Final moments of the battle by Stębark (nowadays, the location of the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald). This part of the painting, and its representation of rain quenching the turmoiled land, was of mostly symbolic importance.
Ulrich von Jungingen - Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights from 1407 to 1410. Von Jungingen died at the Battle of Grunwald – in the painting he is portrayed seconds before being killed by two anonymous characters. Many interpreters of the painting, however, read fear in his eyes – most likely a deliberate representation, exposing the painter’s attitude to the oppressor.
The long-haired blonde is carrying St. Maurice’s spear - a significant Polish religious relic. The spear was a gift from the emperor Otto III to King Bolesław Chrobry, handed over as a sign of Christian brotherhood between the Roman and Polish nations. The painter’s imagination stirred a lot of controversy among historians, who refused to acknowledge this provenance of the object. Historian Jarosław Krawczyk formulated a following interpretation of its role in the painting: St. Maurice was a 3rd c. leader of the Christian Theban Legion which collectively refused to fight against Christian rebels. Death from the spear’s blade may thus signify a punishment of one Christian leader (von Jungingen) opposing another leader of the same faith (Władysław Jagiełło).
An anonymous executioner; a person of his profession was not allowed on the battlefield. His presence is thus of symbolic importance – he is punishing the Grand Master for the crimes performed by his Knights on the common people over years. His social background is reflected in his tool of execution – a 16th c. or 17th c. mining axe. Stanisław Czekalski, an art historian, proposes that the painting forces the viewer to identify with the figure of the warrior in the red hood with his back turned towards to him, ready to strike the Teutonic offender a fatal blow.
Werner von Tettingen – Doctor of the Teutonic Knights . The dignitary raises his hands, as if trying to protect the Grand Master. The Hospitaler will shamefully escape the battlefield, as a result becoming the only survivor among the highest members of the order. He is said to never have recovered psychologically from the trauma of Grunwald.
A member of the order’s elite – to be recognized by the white robe with black cross. At the time, the governing elite comprised 400 to 450 knights, out of which approx. 200 died in the July battle. The cause of the tragic outcome is commonly identified in Ulrich von Jungingen’s military obstinacy. The Teutonic code forbade surrender or escape, sending large numbers of fighters to death.
Ulrich von Jungingen has a large cross – his national emblem - sewn onto his chest, instead of a reliquary pendant that he actually wore. The same cross, ripped off, will also be of symbolic importance in Matejko’s later painting The Prussian Homage (at Zygmunt Stary's feet).
Anonymous fighter, possibly Jakub Skarbek’s squire.
Jakub Skarbek of Góra - a Polish nobleman and a diplomat. His oriental dress most likely points to the fact that the knight hurried to the battlefield, abandoning his lucrative position at the Hungarian court of King Sigismund of Luxemburg. Jakub Skarbek was acclaimed for capturing Casimir V, Duke of Pomerania and an ally of the Teutonic Knights.
The griffin on Casimir’s helmet is not a neutral symbol – the belief that the Szczecin Griffins and Silesian Piast dynasty members are essentially of Slavic provenance has been persistent in Polish historical narratives for years. The supporters of this belief would point to the Slavic roots of the regions’ rulers. This conviction is howeverm mistakenly applied to the Medieval politics, when the feudal order used to outweigh national identity.
Casimir V, Duke of Pomerania, and member of the Griffin dynasty. Casimir, despite his Slavic provenance, was fighting on the German side. While meandring between Poland and Germany, he was mainly making sure to preserve his own duchy's independence (hence the Griffin on top of his helmet). Ultimately, however, the Griffins accepted the dominion of the Margraviate of Brandenburg.
Vytautas (Witold), the Grand Duke of Lithuania, is presented by Matejko (after Jan Długosz) as the key player on the Polish-Lithuanian side in this battle. Vytautas is said to have criticized his cousin Władysław Jagiełło for distancing himself from the battle. However, contemporary interpreters explain that it was undeniably Jagiełło who led the forces to the battle. The figure of Vytautas is ambiguous – his face is sometimes read as expressing desperation, at others –a battle frenzy. Yet another interpretation proposes that the Duke’s distractedness reveals his political inconsistency – throughout his career, he would switch between the forces of the Teutonic Knights, Lithuania (his homeland), and the mutual Polish-Lithuanian interests.
A curious fact: the pattern on Vytautas’s belt was inspired by… the lampshade from the painter’s house. No symbolism involved.
The cross on Vytautas’s mitre – small, but proudly exposed – hints at the relatively fresh Christian faith of the Duke. It is also contrasting with the one placed just behind it – much bigger, yet about to fall to the ground.
Stanislaus of Szczepanów – patron saint of Poland. Legend has it that the saint appeared in front of the Polish army during the battle, supporting them in victory. St. Stanislaus has been frequently confused with the figure of Virgin Mary.
The collapsing flag signifies the nearing loss of the Grand Master.
Great Banner of Kraków and the Kingdom of Poland with the white eagle, later national symbol of Poland.
Banner with the Columns of Gediminas – an early symbol of Lithuania, often used as a rulers' personal insignia. The painter chose this symbol as opposed to Pahonia, the more universal sign of Lithuania, as he wanted to emphasize the nature of Lithuania’s participation in the battle as rooted in personal, cross-generational affairs, and not nationalistic rivalry.
Fragments of a lance suspended in the air are probably supposed to highlight the heated atmosphere in the battlefield – there does not seem to be any symbolic meaning behind them.
King Jagiełło’s banner
Mikołaj of Ryńsko, the warrant officer of the land of Chełm, one of the founders of the anti-Teutonic Society of Lizards. Upon his order, the flag of Chełm was rolled up and the knights fighting under it left the battlefield. He was arrested and beheaded upon Heinrich von Plauen’s order.
Mikołaj Skunarowski aka Skunaczewski. He is aiming his sword at a knight, who is struggling to hold the Grand Master’s flag. It was Skunarowski whom Jagiełło ordered to deliver the captured flag to Kraków after the battle, as a sign of victory.
Zyndram of Maszkowice – the sword-bearer of the Crown. In the battle of Grunwald, he was the Grand Camp Leader of the Crown and commander of the Banner of Kraków.
Konrad VII the White - Duke of Oels, from the Piast dynasty. At the time of the battle he was 18 or 20 years old. After the battle, he was captivated by Władysław Jagiełło.
Konrad VII is holding one of the three still existing rectorial sceptres of the Jagiellonian University. It alludes to the Duke’s future "treacheries" and changes of national allies. Such shifts were common in the Medieval times, and were not judged as strictly as in contemporary politics (even in the times of Matejko).
Marcin of Wrocimowice, warrant officer of the land of Kraków. In the fervour of the battle, he dropped the Polish flag to the ground. The Teutons immediately began to sing a song of victory. The flag was however soon picked up by his companions, which prevented a defeat.
The tip of the flagpoles resembles the medieval weapon called a morning star – this detail hints at the dangerous moment of dropping the flag in the battlefield, as well as warning those who attempt to fight the Kingdom of Poland.
Jan Žižka of Trocnov and the Chalice – who was to become the leader of the hussites and a Czech national hero. His actual presence at Grunwald is not confirmed. It is possible that Matejko included him in the painting due to his historical significance. Another interpretation suggests that he joined the battle in a search of an easy and legal income –a custom that was not uncommon among the Bohemian gentry. They were joining forces on both sides, although the German army paid better.
This figure is one of the ‘extras’, filling in gaps between other significant characters.
Heinrich von Plauen, Komtur of the Świecie (Schwetz) castle, and von Jungingen’s successor, is the main figure in this part of the painting. His presence at Grunwald is fictional, but his contribution to the struggle was significant – as soon as he found out about the defeat, he headed to Malbork to defend the castle. His move saved the Teutons from complete failure. It was thanks to von Plauen that the Order turned into Prussia, which several centuries later took part in the partitions of Poland. Reading this history from the perspective of partitions, the story of Polish victory turns into a story of a lost opportunity.
Christopher, the bishop of Lubeck, who was supposedly fighting on the Teutons’s side, according to Matejko’s notes. In reality, no bishop of such name worked in Lubeck at the time – Matejko may thus have confused the dioceses.
Marquard von Salzbach – Komtur of Brandenburg, caught on a lasso by a Samogitian fighter.
An anonymous priest – like Christopher from Lubeck, he represented a group of clergymen present at the battlefield who weren’t Teutonic friars.
Jan Długosz , father of Jan Długosz, the famous chronicler. Matejko included this character in honour of the royal historiographer.<br />Długosz the elder is attacking Marquard von Salzbach. In reality, he captured the KKomtur with the help of his servants. Vytautas finally had the opportunity to get his revenge for the insults von Salzbach directed at his mother. As the Teuton did not apologize, he was beheaded. His death prevented Długosz from from receiving a significant ransom, but earned him and his family royal favours.
Johan von Wenden - a Komtur of Gniew. Before the war he opposed the military conflict with Poland – a position that put him into trouble with Ulrich von Jungingen.
Heinrich von Schwelborn – a commander from Tuchola. Jan Žižka, his prosecutor, is ruthless towards the knight, and is about to chop his head off as if he was cutting a tree trunk. Von Schwelborn’s pose was somewhat different before the battle – apparently he was arrogantly requesting that a pair of bare swords be carried in front of him, and put back only after they were stained with Polish blood.
Zawisza Czarny – widely recognized as a model of knightly virtues, winner of numerous tournaments. As soon as he found out about the war with the Teutons, he abandoned his prospering career on the court of King Sigismund of Luxembourg (Jakub Skarbek, also present at the battle, made the same decision). His casual outfit may imply that he is approaching the battle without fear, almost routinely, but at the same time with gravity and a sense of patriotism.
Domarat from Kobylany – one of King Jagiełło’s bodyguards, he later became the castellan of Lublin.
Władysław II Jagiełło – King of Poland (and Grand Duke of Lithuania), leader of the Polish and Lithuanian army.
Zygmunt Korybut, the king’s nephew.
Corpse of Dippold Kikeritz. The knight was trying to reach and kill King Władysław, but was stopped by his surroundings.
Zbigniew Oleśnicki – King’s secretary, later the bishop of Kraków. The lance, with which he threw the Teutonic knight off his horse now serves him to point to the figure of St. Stanislaus, who is praying for Poland’s victory.
Mikołaj Trąba, Deputy Chancellor of the Crown (later he became the first primate of Poland)
Siemowit IV – Duke of Masovia. He sent his troops to Grunwald, but his participation in the battle was purely symbolic. Polish King&apos;s tributary, however also dependant on the Teutonic Knights, from whom he would borrow money.
Kuno von Lichtenstein – a Teutonic dignitary, in 1406 appointed as the Great Komtur.
The description was largely based on analyses by Marek Rezler (eduseek.interklasa.pl) and Roman Daszczyński (wyborcza.pl)
image source: Wikimedia Commons

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