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IMPRESSION OF ETERNITY. Christian Stories from Italian Renaissance and Baroque Masterpieces in 19th century Engravings

18 May–25 September 2016
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

This exhibition formed from the collections of the Grodno State Museum of Religion History presents 19th century reproductions of religious paintings by famous Renaissance and Baroque artists. The graphic art works represent paintings by famous Italian Renaissance and Mannerist artists, such as Sandro Botticelli, Tiziano Vecellio, Paolo Veronese, Giovanni Bellini, Andrea del Sarto, Domenico Puligo and others. Renaissance masters' works stand out for their impressive grandeur, their deep emotional and sometimes even dramatic expression, and the special attention given to symbolism. Baroque art, on the other hand, introduced pomposity and splendour, biblical stories and the saints started to be conveyed in a particularly naturalistic way. The works of Matteo Rosselli, Guido Reni, Giovanni Lanfranco, Carlo Dolci and other artists testify to these transformations. The graphic art reproductions based on their works are featured in this exhibition.

The international exhibition presents a total of 63 engravings, created in the 19th century based on the religious paintings of famous Italian artists from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The subject matter in these works is particularly varied, and ranges from biblical narratives about the birth of Jesus Christ and the Passion to images of the saints, episodes from their lives and the miracles attributed to them. The largest group of engravings are compositions featuring the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Infant, testimony of the vitality of the cult of the Mother of God. These works of art convey the more genuine Renaissance-era image of the Blessed Virgin as a mother, establishing a bond with her child. Graphic art reproductions allow us to see the innovations introduced in the Renaissance and applied in works of art: conveying the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a flat plane, chiaroscuro, the depiction of the anatomically-correct human body, and organic bonds between the background and object.  

Although it is not the original works that are presented in this exhibition but 19th century reproductions, in terms of artistic value these graphic art works are no less significant than the originals. The creation of such graphic art required a high degree of professional education and excellent knowledge of the technique's subtleties. The artist had to know how to convey the composition, the illustration, the effects of light and shadow, to be able to alter the work's format, to work with the compositional elements and to pass on the creative style of the artist whose work was being reproduced. That is why the graphic reproductions by artists such as Antonio Viviani, Giuseppe Rossi, Ignazio Bonaiuti and many others can be considered as masterpieces of the highest quality. Graphic art reproductions flourished in the 19th century, their popularity being mostly driven by their application in art and science. The trend from the Age of Enlightenment towards didactic art also contributed to the spread of graphic art. Reproductions were mostly based on paintings, literally copies of works by the most famous artists, presenting classical art and the legacy of the great masters to Europe and the rest of the world. In this way, graphic art and reproductions of paintings were for a long time viewed as an educational tool. Graphic art reproductions also served in the field of science. Various scientific treatises featured graphic art illustrations. 

In this context it is important to mention that graphic art reproductions also flourished in Lithuania. The Department of Engraving (Graphic Art) was founded at Vilnius University in the early 19th century, which went on to become an important part of the Vilnius School of Art. It operated until the very closing of the university and educated a whole swathe of skilled artists. The lecturers and students were associated with the Italian graphic art tradition of the time as they studied in schools in Rome, Florence and Milan.

The 19th century graphic art works being presented at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania that come from the collections of the Grodno State Museum of Religion History offer an excellent opportunity to see religious art masterpieces by the most famous Italian Renaissance and Baroque painters, to admire the high craftsmanship of 19th century engravers, to become acquainted with the general trends in the development of European graphic art and their reflections in Lithuanian art history, and to bring to attention Lithuania's artistic heritage, its European ties and its preservation.

Exhibition organizers
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (Vilnius)
Grodna State Museum of Religion History (Belarus)

Exhibition curator
Rita Lelekauskaitė

Exhibition concept and exhibition plan authors
Vydas Dolinskas
Rita Lelekauskaitė

Exhibition publishing coordinators
Laima Kunickytė
Gintarė Tadarovska

Exhibition cultural programme coordinators
Austėja Brasiūnaitė
Jolanta Karpavičienė

Exhibition educational programme coordinators
Vida Kaunienė

Exhibition information coordinators
Ramunė Hazir
Mindaugas Puidokas
Birutė Šulinskienė

Exhibition technical installation coordinators
Kęstutis Karla
Eduardas Kauklys