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An UNtroubled Age. Childhood in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

13 October 2022–15 January 2023
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

An international exhibition dedicated to the history of the phenomenon of childhood in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Exhibition curators
Dr. Rasa Leonavičiūtė-Gecevičienė, Rita Lelekauskaitė-Karlienė, Marijus Uzorka 
 

In all times, children were a treasured and inseparable part of the family, however the phenomenon of childhood itself underwent a number of changes over the ages. From “invisible” little ones in society to infants in family portraits, from society criticising mothers who were too attached to their offspring to acknowledgement of the child as an individual, a person that must be nurtured in every way – children gradually found their place not only in the private, immediate and extended family space, but in the public – state – space as well. We invite visitors to this exhibition to return briefly to this untroubled age and experience what it meant to be a child in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The exhibition consists of four parts arranged according to theme and chronology, featuring almost 300 objects: portraits, graphic art works and drawings, manuscripts, textbooks and publications released to mark special occasions, archaeological artefacts, children’s clothing and accessories, furniture, toys and toy weapons, learning materials and other historical artefacts relating to childhood. Themes including awaiting the birth of the infant, birth, survival and loss, upbringing, care, health, clothing, education, entertainment, participation in public life and social roles are all presented. Many of the objects still surviving today reflect the experiences of children from the highest layer of society, that is, those of magnates and rulers, however this exhibition also represents another aspect – the less privileged and often harsh childhood of abandoned children. Visitors will easily recognise universally important things in children’s lives, regardless of their epoch: the things needed when caring for an infant, child-sized furniture, toys and books that no generation could do without.

 

The exhibition’s title echoes the dual nature of the phenomenon of childhood – while for some children this age was indeed their brightest and most untroubled, for many the burden of responsibility already weighed heavily on their shoulders from an early age, both for children born into peasant or serf families, and the offspring of Lithuania’s and Poland’s rulers. Idyllic portraits of families with children are counterbalanced by artefacts reflecting the history of abandoned children in Vilnius. Images of rulers’ children enveloped in luxury are supplemented with stories about the enormous requirements and expectations of parents and society that were heaped upon successors to the throne from the very first days of their lives. In addition to toys and treatises by West European pedagogues about the necessity of giving children space to independently experience the world, there are also instructions authored by Lithuanian magnates illustrating the strict schedules that their children had to follow. The exhibition reveals the variety of childhood experiences, which depended on the growing child’s gender, social status, age and period in which they lived.