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Dalius Avižinis. Valuable Acquisitions for the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

The reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a very large and complex project. The palace complex was built over several centuries. Various buildings were built and then rebuilt in different styles. The interior décor and furnishings changed over time. Alas, the luxurious interiors slowly deteriorated, valuable objects were plundered, and many things destroyed – just like the Palace itself in the end.

Due to wars and other disasters, the Palace was completely swept off the face of the earth by the beginning of the 19th century. Almost none of the valuable movable or unmovable objects from the palace survived, and information about them is scarce. What we know about them is very fragmentary – bits and pieces gathered from scanty written sources. From these sources we know that in the residence of the grand dukes in Vilnius Lower Castle there were paintings of rulers of other countries and of religious and mythological scenes, and that master craft smen from Lithuania and abroad built furniture, painted plafonds, and did other kinds of decorative work on the interiors. We even know the names of several of these artists and craft smen. Many of the valuable objects were acquired abroad. It’s important to mention the different kinds of textiles, especially tapestries, which were being ordered from the most famous Flemish makers. Furniture was also imported. But specific information about the kind and type is fragmentary – leading to suppositions rather than actual answers. We have not been ableto find any comprehensive inventory – only fragmentary descriptions of the ducal treasury and information about the books in the library. Some information about the interior decorations and artwork we have been able to garner from archaeological finds, especially pieces of metal, such as various kinds of bindings and sheathings. Wood fragments from pieces of furniture and frames have also been found.

What the interior of the residence of the Lithuanian grand dukes and Polish kings in Vilnius might have looked like we can surmise from the Lithuanian historical and cultural heritage still extant and preserved in museums round the world. Especially important for us are the materials preserved in Poland. The largest collection of tapestries, about 130 pieces, which once belonged to the Jagiellonian dynasty, is now preserved in Krakow’s Wawel Royal Castle. Various series of tapestries often traveled together with the rulers from one palace to another. Thus we think that those preserved in Poland now could have hung in Vilnius at various times. We have evidence of this in written sources.

Also very important for us is the Munich Residenz palace in Munich, Germany, which for various historical circumstances has a number of important historical objects related to Lithuania and Poland. Among them a tapestry with the coats of arms of the Vasa dynasty, Poland, and Lithuania as well as decorative 17th century dishes with the Vasa coat of arms in their Treasury (Schatzkammer). On display at the Army Museum in Stockholm, Sweden is a set of armour belonging to the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund Augustus (1529–1572). Another set of his armour is displayed at the Hungarian National Museum. The way that these and other treasures are preserved and displayed in museums, palaces, and historical residences abroad is a good example of how similar items should be displayed in our historical residence. Analogs for the design of our interiors can also be found in Western European countries from which artists and craft smen came to work in Vilnius, especially from Italy.

Even before the reconstruction of the palace began, thought was given to the interior displays – exhibition themes and the appropriate display methods. In 1999, museum specialists at the Lithuanian Art Museum prepared preliminary suggestions and guidelines for the design and use of the palace interiors. They were expanded and refined, and in 2003, another document entitled “An Outline of the Program for the Reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Interiors and their Adaption for Ceremonial, Museum, and Educational Uses” was issued. Both of these documents were based on the law passed by the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania in 2000 authorizing reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and defi ning its function as well as on the decree passed by the Government of Lithuania the following year (2001) that specifi ed the guidelines for the reconstruction and use of the palace. All of these documents formed the basis for our work, which continues to this day. Consultation meetings of specialists from the different organizations and units working on the reconstruction of the palace were called often to discuss even the most minor details regarding interior design and object display. Information about historical interiors was sought in the iconography of the 15th–17th centuries and in written sources. Research expeditions were organized to historical residences throughout Europe where authentic interiors and art treasures from the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods are still preserved.

The most valuable treasures, of course, are the authentic architectural elements and detailing that have been excavated on the palace grounds: foundations, walls, vault bricks, floor fragments, stone window surrounds, portals, fi replace detailing, relief tiles, floor tiles, stove tiles, and other finds – anything that survived the numerous calamities and great losses. During the archaeological digs in the area of the Palace and Vilnius Lower Castle a huge number of artifacts were found – one of the most interesting and diverse collections in Europe. These finds have helped us not only to reconstruct and recreate the once ornate and luxurious residence of the rulers but also to imagine what their daily life, as well as that of their court and servants, may have been like. The information gathered from all of these finds has helped us to recreate many of the architectural details of the interior décor.

Ever since we began work on the interiors in 2002, it was very important to us that the halls and other spaces of the palace not remain empty, but have some kind of function in this historical residence. For that reason it was decided to recreate the different halls and rooms in the style and décor of the different periods during which the Palace functioned – namely, the late Gothic, the Renaissance, and early Baroque. These kinds of period halls and rooms are planned for the second and third floors of the South, West, and East Wings. The stationary interior décor elements, such as the window surrounds, the stained glass windows, the floors, the tile stoves, and the fi replaces were reconstructed based on the large number of archaeological finds. Written sources, iconography, and analogs from other historical residences helped us reconstruct the different types of ceilings – beam, caisson, plafond – to recreate the floor decorations, and to bracket the vaults. These reconstructed period halls (late Gothic, Renaissance, and early Baroque) will be furnished with authentic artworks of that particular period and furniture appropriate to the particular function of that hall or room. The furnishings will be works of applied and visual art: tapestries and other textiles, paintings, sculptures, furniture, dishes, weapons, books, graphic art, maps, and other valuable artifacts. The interiors are being reconstructed on the basis of architectural finds, long-term scholarly research, and closely-related analogs. We are recreating an historical European rulers’ residence based on a scholarly vision.

We are not only trying to rebuild the palace as a building, but also to furnish and decorate it in period style. To that end, since 2003, we have been collecting art work, furniture, and other historical treasures for the interiors. The well-known Polish atomic physicist, business man, and collector Dr. Tomasz Niewodniczański († 2010) donated the first artifact for our interior expositions. Having lived part of his life in Vilnius, then Poland, and eventually Germany, he always collected historical and cultural materials related to the histories of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. In 2003, Dr. Niewodniczański visited Vilnius for the opening of an exhibit Imago Lithuaniae at the Lithuanian Art Museum’s Vilnius Picture Gallery featuring the Lithuanian verslimaterials from his collection. On that occasion he donated a rare and valuable work of graphic art – a panorama of the city of Grodno in 1568 by the Niurnberg engraver Matthias Zündt (ca. 1498–1572) – to the future Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (p. 369). Zündt engraved this work based on a drawing by the artist Johann Adelhauser, who worked for the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund Augustus. In Grodno, in 1568, important negotiations were taking place between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania about a possible union of the two states, and foreign delegations were being received. In this way this impressive work of art became the first artifact donated to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and was given the inventory or catalog number VR-1.

It’s neither very rare nor unusual for a museum’s collection to start with a private donation. Once when visiting the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, I pointed to a piece of furniture and asked if it was original to the Castle. The Polish museum guide answered me: “There was nothing here.” Indeed, after the third and last partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1795), Wawel Royal Castle was no longer the residence of Polish kings and Lithuanian grand dukes, but rather the barracks of the Austrian Imperial Army. The castle walls remained but the losses were huge. Poland got back its national monument from the Austrians in 1905. The interior décor of the castle was almost totally destroyed – murals were either lost or plastered over; ceilings and floors re-located; some of the walls re-bricked; portals damaged, moved, or destroyed; most of the tile stoves and fi replaces lost; the floor coverings changed; all of the portable art works and furnishings gone; in other words, the planned interior spaces and their contents were totally devastated (destroyed, stolen, or dispersed).

But the Polish nation did not lose hope. With great determination and enthusiasm it began to rebuild the castle complex, the symbol of Polish nationhood, and to collect anew historical treasures worthy of exposition. The first artifact donated to the then just planned Wawel Royal Castle was a monumental painting – Prussian Hommage (Hołd Pruski) – by the famous painter of historical themes Jan Matejko (1838–1893). He painted this work in 1882 and donated it to a Polish museum with the express wish that it hang in the Wawel Royal Castle, if ever rebuilt. His wish came true and his painting gave a start to a new collection of history, art and cultural treasures that over the past one hundred years has grown into one of the most signifi cant collections in Poland of not only Polish but other European art and culture as well.

In this way, based on the example and experience of other European countries that lost their historical residences and their contents, staff at the Lithuanian Art Museum, in 2003, began to build a collection for the interiors of the new National museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Such an eff ort was inevitable because of very unfortunate and disastrous historical circumstances – all the interior artwork and furnishings of the former palace and of most other historical residences throughout Lithuania were destroyed or dispersed. Only a few things remain preserved in museum collections. In Lithuania there are artifacts from the Gothic, Renaissance, and early Baroque periods but they are rare and considered treasures by other museums, which usually have them on display as part of their permanent exhibitions and thus available to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania as only temporary, shortterm loans. So the only solution was to build our own collection through purchases and donations.

After that first gift from Dr. Niewodniczański, the most signifi cant help in building the collection and making important purchases for it came from the Palace Restoration Foundation, especially in 2004 and 2005, when there was still no money for such kinds of purchases from the government. Five very valuable tapestries were purchased with money raised from Lithuanians here and abroad. Among them is a fragment of one of the oldest tapestries in Lithuania – Procession with elephants (early 16th c.); a monumental tapestry from the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuryScene from the Wedding of Alexander the Great; a painting The Deposition attributed to the Venetian Mannerist painter Jacopo Negreti (1548/1550–1628), best known as Jacopo Palma il Giovane; and a credenza with very ornate carvings made some time at the end of the 16th century in the Lyon region of France.

Especially pleasing was the gift in 2005 from the wellknown collector of Lithuanian antiquities in the United States Valentinas Ramonis and his wife Lile of a drawing Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli from the series Views of Rome by the Italian engraver and architect Francesco Piranesi (c. 1756–1810). It was made in 1781 and dedicated to the last ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski (1764–1795). Such gift s by individuals and purchases by the Palace Restoration Foundation became the basis for the newly-forming museum’s collection.

Until the end of 2009, valuable donations to the museum’s collection have been made by the following people: the collector Edmundas Armoška; the bookseller Vidmantas Staniulis; Nerijus Staniulis; the businessmen Andrejus Balyko and Antanas Bosas and their families; Rev. Algimantas Kajackas J.C.D.; Vitalijus Vėteris; Vytautas Vepštas; Rev. Julius Sasnauskas OFM and the Bernardine community of Lithuania; the businessman Saulius Karosas; the art historian from Germany Dr. Meinolf Siemer; staff from the Jagiellonian University and the University Museum in Krakow – Prof. Karol Musioł, Prof. Stanisław Waltoś, and Dr. Maria Hulicka; and the businessmen Oliver Ortiz, George Ortiz, and Nicholas Ortiz, who in 2008 donated a 16th c. silver goblet attributed to the princes Sapieha with a wish to exhibit it in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.

Beginning in 1999, the staff of the Lithuanian Art Museum, which had a lot of experience in restoring historical residences and their interior displays, took an active role in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania restoration project. In 2002, the Republic of Lithuania’s Ministry of Culture tasked the Lithuanian Art Museum to prepare and to carry out a plan for the design of the palace interiors, which would meet all of the approved museum, educational, and ceremonial functional requirements.

In order to accomplish this, the Lithuanian Art Museum, in 2004, established a Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Interior Design and Exhibitions Division. The criteria by which works of art and historical artifacts would be chosen for display in the palace were approved in 2005 and a special commission, headed by the art historian and long-term director of the Lithuanian Art Museum, Romualdas Budrys, was put in place to oversee this process. Commission members and their regular experts were well known Lithuanian art historians, historians, and conservators: art historian Dr. Rūta Janonienė, textile conservator Dalia Valujevičienė, metal conservator Rimvydas Derkintis, specialist in old textiles and art historian Dr. Ieva Kuizinienė, and historian Dr. Vydas Dolinskas. The commission’s work was organized by historian Daiva Mitrulevičiūtė. Before making their decisions, commission members would consult with Lithuanian and foreign specialists from different fi elds as well as museum colleagues – mostly from Poland, Germany, and Italy. Possible acquisitions were discussed with and researched by specialists at the Pranas Gudynas Center for Restoration, which is part of the Lithuanian Art Museum.

All of the new acquisitions had to meet the fairly strict criteria established in 2005. First were the chronological criteria. None of the objects were to have been made after the middle of the 17th century. Thus, they had to have been made some time from the Gothic to the early Baroque periods, when the palace functioned as a residence of the grand dukes and was the center of state rule. Another important criterion was geography. Objects for the palace had to have been made in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or in those European countries with which the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland had historical ties and from which the rulers of Lithuania and Poland would have purchased valuable works of art and furnishings. Other important criteria were the quality of the art, its typology, and provenance. The goal was to acquire artifacts which in their style and typology would closely resemble those which once may have been in the historical residences of the rulers of Lithuania and Poland – whether in Vilnius, Krakow, Warsaw or elsewhere. Typology was especially important for recreating the historical functions of the various halls and rooms of the palace. Preference, of course, was given to, and chronological exceptions made for, objects associated with Lithuania and directly connected to Lithuania’s rulers. Unfortunately, we have found only few such objects. Nevertheless, such objects do appear from time to time on the world antiques markets.

Before the collection began to be acquired, much information was gathered from written sources, especially scholarly literature, about the objects which once belonged to the rulers of Lithuania and Poland and were in their residences – such as tapestries and other textiles, their makers and subjects, paintings and their subject matter, artists who worked for the rulers and their creations. Even a working draft list was made of the typology and style of objects which were needed to recreate the interiors of the palace.

In 2005, when money was allocated from the government’s budget, choosing of the objects, evaluation by experts, and acquisition began. Every year selections were made from several thousand objects which met all or some of the criteria. Objects were sought in Lithuania, many European countries, and in the United States. The very rich antiques market in Italy was always watched. In Germany and Austria, the objects off ered were mostly from the 18th-20th centuries, but one could find very valuable objects dealing with Lithuanian and Polish history. A very interesting situation developed in the French antiques market. From history we know that in the second half of the 17th century many valuable objects from Lithuania and Poland were taken to France. After John Casimir Vasa (1648–1668) abdicated the Polish-Lithuanian throne in 1668 and returned to France, he took with him hundreds of valuable art objects – mostly paintings and tapestries. After his death in 1672, the fate of his collection is rather sad. Most of it was sold at auction the following year to pay off debts to his servants and others. In other words, an important collection of art objects connected to the Jagiellonian and Vasa dynasties was dispersed. From old auction records we know that some of the art objects were bought by French noblemen and by agents of King Louis XIV. Others left the country because there were interested buyers from other countries. Over the centuries these works of art changed owners and places of residence. But a number of them have remained in France, in private collections and antique shops, and appear from time to time in auction catalogs.

In searching for appropriate objects, good use has been made of the internet as well as auction catalogs and attendance at European antiquarian fairs and expositions. One such large fair is held annually in the town of Mastricht in The Netherlands. Antique dealers from all of Europe and from around the world gather there. They don’t bring with them many objects, just a few of the more valuable or interesting ones. But it is very useful to establish contact with them, let them know about the kinds of objects that one is looking for, and in that way either find some interesting objects or get some good leads. We also visited similar fairs in Munich, Assisi, Modena, Rome, Florence, and other cities, where we could in one place acquaint ourselves with the broader antiques market – the kinds of antiques being offered, their condition and provenance, and especially their price. During one such fair, commission members and experts found some very rare 17th–18th c. goblets with the coats of arms of the Polish Kingdom, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Wettin dynasty of the Duchy of Saxony, from the collections of the Saxon residences either in Dresden or Moritzburg.

After a long search, possible objects for acquisition were chosen, examined, and evaluated by commission members and experts. Later they were discussed again in meetings and those which most closely met the criteria and whose price was justifi ed were fi nally chosen for acquisition. After negotiating the fi nal selling price with the owner, which was usually several percentage points less than the asking price, the necessary government documents were prepared to transport the artifacts legally into Lithuania. Lithuanian Art Museum’s vehicles were mostly used to transport the objects. When they arrived in Lithuania, they were unpacked and their contents inspected, disinfected, conserved, restored if necessary, and made ready for exhibition by the specialists at the Pranas Gudynas Center for Restoration. Many of the objects thus collected were then displayed at the Museum of Applied Art, another branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum, beginning July 6, 2005. The exhibition has been renewed and supplemented annually with additional acquisitions. In 2007, a database of these objects was begun to be created on the internet.

In January 2009, the newly-established National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania took custody of the artifacts acquired for the interiors of the palace from the Lithuanian Art Museum. Even though the palace collection continues to grow in a consistent and systematic way, with new objects being added all of the time. I would like to briefl y describe some of the more important and interesting acquisitions of 2003–2009. Stylistically and typologically they are quite different. In order to recreate interiors from the Gothic, Renaissance, and early Baroque periods, it is necessary to collect a broad spectrum of historical, cultural, and art objects. In the palace collection of nearly 500 objects there are: tapestries, paintings, furniture, metalware, dishes, old weapons, armor, books, maps, and other valuable objects. Some of them are directly related to Lithuania. Others are stylistically and chronologically similar to objects, which were once in the palace. Descriptions of some have been published in art history publications and in Italian, French, and other countries’ catalogs. They are important examples of European art and court life.

The oldest Gothic-period objects date from the end of the 15th century, but there are not many of them. There are several reasons for this – not many are available on the market and the authentic ones that are for sale are very expensive. But the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is very proud to own two tapestry fragments from that period. The first tapestry fragment is the previously mentioned Procession with Elephants (early 16th c.). The second fragment pictures a castle with floral and animal motifs in the background. These are some of the oldest examples of textile art in Lithuania. There are also two paintings from the Gothic period – infl uenced by the artistic traditions of the Veneto-Crete region. Their subject matter is religious. One depicts the Holy Virgin Mary and the other, the Holy Virgin Mary with Child. Both were painted on wooden boards at the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th centuries. Visual art objects have been supplemented with those of applied arts. A Gothic, probably German, oak chest with iron bindings was purchased for the palace collection. There are also two pieces of furniture attributed to the French school – a credenza and a chest. The tops of both the credenza and the chest are decorated with Gothic-style carvings: fish bladder and branching, interlaced geometric leaf ornament (tracery) motifs. A Gothic-period chest from Italy has a different style of decoration. While the decorations on the German furniture are more restrained and the French furniture carvings mimic Gothic architecture styles, then the Italian craft smen used inlays from different kinds of wood to form ornamental patterns more often than carvings. In addition to the paintings and the pieces of furniture, there are metal water vessels and richly-decorated copper alloy plates made by German craft smen. Two of the palace halls will be decorated in Gothic style with these and other valuable and impressive objects, showing the historical ties between Lithuania and other European countries.

There are more artifacts in the collection from the Renaissance than the Gothic period. We were able to acquire some very valuable tapestries woven in the most famous factories of Brussels. For some of these tapestries we have been able to establish a provenance with the palace. One of the most interesting ones has the great coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was woven in Flanders in the 16th century, sometime between 1544 and 1548. In the center of the tapestry is a coat of arms with six fi elds. In the background there are floral ornaments and on top the crown of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Depicted in the various fi elds are: the Eagle of the Kingdom of Poland; the Mounted Knight (Vytis) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; the coats of arms of the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, of Kiev, Volhynia, and Smolensk; and in the center the coat of arms of the Sforza family. From written sources it is known that there were quite a number tapestries with the coat of arms and other symbolic attributes of the Jagiellonian dynasty. At this time in Poland there are about thirty tapestries with the heraldic symbols and initials of the Jagiellonians. There is no doubt that the tapestry purchased for the palace once belonged to Sigismund Augustus – on the chest of the Polish Eagle are the initials SA (Sigismundus Augustus). We can claim with certainty that this piece of tapestry was created especially for a series of heraldic tapestries, probably by special order, and once hung in the Vilnius residence.

Another 16th-century tapestry associated with the Vilnius palace depicts a scene from the history of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia (605–562 B.C.) who captured (597 B.C.) and destroyed (586 B.C.) Jerusalem and carried the Israelites into captivity in Babylonia. Mythological themes depicting ancient heroic deeds were popular subject matter for Renaissance and even Baroque era tapestries. From written sources it is known that the first wife of Sigismund Augustus, Elisabeth of Austria (Habsburg), brought with her two series of tapestries. The first series depicted the story of Romulus and Remus and the second series the story of Nebuchadnezzar. She died at the very young age of nineteen, having spent some time in both Poland and Lithuania, but mostly in Vilnius, where she is buried. It is very possible that the tapestry purchased for the Palace collection Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar belonged to her and once hung in the Vilnius residence.

Besides these tapestries, it is worth while mentioning a few others which are connected witheach other. Although to date we have not been able to acquire a full series of tapestries on one theme, which usually number 7–12 pieces, we do have several from one series. For example, we have several pieces from the series depicting the life of the Greek hero from the Trojan War Odysseus – Achilles and the daughters of Lycomedes and Odysseus bidding farewell to his wife and parents. These tapestries were masterly craft ed and are among the most beautiful and valuable in the whole collection. Artistically they are of the same quality as the fi gural tapestries in the Sigismund Augustus collection in Krakow. The rulers of the Vasa dynasty also owned tapestries depicting the adventures of Odysseus.

During the Renaissance, Italian culture had a great infl uence on the court life in Vilnius. In part, this was due to kinship ties. Bona Sforza (1494–1558) was a duchess from Italy (the House of Sforza) and the second wife of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and the King of Poland Sigismund the Old. She was a major patroness of Renaissance culture in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In part, it was also due to the commercial and fi nancial success of various regions in Italy, which translated into greater support for the arts and culture. Italian culture had a great infl uence throughout Europe. Some of the applied and decorative art objects obtained from Italy in the 16th century by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania made their way to Vilnius. Thus, today, when we search for objects for the palace collection we look to Italy – the home of the Renaissance. Very good examples are two mirrors with carved, painted, and gilded Renaissance-period frames. Mirrors are mentioned in written sources from the time of Sigismund Augustus.

Separate mention should be made of the Renaissanceperiod furniture. From the Lyon region of France, same as the credenza, we have a masterfully carved and decorated early 16th century armchair. This rare armchair has a high back with a Grecian pediment on top held up by an atlas and a caryatid. In the center of the back there is a carving of an angel’s head with wings to its sides. In different parts of the chair are carved floral motifs. This ceremonial chair resembles a throne – the kind that may have been used by Lithuania’s rulers. A late 16th-century writing desk, attributed to craft smen in Genoa, Italy, was also purchased. It consists of two parts and has many carved figures. The decorated walnut door in the upper part would open out revealing many smaller doors and drawers for letters and other small items and be used as a writing desk. Two small Renaissance-period kneelers used mostly in private apartments, more specifically bedrooms, were acquired. By looking at them one can see the importance placed on this kind of furniture. They are decorated with beautiful carvings and gilt. A large part of the Renaissance collection is made up of large chests (cassoni), usually used for storing valuables. Their fronts, and often the sides as well, are decorated with carvings, inlays, and gilt. Decorating motifs include floral patterns, heraldic compositions, religious and mythological themes. This kind of furniture with universal use was very popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. When traveling, these chests could be used to transport various kinds of objects. One could sit, sleep, and even write on them. Their form and function diff ered, depending when and in what region they were made. Some were even made for special occasions, such as weddings. Several of the chests in the palace collection have fanciful sarcophagus forms.

Some cabinets, which are rarely found in Lithuania, were also acquired for the palace collection. One was made either in southern Germany, maybe Augsburg, or in Austria during the late 16th century. This small piece of furniture has a small door on top and two in front. Behind the front doors, there are other small doors and drawers. The cabinet is decorated from all sides with inlays of different kinds of wood depicting city panoramas, bird figures, and floral motifs. These kinds of cabinets were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries for safekeeping small valuables.

The largest number of artifacts in the palace collection is from the Baroque period. More objects from that time have survived. We have not acquired many tapestries from this period, but those we did are rare and valuable. In the early 17th century tapestry Garden with Pergola one can see what an authentic early 17th-century garden with many fountains, sculptures, exotic plants, and rare birds may have looked like. Maybe the Vilnius palace garden that the Franciscan friar Antoni saw some time before 1655 and later described in his travel journals looked like this. Two other tapestries from the same series, but purchased in different countries, are interesting in that they were woven in the mid-17th century according to the wellknown Flemish painter Michiel Coxcie (1499–1592), who also designed tapestries for Sigismund Augustus, which now hang in the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow. Both tapestries have a religious theme. They depict two scenes from the Old Testament: the creation of Eve and her introduction to Adam and the off erings of Cain and Abel. This tapestry collection has been assembled in a fairly short time, and today is very highly valued by Lithuanian and foreign specialists.

Among the expressive paintings of the Baroque period in the palace collection is an early 17th century painting entitled the Ludovisi Concert attributed to the famous Italian painter Leonello (Lionello) Spada (1576–1622) or his school. Spada worked actively in Bologna, Rome, and Parma. There was an active musical life in 17th century Vilnius – at the palace, the cathedral, the university, and in the residences of the nobles – which could be nicely illustrated by this painting depicting fi ve young musicians giving a concert. Music would often be heard in the palace, especially during major celebrations. Even operas were staged there – the first in 1636. Often during the 17th century very large and complex paintings were not done by just one artist, but rather a whole circle or school of artists. Several paintings with a similar theme were also painted quite often. Thus, Spada’s Concert has a “brother” now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Another painting acquired with funds donated by the Lithuanian people and the Palace Restoration Foundation was the aforementioned Deposition or Pieta (Christ being taken down from the Cross and grieved) by the Venetian painter Jacopo Palma il Giovane, who also worked in the Doge’s Palace. The collection of paintings was supplemented in 2009 by a portrait of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland John Casimir Vasa by an unknown artist – the gift of Rev. Algimantas Kajackas.

The collection of Baroque-period furniture is very rich. The largest number is from Italy, but there are also pieces of various type made by craft smen in The Netherlands, Germany, and France. It is very likely that for the first time a Lithuanian museum has collected works from furniture-makers in southern and northern Holland, and a very rare mid-17th century French cabinet made of ebony and marble, probably in the Parisian workshop of Jean Mace de Blois. Three Baroque-period cabinets were acquired with inlays of ivory and ebony – one decorated with the coat of arms of the House of Sforza. A photograph and description of one of the most splendid cabinets in the collection, probably made in Flanders in the 17th century, is included in this catalogue.

Baroque-period objects directly related to Lithuania are an important part of the palace collection. Although similar types of objects can be found in Lithuanian libraries and other museums, nevertheless they are exceptional, not only as objects of art, but also for their historical and cultural value. Particular mention should be made of the following: a variant map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which was first created and published in Amsterdam in 1613 by Willem Blaue (1571–1638) with the support of prince Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila Našlaitėlis (Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł) and later reprinted by Blaue’s son Joan in his Atlas novus; the first volume of the history of Lithuania written in Latin by the Vilnius University professor Albert Wijuk–Kojałowicz and published in Danzig in 1650; the 1676 German edition of the famous book The Great Art of Artillery by a graduate of Vilnius University Casimir Simienowicz; and a book of lyric poetry by Maciej Kazimierz Sarbievius, who has been called the Horatio of the North, and published with an illustration by the artist Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp in 1632. We also have the 1619 Polish edition of the Third Lithuanian Statute, which was edited in the palace, and which will be displayed in a hall specifically devoted to that project.

We have already mentioned the goblets with the heraldic symbols and initials of the Polish, Lithuanian, Saxon and Wettin dynasties. The palace collection now has seven such goblets. Six goblets with the initials and coat of arms of the Wettin dynasty representative Augustus the Strong (1697–1706) were purchased in a German antiques store. They were made at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries and at one time were either at the historical residences in Dresden or Moritzburg. In the colorful heraldic cartouches one can see the Polish Eagle, the Lithuanian Mounted Knight (Vytis) as well as Saxon heraldry. Above the joined coat of arms is a crown and above it the initialsF.A.R.P. (Friedrich August Rex Poloniae). One can find similar goblets in the museums of Dresden, Krakow, and Warsaw. Another crystal wine glass with the coats of arms of Poland, Lithuania, and Saxony was purchased in Vienna. It is decorated with the chain of the Order of the White Eagle and the ruler’s initials AR (Augustus Rex). A similar wine glass is now in the collections of the Warsaw Royal Castle. We think that it was created in 1727 on the occasion of the bestowal of the Order of the White Eagle on Mikalojus Kazimieras Radvila (Michał Kazimierz Radziwiłł, 1702–1762), called ‘the small fish’, who was then the Grand Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Vilnius Palatin. This collection of Lithuanian- related materials is supplemented by a very important collection of maps as well as images of cities and battles, which were once in the libraries of Sigismund Augustus, the Vasa dynasty rulers, and the princes Sapiehas.

The palace collection also has antique weapons, some made in the 17th century. In the collection we have three arbalests (crossbows), which have been modifi ed to shoot bullets. Two of them are richly-carved. We also have acquired armor, halberds, swords, rapiers, and other weapons made in Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands.

The large European antiques market does not favor Lithuania. Many valuable objects, which once were in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or in some way associated with its rulers or noblemen, were taken out of the country legally, mostly during the 19th and 20th centuries, and now are on exhibit in foreign museums. But we are very pleased with those artifacts of Lithuanian history which have returned to Lithuania after so many centuries. The reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania has provided an opportunity not only to bring back part of the lost cultural heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania but to supplement it as well with important art objects of the 15th–17th centuries from Europe and other parts of the world. Thanks to government funding and monies raised from Lithuanian and foreign citizens and organizations as well as generous donations of objects, we have been able to build in Lithuania a solid and varied collection of art and history objects. This collection continues to grow and will be the basis for displays in the halls of the reconstructed palace. In this way the collection will become accessible to Lithuanian and foreign visitors. It will be used for educational activities and programs. Maybe even in some small way it will fill the gap created by the loss of so many valuable art, historical, and cultural objects due to the vicissitudes of history.

Many of the important and impressive artifacts acquired up to 2009 are described for the first time in print in this album.


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Published:: 2023-01-18 12:09 Modified: 2023-02-01 10:22
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