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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » February 23, 2010
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Grunwald Painting To Miss Anniversary
February 23, 2010   
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Poland's most famous historical painting, The Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko, will miss the battle's 600th anniversary in July. Matejko's masterpiece is now so fragile that conservationists ruled the painting could not travel to Wawel Castle in Cracow, where it was due to be exhibited, and will instead be taken away for restoration.

The Battle of Grunwald was painted in 1878 and has a long history of damage and deterioration. The restoration process will cost over zl.1 million and may take up to a year and a half.

The painting, 42 square meters in size, depicts the landmark battle of Grunwald, where the combined armies of Poland and Lithuania defeated the German Teutonic Knights on July 15, 1410. It will now remain in Warsaw to be restored by experts, who will undertake a painstaking process of refitting and cleaning the canvas.

"Paintings, like people get sick and spend time in hospital," says Anna Lewandowska, a conservationist at the National Museum in Warsaw. "They live longer than people but also have a life span. They have lives, stories, enemies and friends... this is more than a picture, it's a major icon of Polish history, a picture that everyone has in their blood."

The Battle of Grunwald was hidden underground during World War II with Skarga's Sermon, another famous Matejko painting. Both suffered damage as a result. Mold and water permeated the canvas, causing sections to shrink, break or disintegrate and the painting has been repaired several times over the last 50 years. The original canvas was glued to another with a wax-based adhesive that is now slowly turning to powder. The conservation process will involve peeling the two canvases apart, and the painting will then be cleaned and reinforced.

"The painting is not elastic... imagine a big piece of thin, fragile metal," adds Lewandowska. "If you make a mistake you will break the painting in half. Everything is a big risk, it's a lot of stress."
Alex de Moller
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