Statue of Jan Matejko – Krakow, Poland - Atlas Obscura
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Krakow, Poland

Statue of Jan Matejko

Extremely famous in his native country, this Cracovian painter is all but unknown beyond Polish borders. 

Where there once used to be a defensive wall encircling the Old City of Kraków, now stands a lovely park called Planty. In an impressive example of forward thinking, this 5.2-acre green space was established in the early 1800s as part of an urban project called “garden city.” Within the park, there are 20 statues of notable Polish figures, including this monument honoring Jan Matejko.

Jan Matejko was a 19th-century painter native to Kraków, where he spent most of his life. He is renowned for his large oil-on-canvas paintings of historical events in Poland. Among Matejko’s most famous works are Rejtan (aka The Fall of Poland), portraying the protest against the 1773 partition of Poland; Unia Lubelska (Union of Lublin), depicting the 1569 creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; and Astronom Kopernik, Czyli Rozmowa z Bogiem (Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God), showing Copernicus looking at a starry sky.

Art critics describe Matejko’s colorful and detailed style as “antiquarian realism.” Rather than being hailed as a groundbreaking artist though, Matejko’s body of work is mostly treasured for bringing attention to Polish history and culture. To this day, many history books use his paintings as visual aids to depict important events.

Although Matejko’s paintings are often part of art exhibitions worldwide, the political context is often lost on viewers unfamiliar with Polish history. In Matejko’s time, however, paintings such as Rejtan caused bitter controversy among the Polish aristocracy. Subsequently, the Russian Empire censored his paintings, and Nazi Germany tried to destroy them.

The statue of Jan Matejko in Planty Park was unveiled in 2013, portraying the artist sitting in an armchair within an oversized, empty picture frame. The statue was strategically placed next to the Barbakan Krawkowski fortified outpost in the northern section of the park, along a path that Matejko walked on regularly to commute from his home to the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków—which is now named after the treasured local artist.

Know Before You Go

Walking north from the Old City of Kraków will inevitably lead to Planty Park. The statue is located between a pond and the Barbakan Krawkowski fortified outpost.

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