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Under fire from russian missiles, Lviv sent Vilnius a priceless gift for the city’s 700th anniversary

To mark the occasion of Vilnius’ 700th anniversary, Ukraine is gifting an exhibition presenting 33 painting masterpieces from the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery – namely, two of its main branches established in the Potocki and Lozinski palaces. These paintings are key exhibits in the permanent expositions, masterpieces of European art, and an extraordinary gift from the war-ravaged country.
During peacetime, when cultural heritage is not at risk, such a collection would never leave Lviv as the museum halls would be left bereft of exhibits. Under the conditions of Moscow’s aggression, the organisation of such an exhibition in Lithuania is also an attempt to protect our collective European heritage from the risk of potential missile attacks, and is also an exceptional gift from Lviv to Vilnius, which is marking its anniversary.
Artworks kept in Lviv are related to the art collections once amassed in Lithuania
A number of early European art collections managed to survive in residences in Western Ukraine because this land became part of the Austrian Empire after the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, thus winning cultural and political autonomy. At the time, Lithuania had become caught in the grasp of tsarist Russian repressions, the heritage amassed in our lands was ruined and looted, while noble families forced to flee the tsarist authorities searched for opportunities to transport their wealth into safer countries. This is why this exhibition allows us to remember Lithuania’s lost historical collections, which also contained works by a number of artists or the schools they represented on show here.
Paintings by famous Italian, German, Flemish, Spanish, Austrian, Polish and other countries’ artists from the 15th to the early 20th centuries were selected for this exhibition so as to chronologically (stylistically) and geographically reflect the very rich collections of the Lviv Gallery. Our goal is also that the public in Vilnius will have the chance to see works by the same masters or their schools that were once in the collections of Lithuania’s rulers and magnates. Thus, many of the masterpieces showcased here have a Lithuania-related context while also being exceptionally valuable Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerist, Baroque, Neoclassical, Romantic and Modern period artworks that could adorn the walls of any of the world’s leading museums.
For example, the exhibition features works by Martin Schongauer and Lucas Cranach the Elder – the work of these masters influenced artists who worked in the courts of the rulers and magnates of Lithuania. Schongauer’s drawings were the prototypes for the illustrations appearing in the prayerbook of Albertus Gastold. Cartoons created in the circle of Pieter Coecke van Aelst were used in the weaving of the tapestries of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund Augustus (1544/1548–1572), which were commissioned while the ruler was in residence in Vilnius.
Works by Leonardo da Vinci, Tiziano Vecelli, Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Sassoferrato, Caravaggio and José de Ribera, among other Renaissance and early Baroque Italians, as well as Flemish, German and Spanish painters were once in the collections of the rulers and magnates of Lithuania and Poland. We know from historical sources that these collections of the Jagiellon and Vasa dynasty’s rulers would often hang in the halls of the Palace of the Grand Dukes when the rulers were in residence at the Lithuanian capital. Many of them, as well as works by artists from later periods (e.g., Luca Giordano) were also part of the art collections of Lithuania’s magnates (the Czartoryski, Radziwiłł, Sanguszko and Sapieha dukes, the Tyskiewicz, Tyzenhaus and Przeździecki counts, etc.).
Carlo Dolci, who is presented at this exhibition, painted an image of the patron saint of Lithuania Saint Casimir, Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder created portraits of Lithuania’s rulers and magnates, while Jan Matejko and Wojciech Horacy Kossak captured important events in the history of Lithuania.
The international exhibition Greetings to Vilnius from Lviv. Art Masterpieces from the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery is evidence of the collective historical European bonds within this Central and Eastern European region, confirmed by the rich cultural and artistic heritage in Lviv and Vilnius.
The most valuable paintings from the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery – in Vilnius
This exhibition will feature the most important and without question – the most valuable – art exhibits from the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery, which has as many as 18 museum branches. Among the 33 15th–20th-century artworks, visitors will be able to see Sebastiano Ricci’s Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert, Jan Matejko’s Portrait of the Artists’ Children, Henryk Siemiradzki’s Christ and the Samaritan Woman, and works from the workshops of Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
This is proof of the Western orientation of culture in the Central and Eastern European region. This exhibition will also be accompanied by a rich cultural and educational programme – visitors will have the chance to become better acquainted with Lviv and the Western Ukraine region, its painting traditions, art protection in war-affected territories and other collections in the expositions of the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery.
Bringing in artworks from Ukraine, which is each day facing the onslaught of long-range missiles during the course of the war, was a major challenge. Evacuation of the museum collection from the war-ravaged country was funded by the Goethe-Institut and the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany Stabilisation Fund for Culture and Education 2022.
The exhibition’s curators are Vydas Dolinskas, Taras Vozniak, Igor Khomyn, Marijus Uzorka, Daiva Mitrulevičiūtė and Ignas Račickas.
The Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery
The origins of the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery go back to the second half of the 19th century, when the local intelligentsia began discussions on the need for a painting gallery in the city. However, the materialisation of this idea did take some time. In the early 20th century, good-willing benefactors began donating works of art and money to the gallery that went towards the purchase of paintings by contemporary and earlier authors. 
In 1907 the large Western European painting collection of businessman Ivan Jakowicz was acquired, which formed the basis for the Lviv city painting gallery. February 14 of that year is considered the founding day of this gallery. For some time however, the gallery did not have its own premises, its expositions and exhibitions were housed in other museums in Lviv or the town hall. Finally, in 1914 the palace of scientist, literary figure and collector Władysław Łoziński was acquired for the gallery’s needs, along with his accumulated art collection.
The years of World War I and the battles for Ukraine and Poland’s independence were an unstable time, however the building and collections of the Lviv painting gallery were protected. In 1919 the gallery’s collections were further supplemented by a gift from Bolesław Orzechowicz.
In 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, a number of private collections and those from other institutions were deposited for safe-keeping at the Lviv gallery to avoid liquidation at the hands of the Soviets and later the Nazis. These included the collections of the Dzieduszycki and Gołuchowski counts, the Lubomirksi and Bowarowski princes, as well as works from the Religious Seminary of the Stauropean Brotherhood, the Diocese Museum, the King John III Palace National Museum, the Ossoliński National Institute, and paintings and other art treasures from collections previously kept in Western Ukraine’s castles and palaces. By 1940 the gallery already had six thousand exhibits. Alas, during the war some of the most valuable art pieces disappeared.
In the post-war years, the collections of the Lviv City Picture Gallery were enriched largely by treasures gathered during expeditions organised by the director at the time Borys Voznytsky; during these missions, he and other gallery staff heroicly salvaged precious objects from the abandoned and closed down churches, Orthodox churches and crumbling palaces in Lviv and all over Western Ukraine. Thus, within a couple of decades the gallery had salvaged more than 12 thousand exhibits from certain loss.
Today, the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery is one of the largest and richest museums in Ukraine, holding and displaying the priceless art heritage of Europe and Ukraine. The gallery has a total of 21 branches. Its collections number more than 64 thousand valuable exhibits dating from the times of Antiquity to the present. It is probably Ukraine’s most world renowned museum. The gallery’s most important collections consist of Western and Central European early paintings, Baroque sculptures, portraits of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s historical figures and their descendants from the 16th–19th centuries, paintings by Polish and Austrian artists, icons, furniture and other applied art works.
Many of the treasures kept in the gallery are important for their association with Lithuania. This is why frequent international thematic exhibitions organised at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius rely on exhibits loaned by the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery. In 2012, a major exhibition of portraits of historical figures associated with Lithuania was held in Vilnius, which was based on works on loan from the gallery, while in 2022 visitors to the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania could admire Baroque sculptures by the genius Johann Georg Pinsel and other sculptors from his circle. Indeed, Pinsel’s Madonna embodied the suffering of Ukraine itself.
With the beginning of Moscow’s aggression in 2022, the treasures of the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery were removed from the exposition spaces and placed into special, protected storage; this protection was extended with the most important collections from other eastern and central Ukrainian museums being added later on. Some of the gallery’s branches in the Lviv area have suffered damage during Moscow’s barbaric bombing, and the treasures currently placed in safe storage are nonetheless exposed to frequent and long periods of electrical power failures.

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Published:: 2023-02-16 12:21 Modified: 2023-08-08 13:03
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