Two faces of Copernicus

Art was a serious subject in Poland back in the XIXth Century. Most of the famous works of art were centred around the subject of lost sovereignty. But even then, from time to time everyone needed a break and a moment of respite among family and friends.

The eminent personalities were no exception - including Jan Matejko, the most famous among Polish painters. He was already a celebrity in his lifetime and his fame has only grown since then. Everyone in Poland knows his historical painting depicting key moments of Polish history. When history textbooks first became illustrated, it was (and still is) with facsimiles of his paintings. This kind of popularity may be to blame for the somewhat one-sided perception of his legacy. 

Jan Matejko, Battle of Grunwald, 1878
Jan Matejko, Sermon of Piotr Skarga, 1864
Jan Matejko, Constitution of 3 May 1971, 1891


Aside from the spectacular large-scale and large-format representations (his largest canvas is over 40 m2!), he is also known from pseudo-portraits of historical figures - such as “Astronomer Copernicus - Conversations with God” (1873), currently on exhibition at the National Gallery in London. Let this image - rich in content, carefully composed, and studiously crafted - serve as a pretext to mention a charming, light-hearted detail. In his self-caricature Matejko depicts himself working at home. People in his household hustle and bustle while the painter tries to focus on painting Copernicus, whose facial expression and gestures bring to mind everything but the titular “conversation with God”.


Jan Matejko working at home, drawing 1872