Thursday, December 22, 2011

Henryk Semiradsky

1843-1902 Polish

-by Donato

On a visit to Russia in the fall of 2005, I entered the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow expecting to find a few treasures. What I discovered there blew my mind. Turning the corner into a nondescript gallery was a stunning work by an artist I had never heard of.

Henryk Semiradsky.

I studied that painting intently, not knowing if I would ever return to Russia, nor if I would ever find out any more about this artist who was hidden behind the Iron Curtain and shunned by the avante guarde critic and historian for centuries. I scribble the name and sketched the image to recall it later.
But the gods of inspiration were shining down on me that day, for during my mandatory browse through the museum book store at the end of the visit, I inquired with the staff about Siemiradski. A kind lady smiled and retrieved a book on the artist! The only biography I have since discovered on the artist. Unfortunately it is in Russian, but no matter, it was a like striking a vein of gold, long hidden and eager to be mined.

Siemiradski (1843-1902) was a Polish Orientalist and a master of dappled light and narrative mass figure groupings. I can only imagine what his studio must have looked like when he was painting the Burial of a Varangian Chieftain, 1883, below.

A wonderful collection of his images has been assembled on this site:

And brief Biography on Wikipedia for those interested:

Enjoy a bit of this Russian treasure from Moscow!


  1. We cannot see directly the images in the post, there is a warning logo with exclamation dot

  2. The site you cited for Siemiradski contains malware that will hijack your browser and stop your computer cold.

  3. If you scroll down on the Wikipedia page and go to Siemiradsky's page on Wikimedia, there's a collection of paintings that seems even more extensive than on the other site, and higher resolution images too.

    I love this kind of art, and can only imagine what it looked like in the flesh!

  4. I like this post a lot!:0)he is one of my favourite artist!here is his name in Russian if somebody want to find more.Семирадский

  5. Probably you might be interested in works of another great Polish painter: Jan Matejko, whose scenes were way more massive :) , but in quite different lighting conditions. After all its worth to have a look.

  6. Additionally some sets: painting, studies, and closeups together.

  7. Thanks Donato for turning us onto him.

    Here is another nice gallery of his images.

  8. One of the theatres in Krakow, where I live, the Slowacki Theatre, has a curtain painted by him. It's still in use and you can enjoy it every time you go see a play :)

  9. Thank you Anonymous for those Matejko links! But the world really needs someone to take better pictures of The Battle of Grunwald, I've seen those before, and that's the best ones you can find on the internet...

  10. I wonder if Al Williamson was aware of that top painting when he drew his story of gladiatorial combat Thumbs Down for Creepy. The girl bound to a bull with flowers seems like a striking image for two artists to come up with independently. Unless there is some historical record that something like this really occured.
    Gorgeous painting. I'd love to know the story behind it.


  11. Hey Aaron,
    i haven't seen that Al Williamson's story you're speaking of, but the image appeared at least few times before. First, there is a greek myth about Dirce, wife of king of Thebes, Lycus. She died bound to a bull by Antiope's sons, who punished her for treating their mother badly earlier (here's a wiki link, if you need details: Then, there is an ancient roman sculpture known as Farnese Bull, which shows that scene. Also, it is said, that in ancient Rome that image was often used on arenas with Christians (highly opressed by Romans at that time) as victims, for entertainment. And back to the Siemiradzki's painting - it is named Christian Dirce, so it obviously refers to the myth and oppressed Christians. Being one of the greatest "Academic style" polish painters of his time, he used historical, mythological and biblical motives all the time. Of course, it is also highly symbolical and stuff, and some poeple seek references to Poland's political situation at the time, or a famous novel Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, published a year earlier before the paintig was done - in the novel, there is a very important scene, where a young christian woman Ligia is kidnapped by Romans, then tied to a bull on the arena, her friend Ursus forced to fight the bull and rescue her, for caesar Neron's entertainment. The myth about Dirce seems to be the source of all of the above, and possibly appears in some other works of art or literature that I have never heard of. :)
    wow, that was long. hope it wasn't too boring:D

  12. Stunning work. Semiradsky is a new one to me, and one for the list of greats who need to be better known. Seems to be on a par with Gerome or Alma Tadema. Avant gard critics, boo!

  13. OMG - thank you Donato!

  14. Hey Drewno,

    Not boring at all. Thanks for the background. I was only aware of the movie version of Quo Vadis in which the girl is tied to a post and menaced by a bull. But now that I have all that background I got to thinking that Karl Edward Wagner must have had this at least subconsciously in mind when his main villainess in Darkness Weaves is dragged almost to death behind a bull.
    Thank you for the information.

  15. If youre ever in Krakow you can see the Nero's Torches. Aall i have to say is wft.

  16. Am o litografie dupa prima pictura de pe acest sit. Rama foarte veche si este in conditie foarte buna. Daca este cineva interesat sa o cupere cu drag o pun la dispozitie


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