Monday, August 25, 2014

Evil for Evil

Among the exhortations in Romans 12:9-21 is the encouragement to "not repay anyone evil for evil" (v. 17). This phrase was chosen by Alphonse Mucha as a subtitle for one of the panels of his masterwork "The Slav Epic."

Alphonse Mucha is best known as an Art Nouveau poster artist working in Paris. His posters usually included a female figure along with natural elements and the lettering typical of the Art Nouveau style. As much as he is associated with Paris, though, Mucha was in fact a Czech, born in what was then Moravia. He decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle and collaborated on the Austrian Pavilion. While researching the culture, history and traditions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mucha developed the idea of an epic for all Slavic people - what would become The Slav Epic. These twenty large-scale canvases illustrate twenty episodes in Slavic history, some specifically Czech history and others from the history of various Slavonic regions. Mucha's purpose for the epic was "to unite all the Slavs through their common history and their mutual reverence for peace and learning" and then to "inspire them to work for humanity using their experience and virtue" (Mucha Foundation). The twelfth painting is titled "Petr of Chelcicky at Vodnany: Do Not Repay Evil for Evil."

In this scene Chelcicky (also spelled Chelcice) walks among the dying, wounded and displaced citizens from the village of Vodnany, which found itself in the crossfire between the Hussites and the Germanic forces during the Hussite Wars. In the background, large plumes of smoke rise from burning homes while in the foreground Chelcicky, holding a Bible, encourages the people not to seek vengeance or retribution. The rejection of violence is a hallmark of Chelcicky's teaching.

The work, which shows not the battle itself but rather the aftermath of battle, was completed in 1918, probably not coincidentally the year that World War I ended. Though the clothes in the painting may be that of 15th-century Czech peasants, the overall scene of destruction, injuries, death and humans pushed almost beyond endurance is repeated in images from around our world today.  
Mucha seated in front of panels from the Epic.

For a full exploration of The Slav Epic see:

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