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Jan Matejko - Painter of Polish History

In Krakow, at 41 Floriańska Street, there is Jan Matejko House, at present a museum.

Almost every Pole knows who Jan Matejko was.

Famous Polish painter.

The one, who painted Battle of Grunwald or Prussian Homage.

Mandatory in the education programme in Poland.

Jan Matejko Monument in Krakow
Jan Matejko Monument in Krakow

But where did such popularity of the brilliant artist come from? Why is he so recognizable?

He certainly stands out in terms of the size of his works.

These are canvases of several square meters in size: e. g. Union of Lublin 3x5m, Prussian Homage 4x8m, Battle of Grunwald 4x10m, Kościuszko 4x9m. . .

He also painted smaller images, but monumental works of great patriotic content and excellent craftsmanship put him at the forefront of Polish historical painting.

Jan Matejko was born in Krakow in 1838, in a house on Florianska Street, as the ninth of the eleven children of the Matejko family. The loss of his mother at the age of 7 and the harsh upbringing of his father, who did not accept his artistic ambitions, had an impact on his childhood and problems with his peers.

At the age of 14 he was enrolled at the Krakow School of Fine Arts. When he was 20, he won a scholarship to study in Munich. There he came into contact with historical painting and since then he has decided to devote himself to this genre.

In his works, he focused on key historical moments, often adding "colours" to history, e. g. by adding a character to the scene who did not participate in the event.

What differentiated his paintings from hundreds of contemporary works of historical painting was his attitude towards past eras. He understood history as a continuous and dynamic process.

He sought to extract from history a living, deeply sentient man, often depicting him in the focus of political interests or moral reasons.

He was a great patriot. He had a visual abnormality and could not participate in the January Uprising (1863) like his brothers. But he was helping the insurgents materially.

At the age of 24 he painted Stańczyk (1862), one of his best paintings. Two years later, he became famous for his painting Skarga’s Sermon.

Stańczyk, Jan Matejko
Stańczyk, Jan Matejko

Skarga's Sermon
Skarga's Sermon

After selling Skarga’s Sermon, he finally got to marry his beloved Theodore. Unfortunately, the couple, although they had 5 children, were not very happy because of the wife's mental illness. Theodora was extremely possessive. Almost all the women in Matejko's paintings have her face.

The artist didn't care about money. He gave many of his works to museums for free. He painted portraits for his rich friends and did not take any pay. Financial problems appeared.

However, over time his talent and hard work brought him money and great fame in Europe. He has received numerous awards, including the Legion of Honour in France, and was also an honorary member of the Art Academy of Paris, Berlin, Prague and Vienna.

At the age of 35 he was appointed as the director of theSchool of Fine Arts in Krakow. He held this position for the rest of his life. Among his students were eminent Polish artists of the modernism period - Jacek Malczewski, Stanisław Wyspiański, Józef Mehoffer.

Apart from his teaching activity, Matejko was also very involved in the preservation of monuments in Krakow. He participated in the works of conservation commissions during the renovation of the Gothic altar of Wit Stwosz in the St. Mary's Church, the restoration of the Cloth Hall, Wawel Castle and St. Mary's Church.

His paintings can be found in the National Museum in Warsaw, Krakow, Lublin, Wroclaw, Poznan, Łódź and even the Vatican City.

Therefore, when you are in Krakow, and you are interested in painting and history, it is worth to step out from the beaten tourist path and enter the home of the master and see what his workshop and everyday life looked like.

From the Main Market Square in the direction of the Floriańska Gate it is only a few minutes walk.

If you wish our assistance with your tours in Krakow or entire Poland contact us at

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