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International exhibition “Between presence and memory. Historic images of the Vilnius castles“

Event date: 2023 y.October1012 d. - 2024 y.January0114 d. All events
Valdovų rūmai
Exhibition patron 
Lietuvos Respublikos Ministrė Pirmininkė INGRIDA ŠIMONYTĖ 

Exhibition dedicated to mark the 700th anniversary of Vilnius
The international exhibition of historic iconography presents the origins, development and memory and reconstruction visions of the Vilnius castles and one of their most important objects – the Lower Castle’s residence of the Lithuanian grand dukes. The exhibition features approximately two hundred visual sources – cartography, paintings, graphic art and other works – chronologically spanning a period from the late 14th century to the second half of the 20th century. In addition to authentic works, visitors will also be able to see enlarged facsimiles in which important details will be more visible.    

Vilnius - the capital of Lithuania and residence of the ruler since the 14th century

The early history of the Vilnius castles is inseparable from the establishment of the city itself, while Vilnius was already mentioned in Gediminas’ letters as the ruler’s residence – the state’s capital city. The Vilnius castles served as the political, administrative, diplomatic, military, economic, cultural and religious centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a state extending from the Baltic to the Black seas, already from the 14th century. Over time, all the critical state and public life structures were concentrated in the castles: the ruler’s residence with the treasury and archive, the bishop’s cathedral with the palace, Chapter House and Cathedral School, the ruler’s family mausoleum, the Supreme Tribunal of Lithuania, the arsenals, the castle warden’s premises, a prison, etc. Grand duke raising ceremonies were held here, the Council of Lords and parliaments convened here, court proceedings were held here, coins were forged at the mint, receptions were given to foreign delegations, music was performed and operas were staged. 

In the face of the loss of statehood, the Palace of the Grand Dukes has come to be seen as a symbol of the freedom of the state and an important symbol of historical memory

Historic circumstances developed such that Vilnius, with its rich history, cannot boast of having a legacy of early modern period cartography or other visual sources. It is symbolic, and somewhat ironic, but the majority of images of the eternal capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Vilnius, and often no longer extant buildings happened to be created when our statehood had already been lost. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, society was enraged by Russia’s repressions and the painful losses it was suffering – the  devastation of glorious witnesses to the past of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Upper and Lower castles, and the rulers’ residence being literally swept off the face of the Earth.  In light of such tremendous losses, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania started being perceived and valued as an important attribute of state identity and historic memory. Numerous visions of the no longer existing Vilnius castles ensemble and its separate buildings were created and published in various ways during the Romantic period that testified to the symbolic significance and meaning of these historic objects, so central to the Lithuanian state. The 20th century saw the start of research of the Vilnius castles and their separate buildings, along with the production of reconstruction projects in the hope of one day being able to restore these symbols. 

The development of Vilnius castles in images
The narrative for this international exhibition, Between Presence and Memory. Historic Images of the Vilnius Castles, centres on the development of the heart of the Lithuanian capital and is created using material from the landscape change and historic memory categories. The five thematic parts of the exhibition – Topography, Presence, Vitality, Obliteration, Recovery – offer visitors the unique opportunity to see the whole course of development of the Vilnius castles ensemble: its creation, flourishing and decline, its destruction, non-existence, memory, attempts at restoring this symbol of Lithuania’s statehood and the separate, most important components of this process. At the exhibition, it will also be possible to see invaluable visual sources featuring the city of Vilnius and its castles: the sepia album of Franciszek Smuglewicz (1745–1807), drawings and copies of works originally by Marcin Knackfus (Knackfuss, ca 1740 – ca 1821), Laurynas Gucevičius (1753–1798) and Pietro de Rossi (1761–1831), visions by famous 19th-century artists Jan Rustem (1762–1835), Vincentas Smakauskas (1797–1876), Juozapas Kamarauskas (1874–1946) and others, plans of Vilnius and reconstructive drawings of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania created by art historian Marian Morelowski (1884–1963), architects Zygmunt Mieczysław Czaykowski (1887–1950) and Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis (1893–1993), plus many other artefacts that are today widely scattered throughout historic memory institutions in many countries. 

This exhibition presents images of the Vilnius castles – the most important symbols and recognisable markers of the early and modern Lithuanian state and its eternal capital Vilnius, which testify to the continuity of Lithuania’s statehood, national identity and strength of today’s creative powers.  

The exhibition symbolically crowns and concludes the several-year-long project carried out by the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, dedicated to commemorating the 700th anniversary of Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. 

Exhibition organiser 
Nacionalinis muziejus Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės valdovų rūmai 
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania 

Exhibition curation
Rita Lelekauskaitė-Karlienė, Gabija Tubelevičiūtė, Marijus Uzorka

Exhibition coordinators
Dalius Avižinis, Gabija Tubelevičiūtė, Marijus Uzorka, Ignas Račickas 
Published:: 2023-10-04 11:29 Modified: 2023-10-13 13:59
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