Prussian Homage (painting)

Prussian Homage
Artist Jan Matejko
Year 1879-1882 (1879-1882)
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 388[1] cm × 785[1] cm (152.75 in × 309.05 in)
Location Sukiennice Museum, Kraków
Owner Kraków National Museum

The Prussian Homage (Polish: Hołd pruski) is an oil on canvas painting by Polish painter Jan Matejko painted between 1879 and 1882 in Kraków (then part of Austria-Hungary). The painting depicts the "Prussian Homage," a significant political event from the time of the Renaissance in Poland in which Albrecht Hohenzollern, the Duke of Prussia paid tribute and swore allegiance to King Sigismund I the Old in Kraków's market square on 10 April 1525. Matejko depicted over thirty important figures of the Polish Renaissance period, taking the liberty of including several who were not actually present at the event.

The painting glorifies this event in Poland's past and its culture, and the majesty of its kings. At the same time, the painting has darker undertones, reflecting the troubled times that befell Poland in the late eighteenth century, for the Kingdom of Prussia would become one of the partitioning powers that ended the independence of Poland. The painting was seen by some as anti-Prussian, foretelling its perceived betrayal of Poland; others have noted it is also critical of Poland, as Matejko included signs that signify this seemingly triumphant moment was a hollow, wasted victory. Matejko created his painting to remind others about the history of the no-longer-independent country he loved, and about the changing fates of history. The painting is counted among his masterpieces.


Matejko began to paint the Prussian Homage on Christmas Eve 1879 and finished it in 1882.[2] He donated it to the Polish nation[n 1][3] during the meeting of the Diet of Galicia (Sejm Krajowy) in Lwów (Lviv) on 7 October 1882[4] to start a collection designed to revive the remodelling of Wawel Castle.[3] It was subsequently exhibited in Kraków, Lwów and Warsaw, as well as in Berlin, Paris, Budapest, and most notably in Rome and Vienna.[3] When it returned to Kraków in 1885, it was temporarily exhibited in the Sukiennice Museum because the Royal Wawel Castle was occupied at that time by the Austrian army, as Kraków was part of the Austrian partition of Poland.[5]

Because of the pro-Polish and anti-Prussian character of the painting German emperor William I objected to a proposal to reward Matejko. During this period, Prussia was trying to suppress Polish culture in its territory and Germanise it.[6] During World War II, the Nazis systematically tried to destroy all Polish cultural artefacts in occupied Poland.[6][7][8][9] This painting, together with Matejko's painting of the Battle of Grunwald, was on their "most wanted" list. Fortunately it was hidden and safeguarded throughout the war in the town of Zamość.[6][7][8]

For most of the twentieth and at the beginning of the twentieth-first centuries, the painting has been hung in the National Museum gallery in the Sukiennice Museum in Kraków,[4] where it is usually displayed in the Prussian Homage Hall.

Renovation work started in the Sukiennice Museum in June 2008. The painting previously had been restored in 1915 and 1938. During World War II it was damaged while it was at Zamość, and in 1945 it was renovated. In 1974, experts again tried to restore it to its original condition before it went on public exhibition in Moscow. The most recent restoration process took place between 2006 and 2008, when the painting was finally returned to its former glory.[10]

In 2011, the painting was sent to Germany for an art exhibition entitled "Side by Side Poland – Germany", which was promoted as part of the 1000 Years of Art and History project of Royal Warsaw Castle in cooperation with the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall in Berlin. It was on display there between 23 September 2011 and 9 January 2012.[11]


This painting is considered among Matejko's most famous works and is also one of his largest canvases.[6] It portrays an event of significant political triumph for Poland, the Prussian Homage, in which Poland was able to enforce its will over Prussia.[6] Prussia latter gained independence and turned against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, becoming one of the nations that divided Poland among them. Matejko's painting was created during the partition period, when independent Poland had ceased to exist, and like many of Matejko's other works, it aimed to remind the Polish people of their most famous historical triumphs.[6]

At the same time, the painting foreshadows the tragedies of the future through the gestures and facial expressions of certain characters.[6] This is visible, for example, in the figures of King Sigismund I the Old and Albrecht Hohenzollern, who is kneeling before him.[6] Sigismund is portrayed as a powerful and majestic figure but not threatening. He treats Albrecht lightly—signifying that this event was only a temporary victory and not a total, lasting domination that crushed his opponent.[6] Albrecht's character is portrayed with many signs of his villainous intent. He kneels on both knees, which a duke should do only in front of a God, not a sovereign. This implies that he does not see Sigismund as a sovereign. He grips his standard strongly, but touches the Bible only lightly. The standard flies on a military lance, implying that Prussia had further military ambitions.[6] Finally, there is a gauntlet on the ground, an implied challenge to Sigismund from Albrecht.[6]

Due to its criticism of Albrecht and the event it portrayed, the painting often is seen as strongly anti-Prussian.[6] While it appears to glorify Poland, it is also critical of the country. Matejko went beyond portraying the glory of a historical event and attempted to convey hints of how the country's history would play out in the future. This event was merely a hollow victory that failed to secure Poland's future.[6] Matejko shows that the homage was an empty gesture and that it was Prussia that exploited it rather than Poland.[6] Nobody in the painting is smiling except a lady of the court who is engaged in idle gossip.[6]

The painting has been the subject of numerous art historical studies and has been reinterpreted through the works of artists such as Tadeusz Kantor.[6][8] In 1992, the Piwnica pod Baranami cabaret group organized a historical re-enactment of the painting.[6]

Historical characters in the painting

Matejko depicted many important figures of the Polish Renaissance period including taking the liberty to include at least one who were not actually present at the event.[6] In a similar vein, although the event portrayed took place in 1525, Matejko painted fragments of the Sukiennice in Renaissance style, a form that dates from the year 1555, after a fire which destroyed the building in its original Gothic style.[6] St. Mary's Basilica is visible in the background.[6]

At the center of the painting, Albrecht, Duke of Prussia is kneeling before King Sigismund I the Old of Poland.[6] Sigismund Augustus is shown here as a 5-year-old boy wearing a red dress, held up by Piotr Opaliński, the court house tutor.[6] Matejko portrayed Józef Szujski, professor of the Jagiellonian University, as Opaliński.[6] Thirty one other political figures contemporary with the event are also depicted,[12] including:

Generic characters of some significance

Some generic characters of minor importance were also depicted by Matejko in the painting. The following personages are:


  1. Technically, the painting was donated to the city of Kraków.
  2. Yet past his youth.
  3. The king entrusted him with the supervision of the drafting of the Statute of Lithuania.


  1. 1 2 Welcome. "Prussian Homage at Wawel Castle". Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 Janczyk, Agnieszka. "The Prussian Homage". Painting. Zamek Królewski na Wavelu. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 Dabrowski, Patrice M. (2004). Commemorations and the shaping of modern Poland. Indiana University Press. pp. 59–79. ISBN 0-253-34429-8.
  4. 1 2 Museum, Wawel. "Temporary exhibitions (archives)". "The Prussian Homage. Matejko for Wawel – Wawel for Matejko". Wavel Retrieved 11 September 2011..
  5. Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury w Krakowie (2004). International Cultural Centre Cracow. International Cultural Centre. p. 59.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 Rezler, Marek. "Z Matejką przez polskie dzieje: Hołd pruski" (in Polish). Interklasa: polski portal edukacyjny. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  7. 1 2 Michael Moran (15 May 2008). A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland. Granta Books. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-84708-001-1. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury w Krakowie (1 January 2004). International Cultural Centre Cracow. International Cultural Centre. p. 59. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  9. Jerzy Ślaski (1986). Polska walcząca, 1939-1945. Instytut Wydawniczy Pax. p. 61. ISBN 978-83-211-0784-4. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  10. Krupski, Adelina. "Wawel Royal Castle presents exciting plans for 2008-2009". Krakow Post. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  11. Rozpedzik, Stanislaw (30 August 2011). "Poland and Germany to look back on over 1000 years of shared history in new exhibition". Artdaily. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Kazimierz Nowacki, Halina Blak (1987). Remek dela poljskog slikarstva XIX veka iz zbirki Narodnog muzeja u Krakovu. Beograd: Narodni muzej. p. 28. OCLC 22946857.

Further reading

Coordinates: 50°03′36″N 19°55′26″E / 50.06000°N 19.92389°E / 50.06000; 19.92389

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