Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha, “Slavs in Their Original Homeland”, From “Slovanská Epopej”, 1910-1928, Oil on Canvas, 8.1 x 6.1 m, Moravsky Krumlov Chateau, Moravia

The “Slovanská Epopej (Slav Epic)” is a series of twenty monumental canvases, depicting the history of the Slav people and civilization. Alphonse Mucha conceived it as a monument for all Slavonic peoples and devoted the latter half of his career to the realization of this work. 

Mucha formed the idea for this work in 1899, while he was working on the interior design of the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina for the Paris exhibition of 1900. He had travelled widely throughout the Balkans in preparation for the assignment, researching their history and customs as well as observing the daily lives of the Southern Slavs in the regions annexed by Austria-Hungary twenty years earlier. From this experience Mucha developed the inspiration for the creation of an epic of the Slavonic people that would portray both the joys and sorrows of all the Slavic national areas. 

Between 1904 and 1909, Alphonse Mucha visited the United States five times seeking support for his ambitious project, eventually securing the sponsorship of wealthy Chicago=based businessman and philanthropist Charles Richard Crane on Christmas Day in 1909. Crane was intensely interested in the developing political affairs in Eastern Europe and the Slavonic culture, giving Mucha both financial and emotional support for almost twenty years. Mucha traveled back to his homeland in 1910, eager to begin his project. 

From 1911 to 1926, Mucha’s total energy was engaged with the creation of the “Slav Epic”. He rented an apartment in Zhiroh Castle and an spacious studio space there, large enough to work on his enormous eight by six metre canvases,. For the epic, Mucha depicted twenty key episodes from the Slavic past, ancient to modern, ten depicting episodes from Czech history and ten on historical episodes from other Slavic regions. 

The first canvas in the series, “The Slavs in Their Original Homeland”, was finished in 1912 and the entire series was completed in 1926 with “The Apotheosis of the Slavs”, which celebrates the triumphant victory of all the Slavs whose homelands in 1918 finally became their own. 

With the “Slav Epic”, Mucha wished to unite all the Slavs through a common history and their mutual reverence for peace and understanding eventually inspiring them to work for humanity. Mucha and Charles Crane officially presented the complete series in 1928 as a gift to the nation, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of its independence.

During the World War ii and the early communist period, the twenty paintings of the “Slav Epic” were hidden to protect them from the Nazi Party and the Communists, not being exhibited again until 1963 in Prague. The paintings are now being shown until October of 2024 at Moravsky Krumlov Chateau in southern Moravia;, awaiting a new exhibition space currently underway in the city of Prague.

The painting “Slavs in Their Original Homeland” starts the history of the Slavic people in the fourth to sixth centuries. At this time, the Slavic tribes were an agricultural people who dwelled in the marshes between the Vistula River, the Dnepr River, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. With no political structure to support them, their villages were under constant attack by Germanic tribes from the West who would burn their houses and steal their livestock

The couple shown hiding tin the bushes in the forground, as their village burns on the horizon are the survivors of one such attack. The fear and vulnerability, expressed in their faces, beseeches the viewers to help. A pagan priest flanked by two youths, symbolizing war and peace, floats in the top right of the compostion. The figures fortell the peace and freedom that will come to the Slav people when their independence is gained through the war effort.

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