Józef Brandt harboured a fascination for the history of 17th century Poland, and his favourite themes included ballistic scenes and genre scenes before and after the battle proper –all and sundry marches, returns, supply trains, billets and encampments, patrols, and similar motifs illustrating the drudgery of warfare outside of its culminating moments. This piece, depicting Polish troops on their way home after their triumph over the Turkish forces besieging Vienna in 1683, ranks amongst the finest in this group of Brandt’s works. The realistic, frontal composition depicts a train of Poles, Turkish prisoners, and assorted carts and belongings –all escorted by hussar riders– making their way across a flat expanse.
This exotic, colourful painting captivates with its technical perfection, the sheer variety of well-characterised figures, and the rich assortment of props. In its execution, Brandt drew on his considerable knowledge of military equipment and historical costumes. His Munich studio has actually been referred to as a small museum on account of the vast collection of weapons, costumes, and Oriental curios which he kept there and used in his works.
Orientalism in Polish Art can be seen at Pera Museum between 24 October 2014 and 18 January 2015.