Emotion of Fear and Vulnerability: The feeling expressed by the hiding crouching peasant couple, in the middle of the dark bushes and fleeing flock transpose to the viewer this horror and fear felt by these.
Hellish Feeling of Destruction: The battle scene, the running horseman from the fire, and the fire itself make the viewer realize the complete devastation these tribes were victims of, and the literal hell they went through.
Spirituality: The divine presence indicated by the levitating priest and the mysterious entities on both sides, convey a higher power to the narrative.
Cosmic Duality: These two entities represent war and peace, the peace and freedom that would later resulted from the war. These may also be representations of Belobg (“White God”) and Chernobog (“Black God”), or Tiarnoglofi (“Black Mind”), symbolising the femininity and the earthly, the masculinity and the heavenly, as seen by Slavonic ancient mythology, and, so, a duality connected to femininity being linked with peace, and masculinity being linked with war.
Night Sky and Predominace of Purple: The colour purple is a symbol of the magical and the mystical. The night symbolizes the death and loss of faith, as battle runs through days and nights, as well as the spirituality connected to the celestial forces. Finally, the stars represent divine guidance, while providing the light in the dark, acting as a protection symbol. They are also linked to the mystery of the cosmos, representing both past and present, and, in its turn, the destiny of the universe. So, the purple starry night sky echoed in the whole composition, adds to this mystical and cosmic deeper meaning of the image, which indicates as a premonition, the goal of freedom and glory of the Slavs at the far distance, that feels intangible at this time.
Battle Scene: This is a representation of many attacks the early Slav tribes were targeted since the early medieval times. As Germanic tribes usually did, here, they burnt the village, slaughtered the people, and stole their sheep. This is also a premonition of many horrors this people would encounter in the future.
Sheep: The flock represents the innocent, the helpless and the vulnerable. A symbol often linked to sacrifice, here, the sheep are symbolic of the first sacrifice towards the freedom of the Slav people.
Structure: The image is composed of three juxtaposed planes – the first where the couple is hiding, circled by the bushes, the second, where we see the foreground of the battle, and the third one at the horizon, where the fire is burning.
Tension Lines: Tension Lines and Midpoint: Most of the composition is developed below the horizontal line at the middle (that divides the heavenly from the earthly). The diagonals – across the entities and defining the battle’s composition in both directions – indicate the midpoint at the center as a focal point, where we can see a flock of sheep fleeing the battle scene. There is also another line that connects the burning fire, the running horse and the hiding couple.
Scale: The different scales of the composition’s elements suggest variations of the near and far. The divine entities appear on a larger scale, then the hiding couple and the vegetation around them are presented in a smaller size, the foreground of the battle shows an agglomeration of people even smaller and less defined, and towards the far horizon, the figures of the battle diminish into silhouetted shapes.
Shape and Surface: The foreground figures are painted in fields of colour, while the rest of the composition – vegetation and battle ground – is mostly silhouetted. The sky is painted with a slightly grainy texture to represent the deepness of the starry night sky.
Line: Here, only the foreground figures are defined by line.
Colour: The colours of the composition are not very saturated. There is a clear predominance of dark purple hues, contrasted by warm orange, yellow and red tones.
Light: Most of the composition is dark, especially the battle scene. The crouching figures in the front are more illuminated, perhaps by the moon outside the visual canvas, presenting more contrast than the rest of the composition.
Study and Preparation: In order to transmit his political ideals of unity of all the Slav nations, Mucha started his extensive research two decades earlier, traveling to south Slav regions (communities annexed to Austria-Hungary, in the Balkans region, and other regions), and speaking to numerous renowned historians, in search for stories from Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Croatia, and others.
Studio Location: Mucha rented a studio in the Zbiroh Castle, in Czech Republic, so he would have enough of a spacious room and be able to paint these monumental images, besides having the peace and quiet of this secluded space.
Influence of Japonism: The intricate craftsmanship and overall aesthetic is evidently linked to the Japanese influences. The same treatment of the figures, with flat planes of color, sculptured treatment of light (with no gradient) and frivolous use of contour, specially visible in the divine entities (and their kimono-like dresses) and the peasant couple.
Classical Undertone: Modern spin on the classical painting guides, using egg tempera on monumental canvas and complying to compositional rules (rule of thirds).
Painting Cycle The Slav Epic: The ultimate goal of the artist with this series of paintings was, not only to raise awareness towards the story of Slav people, but also to connect them in a more spiritual spectrum, according with his political ideals, of making the world a better place. Mucha believed in the ideals of Pan-Slavism, a political movement that believes in the integrity and unity of the Slavs, and the artist paid most attention to the Czech nation, his home country. The patriotic and utopian vision for the Slav society, accompanied with such an overwhelming symbolism, did not provide for the best reaction upon its exhibition, as it was not as well received and understood as Mucha would expect.