřl on 18th April 1864 took on a particular significance. This battle, which ended in defeat for the Danes, was of no great importance from a military point of view and cost many lives, but it became a symbol for the self-sacrifice of the Danes, who fought for their homeland to their dying breath and with their last ounce of strength. Even to this day the flags are raised on April 18th in remembrance of the battle.

Vilhelm Rosenstand, who had taken part in the war as a soldier, celebrated the Battle of Dybbřl in a painting from 1894. The faces of the soldiers in the front ranks are painted with portrait-like precision, giving the feeling that the observer is participating in the artist's own personal experience.

The war also rekindled the memory of Niels Ebbesen, a nobleman from Jutland who was considered the saviour of Denmark. Although the counts of Holstein were already losing power and were willing to exchange Jutland for Schleswig, Niels Ebbesen entered the Danish national memory as the liberator of the nation for having attacked and killed Count Gerhard (Gert) of Holstein. In her painting Agnes Slott-Mřller gives expression to the honour accorded the Jutland squire since the German-Danish War. Niels Ebbesen is seen by the observer as a proud and heroic warrior.


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The Foundation of the Lombard League, 1167

In the year 1167 several towns in northern Italy formed the Lombard League in opposition to the emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, who had demanded to have the so-called regalia reinstated, royal rights, such as the right of coinage or collecting duties, which were often very lucrative. In the Oath of Pontida the communes, which until that time had followed conflicting political interests, supposedly swore to stand together against Barbarossa. In the Battle of Legnano they finally defeated the imperial forces in 1176. Throughout the 19th century the Lombard League stood as a symbol for putting aside inner conflicts in favour of national unity and also served as a model for the common defence against threats from abroad.

Although the Oath of Pontida as foundation act of the Lombard League is not historically verified, the scene was often depicted. The monumental painting by Amos Cassioli, for instance, has been hanging in the town hall of Siena since 1885. For the site of the occurrence, for which there was also no documentary evidence, Cassioli chose the sanctuary of the church in Pontida. In this way the sanctity of the swearing of the oath was underscored, and thus the Lombard League and its deeds seemed to enjoy God's protection.



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