Jan Matejko (1838-93) was an artist working at a time before Poland became an independent nation. But a sense of Polish identity was building, and Matejko was an active member in the movement for independence. He painted notable figures and chapters from Poland’s history and Copernicus, whose mathematical treatise on heliocentrism had an immeasurable impact on astronomy, was a perfect subject.
Matejko’s 10-foot wide portrait is titled Copernicus Conversation with God (1873). Although Copernicus had proved that the Earth is not at the centre of the solar system, he saw no contradictions between his discoveries and his faith, unlike Galileo, who would come into conflict with the Catholic Church. Here he gazes up at the stars from a rooftop in his hometown Frombork, a diagram of his crucial theory at his side. The town’s cathedral spires pierce the starry heavens behind him and he raises his hand in a gesture of listening, as though a godly voice has spoken.
This is the first time this painting has been exhibited in the UK. It is a well-loved image in Poland and usually resides in the Jagiellonian University Museum, Kraków. It is accompanied here by a few items, including a copy of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, published in 1543, the year of his death. It is a nice touch also that the stars painted on the wall of gallery space depict the constellations as they would have appeared on the night of Copernicus's death in 1543.
Although this exhibition occupies a single room, it tells a fascinating story about two men who called the region of modern-day Poland their home, while bringing to light a portrait dripping in narrative atmosephere.
|What||Conversations with God: Jan Matejko’s Copernicus exhibition National Gallery|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
21 May 21 – 22 Aug 21, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here for more information|