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Jan Matejko (1838–1893)
Polish painter and philosopher of history, considered the most eminent Polish painter of historical and battle scenes. Uniquely talented, at the age of 13 admitted to the Kraków School of Fine Arts, painted Stańczyk, a portrait of the Crown Jester, and one of his most recognizable works, at 24. Participated in the work of the committee for renovating Wit Stwosz’s high altar in St Mary’s Church, the redevelopment of the Cloth Hall, the restoration of Wawel Castle and St Mary’s Church. Almost every day he would visit Wawel, the Jagiellonian Library, and numerous churches. All his visits ended in meticulous notes: he gathered a few thousand drawings in the so-called “Skarbczyk” (Little Treasury), which he used to the end of his life. He devoted himself entirely to historical painting so as to kindle hope in the hearts of his compatriots by illustrating the history of the homeland. A great patriot, he returned from the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts in less than two months, seemingly due to differences with the professors: told that in the painting entitled King John Kazimierz in Bielany the king was to kneel, Matejko proudly retorted that “Polish kings bow to no one”. He refused the post of Director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, an impulse which led to him being entrusted with that of Director of the School of Fine Arts in Kraków. Among his students numbered Maurycy Gottlieb, Jacek Malczewski, Józef Mehoffer, and Stanisław Wyspiański. Matejko stalwartly fought for the beautification of Kraków, and quarrelled even with its municipal council when the councillors ordered the demolition of the mediaeval monastery of the Order of the Holy Spirit de Saxia in order to put up the municipal theatre. Offended, the artist refused proposals of burial in the crypt intended to house the remains of famous Poles in the Church “na Skałce”, and was finally buried in Rakowicki Cemetery.
Jan Matejko, rare photo from 1870-1880s
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