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Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas the Great and Ona Vytautienė

Unknown German painter
16th century.
Paper, ink, watercolour
12,5 × 17,5 cm
Vytautas the Great is a prominent figure whose influence was enduring during the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and remains significant today. Born in Old Trakai around 1350, Vytautas employed various methods in his struggle for power, including treaties with the Teutonic Knights, with assessments of his activities varying. He was baptized in 1386, taking the name Alexander, and in 1392, he became the deputy of his cousin Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), the King of Poland, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, assuming the title of Grand Duke. In 1410, Vytautas and Jogaila led armies to a significant victory in the Battle of Žalgiris (also known as the Battle of Grunwald or the Battle of Tannenberg), which marked the defeat of the Teutonic Order. In 1429, a congress of Central and Eastern European rulers convened in Lutsk, discussing crowning Vytautas as King of Lithuania, although the coronation did not occur. Nevertheless, Vytautas's influence and status were recognized by the rulers of Europe at the time. During his reign, Vytautas established a large Grand Duke's office and founded the first known parochial school in Trakai in 1409, rapidly adopting European cultural values.
Unfortunately, relatively few images of Vytautas the Great are known. The oldest associated image is likely his majestic seal, used between 1407 and 1430. Most other known portraits of Vytautas were created posthumously. Graphic works depicting Vytautas increased between the 17th and 19th centuries, with portraits emerging from the 18th century onwards. However, there may have been pictorial representations of Vytautas as early as the first half of the 16th century.
A small watercolour in the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is particularly valuable as it portrays Vytautas alongside his first wife, Ona. Ona, the daughter of Duke Sudimantas of Eišiškės, married Vytautas around 1370. Actively involved in political life, she was renowned in European society. In 1400, accompanied by Vytautas' brother Žygimantas Kęstutaitis and an entourage of 400 riders, she embarked on a journey to Brandenburg, Aldenburg, and Marienwerder, receiving festive receptions and expensive gifts wherever she went.
The watercolour of Vytautas the Great and his wife Ona is believed to be part of a manuscript chronicling the lives of numerous European rulers. Page numbers alongside several watercolours suggest the existence of more images, with the highest number being 29, indicating there were at least about 30 images.
Information prepared by Dalius Avižinis
Inv. No VR-827
Published:: 2024-05-06 14:30 Modified: 2024-05-06 14:32
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