• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland



  • 29 July 2011

    “The Glory of Polish Arms” is the largest painting in the Embassy’s collection. Commissioned for our Embassy before WWII, the work – and its artist, Jan Henryk Rosen – both have fascinating stories.

    The mural is an allegory of the victorious defining moments in Polish military history. It depicts King Jan III Sobieski as a dominating figure & Marshal Jozef Pilsudski in the distance at the painting's center. They symbolize two triumphs, historic & contemporary. In 1683, King Sobieski’s defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Vienna was the great military victory of the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth & a turning point in the centuries-long struggle against the westward expansion of the Ottoman Empire. King Sobieski looks into the “future” – the center of the piece, where we see Marshal Pilsudski with his Legion’s First Brigade. The powerful & charismatic Polish statesman played a crucial role in Poland’s regaining of its independence in 1918. He commanded Poland’s forces in the Polish-Soviet war in a decisive victory that prevented Soviet forces from moving into Western Europe at a time when Vladimir Lenin set his sights on Poland as the first step of spreading communism westward.

    The mural was not entirely completed when World War II broke out in 1939. After the war, the Embassy was taken over by representatives of Poland's communist government, who did not like its depiction of Pilsudski, the reference to Soviet defeat, nor the banner with a religious icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. In 1947, they covered the painting with plywood, & it was left forgotten over the decades.

    When the building was remodeled in the 1980s, the mural was rediscovered, cut into six pieces & shipped off to Warsaw, where it was said to have been lost. The pieces were eventually found in 1992. At this time, Poland was no longer controlled by a communist government.

    Pieced back together, the painting underwent restoration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, then sent back to our Embassy. Today, it hangs in the exact location it was displayed before the war, when Jan Henryk de Rosen began painting his first work in the U.S. at our Embassy.

    Well-known on both sides of the Atlantic as a religious mural & 8 mosaic painter, de Rosen was also a Polish soldier & diplomat. He was born in 1891 in Warsaw, occupied at that time by the Russian Empire following the 18th c. partitions of Poland.

    Early in his childhood, he moved with his family to France. His father, a court painter for the last Czars of Russia, Alexander III & Nicholas II, frequently traveled to St. Petersburg for commissions. His paintings dedicated to Polish military history are still used in history textbooks today.

    During World War I, de Rosen fought in three armies: French, British & Polish, & was awarded the Virtuti Militari (Poland's highest military honor), the Cross of Valour, Croix de Guere & the French Legion of Honour.

    After the war, when Poland regained independence after 123 years of occupation, he was a translator during the peace negotiations at Versailles & became a Polish diplomat. He returned to Poland in 1920 & began studying painting in Warsaw & working for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    After a major exhibition at the prestigious Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 1925, he was commissioned to paint murals in Lwów’s restored Armenian Cathedral. The result made him famous. New commissions in Poland & abroad followed. At the request of Pius IX, he painted murals with Polish themes at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, becoming the first to paint murals in the Pope's chapel since Michelangelo.

    In 1939 de Rosen came to DC at the request of Polish Ambassador Count Jerzy Potocki to paint murals at the Embassy, & create decorations for the Polish pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

    The outbreak of World War II prompted de Rosen to stay in the U.S. During the war, he served as a military & intelligence aide in the Polish Embassy. He never returned to Poland, but lived through the most fruitful period of his artistic life here in the U.S. Among his works in Washington, DC are a mosaic figure of Christ created from pieces of tinted glass that cover 3,610 sq. ft. of a curved stone surface at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He also created what is believed to be the largest mosaic in the world – 14,000 square feet – on the dome of the St. Louis Cathedral.

    “The Glory of Polish Arms”
    “The Glory of Polish Arms”
    “The Glory of Polish Arms” - a collage of details
    “The Glory of Polish Arms” - a collage of details

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