1058- Art – The result of Alfons Mucha´s trip to Athos

Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) was a Czech artist, who became the father of a new style of art `Art Nouveau`, starting with his series of posters for performances of the actress Sarah Bernardt. He became enormously popular with his style, but he chose a different direction in his live. He wanted to show the world his ideal of an pan-Slavic world. He returned from Paris to his homeland, for what he thought would be his magnum opus. He worked for 16 years on a collection of huge paintings, called the Slav Epic. He traveled first to Russia and other Slavic countries for inspiration. On his second travel in 1924 he visited the Holy Mountain as a pilgrim. The collection of paintings are dedicated to the history of the Slavic people. One of those paintings is called Athos, the Holy Mountain and was painted in 1926. The subtitle is: `Sheltering the Oldest Orthodox Literary Treasures`. The theme of the painting is freedom of religious expression. It measures 4,80 x 4,05 meters. The benefactor of Mucha was the intriguing figure of Charles R. Crane, who himself visited Athos at least two times (in 1911 and 1919). On behalf of him 40 tons of food was delivered to the monks in 1923.

(Quoted in Robert S. Nelsons, 1989, Hagia Sophia 1850-1950: holy wisdom modern monument)
The Slav Epic was for a long period not visible for the general public. The Nazis did not like his pan-Slavistic ideals. Mucha was one of the first who was imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1938 (just after the Anschluss) was released later but caught pneumonia and died in 1939. The Communists did not support his legacy either. Only since the mid sixties the works are shown in a small Czeck town called Moravsky Krumlov. But not in Prague, the city he offered the Slav Epic.

I find it difficult to give an interpretation of this work of art. From a website about the Slav Epic, comes an explanation of the painting.
`This painting marks a break from the examination of key events of Slavic history, and pays tribute to the Greek church which connected the Slavs to the Byzantine empire, particularly through the missionary activities of Cyril and Methodius. Mount Athos, depicted here, is the most sacred place in the Orthodox church. On the right are a group of Russian pilgrims, kneeling before the high priests whose ethereal appearance is attributable to the sunlight and foreground left is a blind old man being led by a youth.

Angels appear across the centre of the composition holding small models of four Slavic monasteries, while the two angels in the centre represent Charity and Faith. Overlooking the entire scene is an image of the Virgin Mary, reinforcing the link with the symbolic nature of the first three paintings in the series.`

On You Tubeyou can find the compete Slav Epic with the Orchestral Suite nr. 3 of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bas Kamps

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