In that Sombor town that reminds of old carriages and tambura players, exceptional natural beauty and nice architecture, the building of the former County of Bačka and Bodrog holds the largest painting in Serbia — the Battle of Senta by Ferenc Eisenhut.
This monumental oil on canvas, 7 meters wide and 4 meters high, along with a massive gilded wooden frame occupies a total of 40 square meters and is most likely the largest painting on the entire territory of former Yugoslavia.
The painting shows the Battle of Senta, which took place during the Great Turkish War (1683–1699) on September 11th 1697. south of the town of Senta, at that time the territory of the Ottoman Empire. In the battle, the Turkish army suffered a major defeat from the Austro-Hungarian army, which included about 500 Serbs and Bunjevci from Sombor. As an immediate consequence, the Ottoman Empire lost control over the Banat region, while in the long run, the Christian victory at Senta (1697) was the last decisive step to force the Ottoman Empire into the Treaty of Karlovac (1699), ending the Turkish control of large parts of Central Europe.
The County of Bačka and Bodrog ordered the painting from Eisenhut on the occasion of the Budapest millennium celebration of the arrival of the Hungarians in the Pannonian Plain (1896). Ferenc (real name Franz) Eisenhut, an artist of German descent, was already a well-known painter of Oriental motifs. According to one source, the painting was shown in Budapest but did not get good reception, it was said that it was not “Hungarian” enough, and according to the other, Eisenhut did not manage to finish it in time to show it at the Millennium Exhibition due to the size and complexity of the painting and the fact that he was inexperienced in the painting of large formats and historical topics, but it was transported from Munich, where it was painted, to Sombor, to the very place where we can see it today.
The painting was done in a realistic manner, and in addition to its monumentality, vibrant color and deep perspective, its composition is what caches the eye. In the foreground, we see Austrian soldiers with their back turned to us, in the middle, Austrian Prince Eugen Savoy, the winner, on a white horse, illuminated by the sun, and next to him Hungarian Count Palfin, on a black horse. Opposite them, in the central and darkest part, the defeated Kisig Jafer-Pasha is painted, brought to Eugene Savoy by soldiers. In the background – we can notice the end of the battle. There are indications that the horseman on the left, with a mustache, is in fact Eisenhut’s self-portrait.
It is interesting to note that none of the major cities (and museums) in Serbia managed to “take over” the painting, although there were attempts to move it to Senta, Novi Sad and Belgrade, and after the First World War, Hungary itself demanded the painting to be handed to her but has lost the legal dispute before the International Tribunal in Hague.
Another curiosity is related to the fate of this painting. In 1950, a competition was launched for making a copy of the painting that would be kept in Senta, and a young painter Sava Stoykov won. The same evening, the copy was stolen and it was not found until 25 years later.
The painting can be visited with the previous announcement in the Solemn Hall of the building of the former County, today the seat of the administration of the City of Sombor and the District of West Bačka.