In 1566, the Turkish army advanced upon the city of Sziget in their campaign to expand the Ottoman Empire eastwards. Under the leadership of the Croatian nobleman Nikola Zrinski, the inhabitants of Sziget and the surrounding area gathered within the city walls and closed the gates. When the Turkish soldiers finally broke down the fortifications 19 days later, Zrinski refused to surrender. Despite his courageous efforts to push his army out of the city, he and his men were killed in a ferocious assault. When Zrinski’s wife Eva saw that the Turks had taken the city, she decided to set fire to the city walls, killing countless soldiers and halting the Turks’ advance into Central Europe.
Mucha’s composition immortalises Eva’s decision to sacrifice the city and many of its inhabitants in order to protect her country from the Turks. A column of black smoke bellows up from the spot where she has thrown a burning torch. To the left of the column, the men prepare for the final assault while, to the right, the women attempt to hide from the Turks.