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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Eastern Europe




The Czech Premysl dynasty founded the kingdom of Bohemia. Under subsequent dynasties, there were religious conflicts and disputes with the aristocracy.


2 St. Wenceslas, altarpiece,
14th century

In the ninth century, Premyslid princes unified the tribes of West Slavs that had settled in Bohemia.

2 Prince St. Wenceslas sought ties to the Holy Roman Empire and promoted Christianity.

In 929 he was murdered by his brother Boleslav I, who was then forced to accept the suzerainty of the Holy Roman emperor. Bohemia became an autonomous part of the empire, and in 1198 the German emperor bestowed the hereditary title of king on the Premyslids.

King Otakar II of Bohemia occupied Austria in 1251 and also coveted the German crown. When Rudolf I of Habsburg was elected the German king in 1273, Otakar challenged him.

Otakar fell in 1278 at the 3 Battle of the Marchfeld, however, and control of Austria went to the Habsburgs.

3 Battle of the Marchfeld, east of Vienna, Austria, drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1835

The Premyslids died out with Otakar's grandson Wenceslas III in 1306.

John of Luxembourg, the son of Emperor Henry VII, then inherited the Bohemian crown by marrying Wenceslas's sister Elizabeth.

He was followed in 1347 by his son 1, 7 Charles IV.

The authoritarian regime of Charles's son 4 Wenceslas IV caused a revolt of the nobility, in which even his relatives took part.

1 Charles IV (left) and his son Wenceslas IV kneel before Mary, painting, 14th ñ

7 Karlstein Castle near Prague,
built under Charles IV, 14th century

4 Murder of the clergyman John of Nepomuk,
ordered by Wenceslas IV, wooden engraving, 19th century

The state structure collapsed completely when the conflict with the 5 Hussites became a civil war.

5 A corral used as a mobile fortress by the Hussites,
book illustration, ca. 1450


6 Laszlo Posthumus, painting, 15th century

Wenceslas's brother Sigismund was refused recognition as king of Bohemia until shortly before his death in 1437, even though he had been Holy Roman emperor since 1410.

When Sigismund's grandson 6 Laszlo V (Posthumus) died in 1457, George of Podebrady, a local noble who had been regent for the underage Laszlo, was elected king.

For the first time a king appealed to the moderate Hussites.

In 1471 he was succeeded by Wladyslaw (Ulaszlo) II, who also inherited Hungary in 1490. The Habsburgs once again gained control of Bohemia and Hungary through the double marriage of his children to the grandchildren of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. The position of the Habsburg rulers in Bohemia, however, remained weak. The power of the Bohemian aristocracy was finally broken in the Thirty Years' War when they supported the adversaries of the Habsburgs.



The Hussites

Jan Hus, a Bohemian reformer, attended the Council of Constance in 1415. He criticized the secularization of the Church and was therefore condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

 His followers in Bohemia rose up against Sigismund of Luxembourg, who had assured Hus safe conduct but was now seen as a betrayer. The Hussites terrorized wide stretches of the empire, and a number of crusades against them failed.

 Only a division within the Hussites in 1433 made possible a compromise with the more moderate faction and Sigismund's subsequent return to Bohemia.

Jan Hus is burnt at the stake,
copper engraving, 17th century




Jan Hus

Bohemian religious leader
Hus also spelled Huss
born c. 1370, Husinec, Bohemia [now in Czech Republic]
died July 6, 1415, Konstanz [Germany]

the most important 15th-century Czech religious Reformer, whose work was transitional between the medieval and the Reformation periods and anticipated the Lutheran Reformation by a full century. He was embroiled in the bitter controversy of the Western Schism (1378–1417) for his entire career, and he was convicted of heresy at the Council of Constance and burned at the stake.

Early life and teaching career
Hus was born of poor parents in Husinec in southern Bohemia, from which he took his name. About 1390 he enrolled in the University of Prague, and two years after his graduation in 1394 he received a master’s degree and began teaching at the university. He became dean of the philosophical faculty there in 1401.

At this time the University of Prague was undergoing a period of struggle against foreign, chiefly German, influence as well as an intense rivalry between, on the one hand, German masters who upheld nominalism and were regarded as enemies of church reform and, on the other, the strongly nationalistic Czech masters, who were inclined to realist philosophy and were enthusiastic readers of the philosophical writings of John Wycliffe, a bitter critic of nominalism. Hus studied Wycliffe’s works and later his theological writings, which were brought into Prague in 1401. Hus was influenced by Wycliffe’s underlying principles, though he never accepted their extreme implications, and was particularly impressed by Wycliffe’s proposals for reform of the Roman Catholic clergy. The clerical estate owned about one-half of all the land in Bohemia, and the great wealth and simoniacal practices of the higher clergy aroused jealousy and resentment among the poor priests. The Bohemian peasantry, too, resented the church as one of the heaviest land taxers. There was thus a large potential base of support for any church reform movement at a time when the authority of the papacy itself was discredited by the Western Schism. Attempts at reform had been made by the Bohemian king Charles IV, and Wycliffe’s works were the chosen weapon of the national reform movement founded by Jan Milíč of Kroměříž (d. 1374).

Leader of Czech reform movement
In 1391 Milíč’s pupils founded the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where public sermons were preached in Czech (rather than in Latin) in the spirit of Milíc̆’s teaching. From 1402 Hus was in charge of the chapel, which had become the centre of the growing national reform movement in Bohemia. He became increasingly absorbed in public preaching and eventually emerged as the popular leader of the movement. Despite his extensive duties at the Bethlehem Chapel, Hus continued to teach in the university faculty of arts and became a candidate for the doctor’s degree in theology. Hus also became the adviser to the young nobleman Zbyněk Zajíc of Hazmburk when Zbyněk was named archbishop of Prague in 1403, a move that helped to give the reform movement a firmer foundation.

In 1403 a German university master, Johann Hübner, drew up a list of 45 articles, presumably selected from Wycliffe’s writings, and had them condemned as heretical. Because the German masters had three votes and the Czech masters only one, the Germans easily outvoted the Czechs, and the 45 articles were henceforth regarded as a test of orthodoxy. The principal charge against Wycliffe’s teaching was his tenet of remanence—i.e., that the bread and wine in the Eucharist retain their material substance. Wycliffe also declared the Scriptures to be the sole source of Christian doctrine. Hus did not share all of Wycliffe’s radical views, such as that on remanence, but several members of the reform party did, among them Hus’s teacher, Stanislav of Znojmo, and his fellow student, Štěpán Páleč.

During the first five years of Zbyněk’s reign as archbishop of Prague, his attitude toward the “evangelical party” radically changed. The opponents of reform won him over to their side and, in 1407, succeeded in charging Stanislav and Páleč with heresy, and they were cited to the Roman Curia for examination. The two men returned completely changed in their theological views and became the principal opponents of the Reformers. Thus, just when Hus had emerged at the forefront of the reform movement, he came into conflict with his former friends.

Hus and the Western Schism
Since 1378 the Roman Catholic Church had been split by the Western Schism, during which the papal jurisdiction was divided between two popes. As the leader of reform, Hus unhesitatingly quarreled with Archbishop Zbyněk when the latter opposed the Council of Pisa (1409), which was called to dethrone the rival popes and to reform the church. The council had the support of the Czech masters at the University of Prague, whereas the German masters were opposed to it. The German masters, who carried a voting majority in university affairs, supported the archbishop, which so enraged King Wenceslas that in January 1409 he subverted the university constitution by granting the Czech masters three votes each and the Germans only one; the result was a mass emigration of the Germans from Prague to several German universities. In the fall of 1409 Hus was elected rector of the now Czech-dominated university.

The final break between Archbishop Zbyněk and Hus occurred when the Council of Pisa deposed both Pope Gregory XII, whose authority was recognized in Bohemia, and the antipope Benedict XIII and in their place elected Alexander V. The deposed popes, however, retained jurisdiction over portions of western Europe; thus, instead of two, there were three popes. The archbishop and the higher clergy in Bohemia remained faithful to Gregory, whereas Hus and the reform party acknowledged the new pope. After being forced by the king’s punitive measures to recognize Alexander V as the legitimate pope, the archbishop, through a large bribe, induced Alexander to prohibit preaching in private chapels, including the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus refused to obey the pope’s order, whereupon Zbyněk excommunicated him. Despite his condemnation, Hus continued to preach at the Bethlehem Chapel and to teach at the University of Prague. Zbyněk was ultimately forced by the king to promise Hus his support before the Roman Curia, but he then died suddenly in 1411, and the leadership of Hus’s enemies passed to the Curia itself.

In 1412 the case of Hus’s heresy, which had been tacitly dropped, was revived because of a new dispute over the sale of indulgences that had been issued by Alexander’s successor, the antipope John XXIII, to finance his campaign against Gregory XII. Their sale in Bohemia aroused general indignation but had been approved by King Wenceslas, who, as usual, shared in the proceeds. Hus publicly denounced these indulgences before the university and, by so doing, lost the support of Wenceslas. This was to prove fatal to him. Hus’s enemies then renewed his trial at the Curia, where he was declared under major excommunication for refusing to appear and an interdict was pronounced over Prague or any other place where Hus might reside, thereby denying certain sacraments of the church to communicants in the interdicted area. In order to spare the city the consequences, Hus voluntarily left Prague in October 1412. He found refuge mostly in southern Bohemia in the castles of his friends, and during the next two years he engaged in feverish literary activity. His enemies, particularly Stanislav and Páleč, wrote a large number of polemical treatises against him, which he answered in an equally vigorous manner. The most important of his treatises was De ecclesia (The Church). He also wrote a large number of treatises in Czech and a collection of sermons entitled Postilla.

The final trial
With the Western Schism continuing unabated, King Sigismund of Hungary, as the newly elected (1411) king of Germany, saw an opportunity to gain prestige as the restorer of the church’s unity. He forced John XXIII to call the Council of Constance to find a final solution of the schism and to put an end to all the heresies. Sigismund, therefore, sent an emissary to invite Hus to attend the council to explain his views—an invitation Hus naturally was reluctant to accept. But when John threatened King Wenceslas for noncompliance with the interdict, and after Sigismund had assured Hus of safe-conduct for the journey to Constance and back (no matter what the decision might be), Hus finally consented to go.

He left for Constance but did not receive the safe-conduct until two days after his arrival there, in November 1414. Shortly after arriving in Constance he was, with Sigismund’s tacit consent, arrested and placed in close confinement, from which he never emerged. Hus’s enemies succeeded in having him tried before the Council of Constance as a Wycliffite heretic. All that the earnest intervention by the Bohemian nobles could obtain for him was three public hearings, at which he was allowed to defend himself and succeeded in refuting some of the charges against him. The council urged Hus to recant in order to save his life, but to the majority of its members he was a dangerous heretic fit only for death. When he refused to recant, he was solemnly sentenced on July 6, 1415, and burned at the stake.

Beliefs and writings
There has been much dispute over the extent to which Hus was indebted to Wycliffe for his theological beliefs. At Constance he refused to submit to the council’s demand that he disavow Wycliffe entirely, and he undoubtedly did support the doctrine of predestination and advocate the supremacy of biblical authority over that of the Catholic church. Hus’s views can also be interpreted as the culmination of the Czech national reform movement, however. His followers and subsequent Bohemian religious Reformers adopted the name Hussites.

During his exile in 1412–14, Hus substituted for his popular preaching in Prague a series of writings in Czech; these have since become classics of Czech literature and are equally important in the history of the Czech language, because Hus developed a new and simpler orthography. The most important of these works is his popular tract Vyklad viery, desatera a patere (“Exposition of the Faith, of the Ten Commandments, and of the Lord’s Prayer”). Hus’s writings in Czech and Latin include other religious tracts, learned treatises and lectures, collections of his sermons, and personal letters.

Matthew Spinka
František M. Bartoš

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Diebold Schilling the Older, Spiezer Chronik (1485): Burning of Jan Hus at the stake




religious movement
any of the followers of the Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus, who was condemned by the Council of Constance (1414–18) and burned at the stake. After his death in 1415 many Bohemian knights and nobles published a formal protest and offered protection to those who were persecuted for their faith. The movement’s chief supporters were Jakoubek of Stříbro (died 1429), Hus’s successor as preacher at the Bethlehem chapel in Prague; Václav Koranda, leader of the Taborites (extreme Hussites named for Tábor, their stronghold, south of Prague); and Jan Želivský, who organized the extreme reform party in Prague.

The Hussites broke with Rome in using a Czech liturgy and in administering Holy Communion to the laity under the forms of both bread and wine. (The doctrine supporting this was called Utraquism and the more moderate Hussites were called Utraquists.)

Under King Wenceslas (Václav) IV of Bohemia, the movement spread widely. In 1419, however, he died and was succeeded by a bitter enemy of the Hussites, his half brother Sigismund, king of the Romans and of Hungary. The Hussites would have acknowledged Sigismund had he accepted the Four Articles of Prague that Jakoubek had formulated: (1) freedom of preaching; (2) communion in both kinds; (3) poverty of the clergy and expropriation of church property; (4) punishment of notorious sinners. In 1420, however, Sigismund, who had failed to get possession of Prague, published a bull of Pope Martin V proclaiming a crusade against the Hussites. The Hussite union, which included the municipalities of Prague and other cities and the chief military power of Bohemia, deposed Sigismund and repelled two crusading attacks against Prague. Various crusades and battles against the Hussites failed for the next several years. In 1427 the Hussites, led by Prokop Holý, began a more revolutionary, rather than defensive, political program. Pope Martin V organized another crusade against them but did not live to see it decisively beaten by the Hussites in 1431.

Peace negotiations began in 1431, when the Council of Basel of the Roman Catholic Church agreed to negotiate with the Hussites on an equal basis, which Pope Martin V had refused to do. A Hussite delegation spent three months in Basel in 1433 discussing the Four Articles of Prague. The Council then sent a mission to Prague, which granted communion in both kinds to the Hussites. This grant split the Hussites, since the Utraquists were willing to make peace on these terms, but the Taborites were not. Utraquists and Catholics then joined forces to defeat the Taborites in a battle at Lipany in 1434, which ended the Taborites’ influence.

The Utraquist Hussites then resumed peace negotiations, and in July 1436 they obtained a peace treaty (the Compact of Iglau) that ensured all the principal gains of the war: communion in both kinds, the expropriation of church lands (which broke the economic power of the Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia), and an independent Bohemian Catholic church under Jan Rokycana as its elected archbishop. Although association with the Roman Catholic Church continued, the church of the Utraquist Hussites survived schisms and periodic persecutions until c. 1620, when it was finally absorbed by the Roman Catholics.

In the mid-15th century the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren) movement began in Bohemia among some of the Hussites, and it established its own independent organization in 1467. During the Reformation, the Unitas Fratrum was in contact with Lutheran and Reformed Protestants. Eventually, however, Bohemian and Moravian Protestantism was suppressed, and the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation was victorious after 1620, when the Protestant barons were defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain during the Thirty Years’ War.

Remnants of the Unitas Fratrum remained, however, and in 1722 a group of them fled Moravia and settled on the estate of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Saxony. A number of exiles from Moravia and Bohemia followed, and they formed the community of Herrnhut, where they were organized as the Moravian Church . There is also some continuity with 20th-century Czech Protestantism.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Hungary became a state under the Arpads. Even in the face of the Ottoman threat, the self-confident nobility held onto their privileges.


From the time of the Huns in the fourth and fifth centuries, nomads continually pushed out of the Eurasian steppes into Europe.

Around 900, the Magyars, or Hungarians, led by their prince 12 Arpad, moved into the power vacuum left by the Avars after their defeat by Charlemagne in 796.

12 The Hungarians appropriate land under the
leadership of Arpad, painting, 19th century

The Magyars traveled as far as Rome on their extended plundering raids, and only after their defeat by the German army in 955 at Lechfeld did they settle down in Transdanubia (Pannonia), present-day Hungary.
Prince Geza, a descendent of Arpad, became a Christian and secured a dominant position for his family.

His son, 9 Stephen I (St. Stephen), was crowned the first king of Hungary in 1001.

9 Baptism of Stephen I, painting, 19th ñ

With German help, he built up a government and an ecclesiastical structure. His successors conquered neighboring Croatia and Transylvania, where many Germans settled. In 1222 Andrew 11 was coerced by the nobles into issuing the "Golden Bull," which recognized the rights of the nobility and Church. The German regions in Transylvania were also granted extensive autonomy. The Arpad dynasty ended with Andrew III in 1301.

Following much turmoil over the throne, a French Anjou came to power in 1307. Louis I (the Great) was enthroned in 1342 and for a time was able to disempower the barons. In 1370, he also succeeded his uncle, Casimir III, as king of Poland. Upon Louis's death, his realm was again split, Poland being bequeathed to his daughter Jadwiga, while his daughter Mary and his son-in-law Sigismund of Luxembourg succeeded him in Hungary.

In 1396, Sigismund suffered a crushing defeat against the Ottomans at 8 Nicopolis on the Danube.

8 Sigismund escaping over the Danube after the Battle of Nicopolis

In exchange for financial support, the barons were able to demand more and more privileges from the constantly cash-strapped monarch, who became German king in 1410, king of Bohemia in 1419, and emperor in 1433. After the death of Sigismund's son-in-law and heir, Albert of Austria, another struggle for the throne took place. In Hungary, the Hungarian nobleman Janos Hunyadi prevailed as regent for Albert's son, Laszlo Posthumus.

13 Matthias Corvinus,
marble relief, ca. 1490

10 Louis II of Hungary and
Bohemia, painting, 16th ñ

After Laszlo's death in 1457, the Hungarians elected Hunyadi's own son, 13 Matthias Corvinus, as the new king.

During the reign of Matthias, who fostered a brilliant Renaissance court, Hungary reached its greatest territorial size. He occupied wide stretches of Bohemia and Austria during his campaigns against George of Podebrady— who, as a Hussite, had been excommunicated by the pope—and Emperor Frederick III, who claimed Laszlo's inheritance. In the end, Matthias reconciled with Frederick and the successor of George Podebrady, Wladyslaw (Ulaszlo) II, who was elected king at Matthias's death as the latter had no legitimate children.

Wladislaw's son 10 Louis II fell in the Battle of Mohacs against the Ottomans, who occupied almost all of Hungary.

Only in the 11 border region between Hungary and Austria was Louis's brother-in-law, the Habsburg Ferdinand I, accepted as king of Hungary.

11 Pressburg, present-day Bratislava, Slovakia, capital of the Hungarian Habsburgs after 1526



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