Oil, tempera, oak: 165cm x 260 cm
National Museum in Warsaw Inv. Nr MP 2475
At the end of the fifteenth century, the great duchy of Moscow started a series of long wars against Lithuania to “Gather the Russian Earth.” In a number of victorious campaigns Moscow conquered vast parts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1512Russia supported by the Order of the Teutonic Knights and Emperor Maximilian attacked Lithuania again. Russia repeatedly tried to take the great fortress of Smolensk, which fell in July 1514 after Lithuanian troops were unable to come to the aid of the besieged city in time. Some weeks after the capitulation of Smolensk, on September 8th, 1514, the Polish-Lithuanian army (under the command of the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, Duke Konstanty Ostrogski) defeated the Moscovite army (commanded by Iwan Tscheljadnin and Duke Michail Bulgakov-Golizaam) at Orsza Orscha. Although the victory did not allow the Lithuanian troops to retake Smolensk, Sigismund used it as propaganda to conceal the loss of Smolensk and to weaken the alliance between the Habsburgs and Moscow. Fear of this alliance led to a change in Polish foreign policy, which is reflected in the double wedding celebrated in Vienna in 1515. This painting now in the National Museum in Warsaw was executed in a totally different political context long after the Battle of Orsza/Orscha. By now there was peace between Poland and Moscow, and the Teutonic Order no longer existed in Prussia. Relations with the German Empire were also good, buttressed by Sigismund August’s marriage to Elizabeth, a the daughter of Ferdinand I. However, we do not know exactly when and why this painting was produced, nor who commissioned it (probably the king himself or the sons of Duke Ostrogski); we also do not know the identity of the painter.