Mucha starts off his series with a gripping scene, in which a couple are desperately hiding away from a rampaging army who appear menacing and without mercy. The main theme of this painting is therefore war and peace, as symbolised by the priest who appears in the top right of the painting, with his arms outstretched and clothing hanging down. The setting is a rough landscape, where the individuals have fled in order to escape the latest attack on their village. This composition tells of the period of the 4th to 6th century in which the Slavic people were consistently under threat from Germanic tribes in the region who were more organised and in far greater numbers. They regularly victimsed these small villages, stealing any assets that they owned. Mucha immediately sets about underlining the vulnerability at this stage in their history, before the Slavs would later rise to prominence and power as the series continued.
This huge mural measures eight metres wide, by six metres tall. Mucha completed the piece using egg tempera on canvas, rather than the oils that most artists have been using since the end of the Italian Renaissance. This choice will remind many of the great work of Michelangelo within the Sistine Chapel, where the ceiling was decorated in a whole series of different fresco paintings. The size of painting found here was the largest within Mucha's whole series, and he had actually come up with the idea for this work over a decade earlier. Its ambitious nature meant it was not until 1912 that he actually commenced the first piece, which is displayed here and became known as Slavs in their Original Homeland, purposely setting the tone for the start of this cycle of paintings.
The huge undertaking by Mucha for this project would take him around 18 years in total, with 20 different artworks produced for it. The items had been on display at the Moravský Krumlov for around half a decade but in recent years there have been attempts to re-house the display in Prague, with this process still ongoing at the time of writing. This relocation would help more people to appreciate this artistic achievement, but an entirely new venue is likely to be needed in order to successfully house and preserve these nationally-critical artworks. It is hard to imagine the Slavic people having a more valuable artistic resource than this one and so the continued discussion over its location is entirely understandable. With regards Slavs in their Original Homeland specifically, it reminds us of the importance of strength in numbers and the need to organise and strengthen one's defences over time. The next item in this series would be The Celebration of Svantovit.