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Historical Outline

Historical development of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was the centuries-old heart of the political and cultural life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – a multiethnic and multicultural state, while its destruction served as a painful example of the rewriting of history carried out by the occupying power of tsarist Russia. The reconstruction of the palace after the restoration of independence became one of the most significant projects of reclaiming historical memory and heritage in Lithuania.
The palace was established in the legendary valley at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. As research carried out over the last few decades has shown, the Vilnius Lower Castle, between the Cathedral and Upper Castle Hill, was inhabited by people and wooden structures were built as early as the 2nd to 13th centuries. Eventually, the settlement was transformed into a castle due to its less accessible location and favourable conditions for fortification. At the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century, the initial wooden castle was transformed into the earliest brick castle in Lithuania. Some researchers try to link the construction of the brick castle with the name of King Mindaugas (1236/1253–1263). The construction of brick buildings here was particularly intensive during the reigns of grand dukes Vytenis (ca 1295–1316) and Gediminas (1316–1341), i.e., after the first founders of the united Lithuanian state – the founders of the Gediminid dynasty, better known as the Jagiellons, settled in the town. The castle hosted foreign envoys and served to negotiate treaties and establish international dynastic relations. The famous letters of the Grand Duke Gediminas to the Christian Western world are believed to have been written here. At that time, an autonomous brick castle with defensive walls, towers and other buildings along the walls and inside the courtyard was formed. This inner enclosure, protected by the brick and stone fortifications of the Lower Castle built at the beginning of the 14th century, became the site of the later development of the residence of the grand dukes.
It is difficult to speak about the building initiatives of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas (1345–1377) and his son Jogaila (1377–1381, 1382–1392 Grand Duke of Lithuania; 1386–1434 King of Poland Władysław II Jagiełło) due to the fragmentary nature of the written sources and the insufficient generalisation of the results of archaeological and architectural research. However, there is no doubt that these rulers continued to modernise their residences in Vilnius’ Upper and Lower castles, while also adding a brick wall with towers to surround the Lower Castle. Jogaila’s building initiatives in Kraków show he was also concerned with developing castles in Vilnius. One of the residences of the Lithuanian rulers at that time was probably located in the inner brick castle enclosure inside the Lower Castle.
Communication dating to 1413 already clearly shows that Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas (1392/1401–1430) lived in castro inferiori Wilnensi in caminata lignea. After the fire of 1419, this Lithuanian ruler reconstructed the Vilnius castles, rebuilt and considerably enlarged the Cathedral, where he planned to be crowned King of Lithuania in 1430. While living in the Vilnius castles, Vytautas not only fought with the Teutonic Order but also maintained active political ties with the Grand Master residing in Marienburg during peacetime. However, right up until the turn of the 16th century, both the palace of the Upper Castle and the castle residence on Trakai Island were rivals to the grand ducal residence in the Vilnius Lower Castle. In addition, the ruler often travelled all over the country to maintain the integrity of the state without staying anywhere for too long.
At present, there is not enough information to determine whether Casimir Jagiellon (1440/1447–1492), the joint ruler of Lithuania and Poland, and his wife Elisabeth of Austria, known as the "Mother of Kings", often visited Vilnius. They were fond of Trakai but also played a part in the further construction of the Vilnius castles and founded the chapel at the Vilnius Cathedral. When Alexander (1492/1501–1506) became Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1492, life in the Vilnius castles also changed radically, although there is almost no information about it in the surviving written sources. The ruler’s permanent residence in Lithuania, the significant growth in the needs of the court and state administration, and his marriage to Helena, the daughter of Ivan III, the Grand Duke of Moscow (1462–1505), undoubtedly encouraged the expansion of the capital’s residence into one that would not only meet the practical needs of the household but also the changing requirements of representation. It is, therefore, believed that it was Alexander Jagiellon who, at the end of the 15th century, began to reconstruct the medieval enclosure of the Lower Castle into a palace that would meet the growing needs of the city, which was to take on features of the Late Gothic style. The principal residence of the ruler was to be moved here from the Upper Castle. As the preserved masonry of the foundations of the southern and eastern wings attests, Alexander’s residence was probably composed of two wings connected in an L-shaped outline. The palace was at least two, and possibly three, storeys high. In the courtyard of the eastern wing, there were probably wooden covered galleries supported by massive stone pillars. The L-shaped residence continued to be surrounded on the west and north by the earlier inner castle defensive walls. Archaeological finds show that the residence’s interior had ornate glazed stove furnaces and ceramic floor tiles with a multi-coloured glaze at that time. The rooms featured rib-vaulted ceilings made using unglazed moulded bricks. Profiled bricks were also used to form the archivolts of the window openings. The walls, vaults, cornices and architraves were plastered and decorated with polychromy.
At the beginning of the reign of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund the Old (1506–1548), the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, and the ruler’s residence were devastated by several major fires. According to an account by the courtier of Sigismund the Old’s wife, the Duchess of Milan Bona Sforza, between the fires of 1520 and 1530, the ruler carried out a large-scale reconstruction of the Vilnius castles, which included both the representative palace (probably the southern and eastern wings) and other castle buildings. This source informs us that the reconstruction of the palace cost as much as 100,000 ducats and that it had not suffered direct damage in this particular fire. Some historians associate the rebuilding of the Vilnius palace with preparations for the raising ceremony of Sigismund Augustus, the son of Sigismund the Old, to the throne of Grand Duke of Lithuania, which took place here in 1529. The Vilnius residence continued to be expanded and renovated, this time upon the initiative of Bona Sforza, who added a three-storey residential tower to the northern end of the eastern wing for her purposes. The palace took on Renaissance features at this time, but the architect responsible for the alterations remains unknown. The architect and sculptor Bernardino Zanobi de Gianotis, a native of Rome or Florence, is mentioned as having worked in the palace. Bartolomeo Berrecci, one of the most influential architects of the Renaissance-era Wawel palace, also visited Vilnius; during his stay in Vilnius, the ruler approved the designs for the construction of the Sigismund Chapel at the Kraków Cathedral. Benedikt of Sandomierz (Benedykt z Sandomierza or Sandomierzanin), a mason who served Sigismund the Old in Kraków, worked in Vilnius in later years. Ulrich Hosius, a German engineer and the Vilnius castellan, supervised the construction work.
In the first half of the 16th century, conglomerate stone from the village of Bistrycza (Bistryčia) near Vilnius was used for the first time to frame the windows. The rough surface of the stone was plastered and polychromed. The interior of the Renaissance palace was decorated with new exquisite furnaces made of stove tiles covered with multi-coloured glazes and featured ornamentation consisting of plant motifs, mythological and allegorical creatures, didactic scenes and the heraldic symbols of the nobility of Lithuania, Poland, the ruling Gediminid-Jagiellon dynasty, the Sforza family and Lithuanian magnate families. The floor was also covered with colourfully glazed ceramic tiles. From 1539, we find mentions of a garden existing near the palace, while Bona Sforza ordered the construction of a staircase to connect the garden with the rooms of the sovereign’s freilins. The planned structure of the western part of the south wing, the construction of a spiral staircase in the wall of the rear room and the introduction of a turret with a toilet suggest that the private apartments of the ruler in the times of both Alexander Jagiellon and Sigismund the Old were probably located on the second floor of the western end of the south wing. The representative halls may have been on the third floor, if it had already been built at that time, or at the junction of the south and east wings of the second floor. The largest hall on the second floor is adjacent to the staircase, which can be identified as the "lower floor" ballroom used for ceremonies and performances until the early 17th century. The open arched galleries along the south side of the courtyard probably date from this time, a clear sign of an Italian Renaissance palazzo.
A new phase in the development of the Vilnius palace in the Renaissance is associated with the name of Sigismund Augustus (1544/1548–1572). In 1544, after the arrival of Sigismund Augustus and his wife Elisabeth Habsburg, the daughter of Ferdinand I, the Holy Roman Emperor, to Vilnius, the construction of the residence and other auxiliary buildings began on a large scale, with construction of the palace entering its most intensive phase in about 1547–1548. This work continued later on as well, as construction in Vilnius was mentioned until at least 1553. Sigismund Augustus’ main aim was to build himself a new palace (Domus Nova) alongside the Old Palace (Aula Regia Antiqua) of his parents, the former most likely to be identified with the north west wing. The new palace, built by Sigismund Augustus, was thus to complete the enclosed Great Representative Courtyard of the residence, and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania itself was to become the representative residence of the Gediminid-Jagiellon dynasty, linking it to its place of origin. Sigismund Augustus also built a summer residence in Viršupis and had plans to reconstruct the Trakai Island Castle.
The construction in Vilnius by Sigismund Augustus took place under the guidance of the Italian architect, sculptor and stonemason Giovanni Cini from Siena. He had already signed a contract to renovate Vilnius Cathedral in 1534 and settled in Vilnius in around 1545. He was assisted by his brother, the stonemason Bartholomeo, the architect Frederik Unstherffe, who may have been of Flemish origin, the bricklayer Benedict of Sandomierz, and the architect and military engineer Job Breitfuss, who also became the Vilnius castellan and overseer of all the ruler’s construction projects. The chief woodworker was Marcin from Poland, while the interiors of the halls were decorated by Donat, a sculptor presumably from Hungary. The various paintings and friezes of the halls were executed by Erhard or Gerhard Sweiger, a German master living in Vilnius, and other painters, including Anton Wiede from Gdansk, probably from Germany, and Giovanni da Monte from Italy also worked there. The interior decoration was supervised by the Hungarian Mikolaj from Kezmarok. Many local Lithuanian and Polish craftsmen (cabinetmakers, carpenters, joiners, locksmiths, etc.), as well as goldsmiths, gunsmiths, armourers, gardeners, masters of water systems, and others from Italy, Hungary, the Kingdom of Bohemia (present-day Czechia) and Germany, worked in Vilnius. Expensive fabrics were used to cover the palace walls, sandstone was imported from Livonia and Sweden for the floor, metal materials and items came in from Poland and Austria, and glass was from France. The local Bistrycza/Bistryčia stone was also used. Many fragments of architectural elements made of this stone were found during the archaeological investigation of the palace, which also involved research of the so-called Church of St Anne and St Barbara, which Sigismund Augustus intended to build as his family mausoleum.
The splendid Renaissance palace of Sigismund Augustus in Vilnius became not only a centre of politics, administration and diplomacy but also of culture and art, spreading its influence far beyond the borders of the Lithuanian capital. The palace housed impressive collections of tapestries, paintings, other works of art, weapons, armour, hunting trophies, a vast library and a collection of jewels that even the papal envoy, Bishop Bernardo Bongiovanni, marvelled at when he reported to the whole of Europe about the riches of the ruler of Poland and Lithuania that he had seen in Vilnius. The palace was where the Lithuanian Council of Lords and the Seimas convened, where the Statutes of Lithuania were drafted, and where the Lithuanian Metrica (state archives) were kept, along with the ruler’s and the state treasury. It was visited on several occasions by Prince Albrecht Hohenzollern of Prussia (1490–1568), who later sent paintings, weapons, horses and wine to his cousin Sigismund Augustus in Vilnius.
The romantic love story of Sigismund Augustus and his second wife, the Lithuanian noblewoman Barbora Radvilaitė (Barbara Radziwiłł), which began around 1544, is also linked to the residence of this grand duke, it being their secret meeting place. Having fallen in love with the young noble widow, Sigismund Augustus wreaked havoc in the country. Nevertheless, going against the wishes of the Polish nobility and his parents, he married her in secret and crowned Barbora Radvilaitė as the Queen of Poland in 1550. Unfortunately, the young queen died just five months after her coronation, and, as legend has it, Sigismund Augustus, who would mourn her for the rest of his life, had the palace walls upholstered in black velvet.
After the signing of the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania became one of the primary residences of the jointly elected rulers of Lithuania and Poland, from then on known as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, alongside the palaces of Kraków and Warsaw. The King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Stephen Bathory (1575/1576–1586) spent more time away on military campaigns or at the late Renaissance castle in Grodno, which he had reconstructed. However, the envoy of the Holy See, Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, who soon became Pope Clement VIII (1592–1605) and proclaimed the canonisation of Prince Casimir in 1602, was received at the splendid Vilnius residence, the Convocations of Vilnius, or the Lithuanian Seimas, also convened here. Pietro Peregrino, an Italian mason, is mentioned as having worked in the castles of Vilnius at the turn of the 17th century.
The last period of the Vilnius palace’s prosperity can be traced back to the reign of the Swedish-born Vasa dynasty and the building initiatives of Sigismund Vasa (1587/1588–1632) and Władysław Vasa (1632–1648). It was also in the Vilnius residence that the wedding ceremony of Catherine Jagiellon (1526–1583), the youngest daughter of Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza, and John III Vasa (1568–1592), the Duke of Finland and future King of Sweden, was held in 1562. A lavish wedding ceremony in the Vilnius Cathedral, cannon salutes, knights tournaments and a week-long feast marked the beginning of the Vasa dynasty’s path to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the start of Sweden’s role as an ally in the war for Livonia.
The palace, damaged by the fire in Vilnius in 1610, was probably originally renovated and decorated in the Northern Mannerism style, as evidenced by some architectural details found during the research. The construction was supervised by Peter Nonhardt, the Vilnius castellan, and Wilhelm Pohl, an architect and carpenter, was also employed there. The Chancellor of Lithuania, Grand Hetman and Voivode of Vilnius, Lew Sapieha, contributed to the palace’s renovation; funds also came from Lithuania’s grand and palace treasurers, including the Lithuanian Chamberlain and later Grand Treasurer and Deputy Chancellor of Vilnius, Stefan Pac, who was close to the House of Vasa and left an essential source of information on the construction work underway in Vilnius at the time. During the second phase of the reconstruction of the Vasa residence, which probably started in 1624, along with the construction of St Casimir’s Chapel, the Vilnius palace was decorated with early Italian Baroque forms created by the architects, sculptors and stonemason brothers Constantino and Jacopo Tencalla, who had worked in Rome with the famous architect Carlo Maderno. For the exterior and interior decoration of the palace – window frames, portals, fireplaces and floors – stone of various colours, such as sandstone, limestone and marble, was imported from Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. The ceiling of the residence was decorated with painted Baroque plafonds, the canvases presumably by the Flemish artist Christian Melich and the frames carved and gilded by Gabriel Lorentz. The halls were decorated with new colourful stoves, paintings, tapestries and a gallery of portraits of foreign rulers. The Vilnius palace became a magnificent Baroque residence of the rulers of the Vasa dynasty, where important issues of Central, Eastern and Northern European politics and international relations were dealt with and where delegations were received not only from many European countries but also from the countries of the Middle East. The first opera in Lithuania, Il Rato di Helena (The Abduction of Helena), was staged here in 1636. The libretto was written by Virgilio Puccitelli, the ruler’s secretary, and the music was probably composed by Marco Scacchi, a renowned Italian composer and Kapellmeister working in Vilnius at the time. The palace became a centre for the dissemination of Baroque culture and art, and the Lithuanian nobility and church dignitaries used the services of famous artists invited by the rulers. Historical knowledge and the location of finds show that it was during the Vasa period that the sequence of representative halls with antechambers and an audience hall was installed on the third floor of the south wing – the piano nobile. The male apartments of the rulers were situated in the west wing, and the female apartments in the east wing. St Casimir’s Chapel, built next to the Cathedral and the place of veneration of the saint’s relics, also served as the palace chapel, with a second-floor gallery connecting it to the palace. According to archaeological research, a kitchen was located in the north wing of the palace.
In 1655, Vilnius was captured by the Muscovite and Cossack armies, who controlled the city for six years. The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was set alight, partly damaged, vandalised and looted. It was not restored and never served as the residence of the rulers of Lithuania and Poland again. However, the Lithuanian nobility constantly demanded that the palace be restored and that the joint ruler of Poland and Lithuania would spend a third of his time in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Thus, even when the palace was ruined, it retained its symbolic meaning and practical significance for the functioning of the early Lithuanian state. In the 18th century, the palace was occupied by townspeople and poor nobles, and at the very end of the century, there were plans to house state commissions in the building. After the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the hope that the historic residence of the grand dukes of Lithuania would one day regain its splendour was no longer cherished. At the turn of the 19th century, at the instigation of the tsarist Russian administration, the palace was demolished as a visible symbol of the destroyed state, the former residence and administrative centre of the rulers of the state. Understanding the significance of the palace as a symbol of the destroyed Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the entire Commonwealth in the historical capital of Lithuania, throughout the whole 19th and even in the early 20th century, Romantic painters – from Pietro de Rossi, Karol Raczyński, Józef Jerzy Oziembłowski and Marcel Januszewicz, as well as unknown artists up to Juozas Kamarauskas – often depicted the Vilnius Cathedral from the south along with the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, despite it no longer existing at that time, thereby linking it with the Gediminid-Jagiellon dynasty. The palace was also remembered by Romantic writers, historians Teodor Narbutt, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Michał Baliński, Michał Homolicki, the prelate Jan Kurczewski and other authors.
Research, restoration and the purpose of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Sporadic research in the territory of the Vilnius castles was conducted since the beginning of the 20th century. At the same time, the history of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania garnered greater interest at the end of that century. The idea of restoring the Renaissance palace in which the national art gallery would be housed had already emerged as early as in 1983. In 1987, the burgeoning movement to liberate Lithuania from the Soviet empire was accompanied by a systematic study of the palace grounds. The research was initially carried out by the state company Paminklų restauravimo projektavimo institutas (Monument Restoration and Design Institute), later – by the Lithuanian Institute of History, and since 1993 – by a specially established institution, the Castle Research Centre Lietuvos pilys. For many years, a programme of complex archaeological, architectural, historical and art history research was led by archaeologist Habil. Dr Vytautas Urbanavičius and Dr Albinas Kuncevičius, architect Dr Kazys Napaleonas Kitkauskas, art historian Stasys Samalavičius, and later – by archaeologist and geologist Eduardas Kauklys. Gintautas Striška, Gediminas Gendrėnas, Dr Gintautas Rackevičius, Egidijus Ožalas, Povilas Blaževičius, Ėrika Striškienė, Dr Daiva Steponavičienė and others carried out archaeological research. During these years of research, various ideas for reconstructing the Palace of the Grand Dukes and its purpose were raised, even considering the possibility of situating the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Lithuania here. In 1999, Romualdas Budrys, then the director of the Lithuanian Art Museum, prepared the first guidelines for the adaptation of the Palace of the Grand Dukes at the request of the Ministry of Culture, which presented the vision of the Palace of the Grand Dukes as a multifunctional cultural, representational, museum and educational institution. In 2000, the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania adopted the Law on the Restoration of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and a year later, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania approved the concept of the reconstruction of the palace and its purpose.
The design competition for the palace’s reconstruction was won by a group of architects from the Design and Restoration Institute, headed by architect Rimas Grigas (until 2008) and architect Ričardas Bitovtas (since 2008), who became the project managers of the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes. Architect Audronis Katilius was appointed project coordinator, and Dr Kazys Napaleonas Kitkauskas, a long-time researcher of the Vilnius castles and palace, was invited to become the project’s scientific director. Architect Vida Povilauskaitė coordinated the design work for the reconstruction of the historic interiors, while architect Rūta Klimavičienė and design specialist Jonas Gerulaitis worked on the installation of expositions. The main idea of the project prepared by this group was to preserve and exhibit the surviving remains of the palace as much as possible, to separate them from the spaces to be reconstructed, and to recreate the authentic premises of the palace, the representative historical interiors reflecting the most important epochs of the residence’s life – the Gothic, the Renaissance and the early Baroque – as much as possible, to create suitable and comfortable conditions for exhibitions, the display of the numerous finds, the admission of visitors, the organisation of cultural events and to meet the representational needs of the state.
The construction company Panevėžio statybos trestas was approached for the construction work, and together with designers and researchers, created a special branch company called Vilniaus papėdė, headed by director Aloyzas Bertašius. The Vilnius Castles Directorate, headed by Saulius Petras Andrašiūnas, was set up to carry out the functions of the commissioning authority for the reconstruction of the palace. In 2002, the Ministry of Culture entrusted the Lithuanian Art Museum (now the Lithuanian National Museum of Art) with the task of drawing up a programme for the reconstruction of the interiors of the Palace of the Grand Dukes, which were to be recreated and adapted for representational, museum and educational functions; this programme was to be implemented from 2005. In 2003, the programme outline prepared by Romualdas Budrys, Vytautas Balčiūnas, Dr Vydas Dolinskas and Aleksandras Kulikauskas was presented and approved. In 2004, a special department was established in the museum, which was later reorganised into a branch, where long-time employees of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Remigijus Černius, Daiva Mitrulevičiūtė, Dalius Avižinis and others, began working.
In accordance with a resolution of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and later, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, a Commission on the Restoration of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was set up to coordinate the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, which was headed by the outgoing President of the Republic of Lithuania, Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas, from 2006. The Commission was assisted by many of the most competent Lithuanian and foreign experts – art historians, architects, restorers, historians and museum professionals. The most outstanding consultative assistance in the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the preparation of its expositions was provided by Lithuanian historians, art historians, museologists and restorers Dr Edmundas Rimša, Prof. habil. Dr Eugenija Ulčinaitė, Prof. habil. Dr Rūta Janonienė, Prof. habil. Dr Mečislovas Jučas, Prof. habil. Dr Aleksandra Aleksandravičiūtė, Habil. Dr Jūratė Trilupaitienė, Dr Jūratė Senvaitienė, Dalia Valujevičienė, Rimvydas Derkintis, artist Arvydas Každailis and many others, as well as Lithuanian expatriate culture workers Prof. habil. Dr Paulius Kęstutis Žygas, Dr Ramūnas Kondratas, Beatričė Kleizaitė-Vasaris, and colleagues from Poland, Italy and Germany: Prof. habil. Dr Jan Ostrowski, Director of the Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków, Prof. habil. Dr Andrzej Rottermund, Director of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Dr Marco Borella, Director of the Castle of Ferrara Este, Prof. habil. Dr Dirk Syndram, Director of the Dresden Residence Castle, Prof. habil. Dr Jerzy Lileyko, art historians Jerzy T. Petrus, Krzysztof Czyżewski, Stanisława Link-Lenczowska, Habil. Dr Kazimierz Kuczman, Piotr Jacek Jamski, Dr Meinolf Siemer, the restoration architect Piotr Stępień and many others. Since 2002, the search for historical sources in Lithuania and abroad has intensified, archaeological and architectural research has continued, and each year, precious material is being accumulated, which has made it possible not only to correct but also to fundamentally rewrite the history of Lithuania’s early masonry architecture, the history of Gothic architecture, the Gothic Revival, and the Renaissance, and the history of early Baroque architecture, as well as to provide a new look at the development of life and culture in the ruler’s court.
The palace’s reconstruction programmes were very actively supported by the public Foundation for the Support of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, established in 2000 and headed by Algirdas Vapšys, Edmundas Kulikauskas and Indrė Jovaišaitė. The Foundation not only raised funds from the Lithuanian public and the diaspora for the reconstruction of the palace but also promoted the idea of reconstructing the palace to the best of its ability by organising various public campaigns, sponsoring the release of publications, restoration of artefacts, exhibitions and educational events. In 2005, the Foundation began to collect authentic works of art and historical treasures for the palace’s interior.
On 10 May 2002, when the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was officially launched, it was decided that this undertaking would become one of the highlights and a distinctive monument to celebrate the millennium of Lithuania. These hopes and the intensive work of various specialists bore fruit: in 2009, on the occasion of the millennium of Lithuania, the symbolic opening of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania took place, attended by the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, the outgoing President, Algirdas Brazauskas, and the heads of state of 14 other countries – Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Germany and representatives of the Holy See.
On 6 July 2013, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, the first section of the reconstructed palace was inaugurated. At the end of that year, the palace hosted the most important representational and cultural events of Lithuania’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, including the Eastern Partnership Summits.
In 2018, on the occasion of the centenary of the restoration of the Lithuanian state, President Dalia Grybauskaitė hosted a reception for foreign heads of state and other distinguished guests at the palace. The President of the Republic of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, later visited the museum with the President of Lithuania and visited the exhibition of paintings from Florence.
On 6 July of that same year, the Coronation Day of Lithuanian King Mindaugas, in the presence of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Saulius Skvernelis, a celebration was held to mark the end of the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, whereupon all the museum’s spaces were opened to visitors.
The staff of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is pleased and proud that the reconstructed historical residence of the grand dukes of Lithuania has once again become a symbol of the long tradition of the Lithuanian state and an object of national pride, a significant centre of civic education, historical awareness, the relevance of cultural heritage, the representation of the state and the dissemination of tourism information, and that the museum has established itself as a significant centre of cultural life in the capital city. The reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius is perceived by the public as a restoration of Lithuanian sovereignty and the recognition of Vilnius as the historical capital of the state, as restitution of the historical truth, as a regeneration of the urban fabric of the historic centre of the city, serving to actualise Lithuania’s traditional and present-day connections to Europe.
Expositions at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Today, the museum offers visitors four thematic exposition routes that introduce the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a multiethnic state of Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Karaites and other nations, as well as its historical and cultural traditions, including authentic masonry from various periods, unique archaeological finds, reconstructed historical Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque interiors, a collection of weaponry, presentations of daily life in the palace and musical culture. The museum’s Exhibition Centre hosts national and international exhibitions.
The museum’s two main routes (I and II) have been conceived as a kind of an integral combination of expositions that offer a comprehensive and consistent impression not only of the development and historical purpose of the Palace of the Grand Dukes but also of the history of the early Lithuanian state, its cultural history, and traditional European political and art-related relations. The two routes, which boast different exhibits, the way they are set up and the way the information is presented, are complementary and are a natural duo in European countries where historic residences have suffered damage over the centuries, have undergone more or less extensive reconstruction and have lost their historical collections, but which seek to compensate for these losses and to provide a comprehensive picture of the development of the city, the region, the state, its leaders and society. This is a combination of displays that is particularly characteristic of Central Europe, which suffered particularly during the two world wars, but which is also equally expected in West European residences that have suffered a similar fate, and where there is the intention to create museum-purposed cultural, educational and tourist facilities.
The Dr Pranas Kiznis Gallery occupies two rooms and can be visited on Route II of the museum. The works of outstanding European artists from the 15th to 17th centuries offer visitors a sense of the cultural spirit that flourished in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The collection featuring works by famous European artists, including Michael Damaskenos, Adam van Noort, Jan Brueghel the Younger and Cornelis de Baellieur, Nicolo Rondinelli, Pacecco de Rosa, Mattia Preti, Orazio Samacchini, Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, Giovani Baglione, Charles Dauphin, Lodewijk Toepur, known as il Pozzoserrato, Giampietro Silvio, Filippo Gagliardi, Jacopino del Conte, and others, is a gift to the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania by patron Dr Pranas Kiznis.
The other two routes are additional thematic routes. Route III is dedicated to the fortifications of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the collection of weaponry, as well as to the didactic exposition of the residence’s domestic and musical life with a multifunctional hall for various cultural and educational events, conferences, seminars and the organisation of representational state events.
Route IV takes visitors through a temporary national and international exhibition centre meeting international standards, presenting Lithuanian and common European heritage from the period of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the treasures in the collections of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The exhibition spaces of this route are located in the western part of the north west wing of the building, above the basement exhibition of weapons, ammunition and armour found along Route III.
Collections of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The collections of the museum are formed by taking into account the historical realities of heritage
preservation, the institution’s intended functions and the nature of the expositions. The museum’s collections and didactic expositions are based on the rich and varied finds (more than 300,000 items) collected by the Castle Research Centre Lietuvos pilys from 1987 to 2009. It is a rare pan-European comprehensive collection of archaeological finds from a single territory and a crucial national site. One of the most valuable and impressive artefact groups is the collection of 15th- to 17th-century stove tiles, which is unrivalled in its richness and diversity by any other analogous collection in Europe. The architectural details found during the research provided the basis for the reconstruction of the exterior and interior decoration of the palace. To create an exposition of historical representational interiors of the Palace of the Grand Dukes, a collection of historical furniture, tapestries, paintings, and other works of fine and applied art from the Gothic, Renaissance and early Baroque eras, and Lithuanian art treasures, began to be assembled at the Lithuanian Art Museum (now the Lithuanian National Museum of Art) from 2003. Considering the stylistic and functional purpose of the reconstructed palace’s interiors, these treasures were acquired with funds from the State budget and the Foundation for the Support of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, with some objects being received as valuable gifts. Among the works of art collected for the interiors, the collection of Italian, French and German furniture from the 15th–17th centuries, the collection of tapestries from the 16th–17th centuries, including a unique heraldic tapestry of Sigismund Augustus, the collection of glass goblets of the joint ruler of Lithuania, Poland and Saxony, Augustus the Strong, and the collection of Lithuanian books and maps are outstanding in terms of their value.
Published:: 2023-01-18 11:43 Modified: 2024-02-23 13:36
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