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THE RADZIWILLS. History and Legacy of the Princes

10 October 2019–12 January 2020
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

“In this name, Lithuania is recognised” – this was how contemporaries spoke of the Radziwill princes in the 16th century, when they had reached the apogee of their power. Indeed, not just among Lithuanians, but also the Poles, Belarusians and Ukrainians – successors of the traditions of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the whole Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – saying the words “ Radziwill princes” first of all conjures up images of the early Lithuanian state – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, its history, its goal to preserve state sovereignty, its international politics and warfare, its extensive, rich artistic legacy and art patronage initiatives, confessional relations, culture, science, economy, etc.

Along the scale of both time and space, it would be difficult to find a moment or corner of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where the Radziwill family and its most eminent representatives would not have left their mark. Just like the imperial Habsburg dynasty delighted in the fact that the sun never set on their European and foreign domains, so too did the Radziwills assert that they could travel around the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania and stay only in their own domains, estates and palaces. From the 15th to the very end of the 18th centuries, despite weathering some turbulence when competing with other Lithuanian magnate families, the Radziwill princes often played a fateful role in the development processes of the Lithuanian state and its society, frequently acting as the factual rulers of Lithuania and sometimes compensating for the power vacuum when the grand duke's throne was left empty. In this context of the Radziwill princes absolutely exclusive role in the early Lithuanian state, the idea voiced several years ago by Prince Maciej Radziwill, one of this exhibition's organisers, is very eloquent and accurate, that for him and members of his family, the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is not just some distant textbook information or a romantic vision of the past, quite conversely – for them, it is the still living history of their family. The Radziwill princes undoubtedly best represent the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, they are one of the most distinctive, recognisable signs of the early Lithuanian state and its living tradition in Europe and the world. Therefore, the monumental international exhibition The Radziwills. History and Legacy of the Princes is also a demonstration of the history and heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where signs of the past and activities of the most famous and influential magnate family and its most eminent representatives, their merits and preserved material testament are on display.

The idea of organising an exhibition dedicated to the Radziwill princes came about a number of years ago. A previous comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the Sapieha princes held in 2011 and 2012 at the Krakow Wawel Royal Castle and the Vilnius Picture Gallery, organised through the joint efforts of primarily the Wawel Royal Castle and the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and other partners also prompted this exhibition about the Lithuanian-born Radziwill magnate family of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Sapieha princes were another famous Lithuanian magnate family that rose to prominence in the same environment as the Radziwills, only to become their opponents. Organising an exhibition about the Sapiehas was somewhat easier due to the collection amassed at the Sapiehas' Krasichyn residence, now kept at the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow. Due to various historical circumstances meanwhile, the relics of the Radziwills' legacy are spread not just through Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, but also around Europe and even further afield, there are considerably more objects, and quite often there is news about the discovery of another Radziwill treasure, which might have been considered lost or whose existence was still unknown. One option that was discussed was a less-extensive, compromise for the monumental monographic exhibition – to simply organise an exhibition of around fifty historical, cultural and artistic masterpieces associated with the Radziwills. A significant scientific conference was held at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in 2015, dedicated to presenting the Radziwill princes and their multi-faceted activities and heritage. It served as preparation work for future exhibitions, even though the conference material is still just being prepared for publication. In 2018, the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and Prince Maciej Radziwill, who lives in Warsaw, took up the initiative to organise a comprehensive exhibition in Vilnius, the historical capital of Lithuania, focusing on the Radziwill family.

If we omit all the glorious epithets, the place and significance of the Radziwill princes in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is best illustrated via several quite telling statistical facts. In the 15th–18th centuries, the majority of Lithuanian state senators (the highest ranked and most influential officials) came from the Radziwill princely magnate family – as many as forty. Among the Radziwills' closest competitors – the Sapiehas – there were thirty-eight Lithuanian senators, while in Poland, the Potocki counts held thirty-seven senatorial posts within their family. Based on the number of high-ranked state officials, all the other magnate families both in Lithuania and in Poland were far behind the Radziwills in terms of numbers. It is necessary to note that as many as thirteen of the Radziwills had become Vilnius palatines, i.e., the first secular Lithuanian senators, the most important officials after the ruler. Also, ten Radziwills were Vilnius castellans. As many as seven Radziwills served as Lithuanian chancellors, who were basically the most influential state ministers, the factual prime ministers without whose sanctioning even the ruler's decrees were not considered valid in Lithuania. A special ruler's privilege issued to the Radziwills to look after the most important Lithuanian state documents was also mentioned. Nine of the Radziwills had become Lithuanian grand marshals, and seven were grand hetmen, who held the greatest military power in their hands and had to maintain an equilibrium between the ruler's influence and the functioning of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's “noble democracy”. Three Radziwill representatives became Catholic bishops (one was even made a cardinal) and held four seats (twice as the bishops of Vilnius, and once each in Samogitia and Krakow).

So, at certain periods in the 15th–18th centuries, whilst simultaneously holding several of the most important state offices in Lithuania, the large, extended Radziwill family were the factual rulers of Lithuania. This can especially be said about five consecutive generations of the Radziwills from the early 16th until the middle of the 17th centuries. In later times as well, the Radziwill princes were often positioned among the Lithuanian political and cultural elite, although by this stage some of them clearly lacked the right education and suitable skills, and international circumstances were not unfolding favourably in their fields of activity. Aside from the most important state offices in Lithuania, we can also notice a number of other facts and situations (e.g., their marriage policies, forms of representation that mirrored those of the rulers, etc.) that testified, then and even now, to the absolutely exceptional status of the Radziwill princes, comparable to the positions of ruling dynasties in other countries or semi-sovereign princes.

As mentioned, due to unfavourable historical circumstances (first of all wars and the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and repressions of the 19th and 20th centuries) the exceptional position of the Radziwill princes, their multi-faceted activities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and material heritage relics testifying to their merits are not compactly kept in one or several locations – they are widely scattered throughout Europe and the world (e.g., some armour has even ended up in New York). Some of the Radziwill treasures are very old, making their transport a difficult or rare case, if at all possible. As such, not all of the surviving or most impressive relics of the Radziwill princes could appear in this exhibition in Vilnius, but the most important ones are presented in the exhibition stands and shall be published in the accompanying catalogue. On the other hand, the legacy of the Radziwill princes is so rich that a fair degree of selection was required when choosing which exhibits to transport. Nonetheless, the exhibition features over 350 exhibits gathered from around forty memory institutions (museums, libraries and archives), churches, monasteries and private collections located in seven European countries – Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, France and the Holy Land (Israel and Palestine).

In a typological sense, the exhibits featured in the international exhibition, The Radziwills. History and Legacy of the Princes, are very varied: there are portraits and other paintings, documents, old publications, graphic art works, maps, tapestries and other textile works, pieces of clothing, goldsmithery and other pieces of jewellery, medals, weapons and armour, glass works, seals, sculptures and other works made from stone, ceramic works, liturgical objects and other relics related to the Radziwills. The sheer variety of these treasures is also evidence of the Radziwill princes' exclusive status and its expression in numerous fields of state and public life.

The international exhibition, The Radziwills. History and Legacy of the Princes, is displayed mostly in the spaces of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Exhibition Centre (the Route IV halls). However, due to the exhibition's scale, these halls were insufficient, so the introductory part has occupied one of the exposition spaces in Route III, which houses the permanent exhibition revealing daily life in the castle and palace. The exhibition dedicated to the Radziwills covers a total of more than 700 sq. m and is divided over five halls and several connecting spaces according to six main thematic fields.

In Hall I called The Greatness of the Radziwills, alongside the impressive genealogical tree, whose breadth is comparable to the genealogies of many European ruling dynasties, there are also treasures attesting to the special status of the Radziwill princes in Lithuania and their conscious efforts to entrench and highlight their exclusive position and memorialise the family's greatness in art works – portrait galleries, medals, tapestries, etc. The portraits of approximately twenty Radziwills gaze upon visitors from the walls. Many of these portraits, “with a laurel wreath”, belong to a gallery formed in the first half of the 18th century that was kept at their Nesvyzh residence and was recorded in a publication by Hirsz Leybowicz in the middle of the century. There are also two unique 16th-century diplomas from the Holy Roman emperors which grant the title of Reichsfürst (prince) to the Lithuanian-born Radziwill magnates. The grand moment where Mikolaj Radziwill the Black and Mikolaj Radziwill the Red are awarded these titles in 1547 has also been depicted in tapestries. The aspirations of the Radziwill princes, which were in line with the representational traditions of Europe's ruling dynasties, are also evident in the medals displayed nearby.

The context of the Radziwills' greatness is supplemented with various genealogical documents and published panegyrics, as well as Jonas Radvanas' epic poem Radviliada, glorifying Mikolaj Radziwill the Red and his whole family. The mechanism used to ensure stability of the Radziwills' property is visible from documents certifying the indivisibility of their domains and the creation of an ordinal system.

In Hall II called Lithuania's Rulers, visitors are reminded that by holding the highest state offices, representatives of the Radziwill princely family were the factual rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Three main themes revealed in the halls are: The Family's Beginnings, The State and War, and Dynastic Links. Besides portraits of the most eminent representatives of the Radziwill family, here there are also documents, art treasures, military attributes and other relics illustrating their varied state activities.

In the section The Family's Beginnings, the first items on display are portraits depicting both the legendary Lithuanian forefathers of the Radziwill magnates (e.g., Vaišundas), and the most distinctive representatives from the first generations (e.g., Mikalojus Radvilaitis the Old and his descendants – Mikalojus (Mikolaj), Jonas (Jan) and Jurgis (Jerzy), Barbara Radziwill's father).

In the second section, The State and War, we find out about the most prominent Radziwill family's representatives' special role and merits to the Lithuanian state, its diplomacy and defence. Here we can see portraits of the chancellors, hetmens and other high-ranking state officials in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the 16th–18th centuries, battle scenes testifying to the activities of these historical figures, panegyrics and documents bearing autographs and seal impressions. We are reminded of the Radziwills' military campaigns and military service for their homeland by the unique mace of the Lithuanian Grand Hetman and Vilnius Palatine Janusz Radziwill, and the copy of the monumental canon Mellusina from 1602. The Radziwills' diplomatic activities and merits are illustrated in the image of the grand entry of the Lithuanian Vice Chancellor and Field Hetman, Vilnius Palatine and envoy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Mikolaj Kazimierz Radziwill and his large entourage into Rome.

The third section, Dynastic Links, where a significant part of the portrait gallery of various male and female members of the Radziwill family is displayed, the conscious marriage policy they implemented is highlighted. They sought to establish family relations not only with the most famous Lithuanian and Polish magnate families, but also with other European ruling dynasties. This marriage aspect also demonstrates the exclusive status of the Radziwill princes.

In the spaces between the first and second floors, continuing with the theme of the Radziwills' marriage policies, we can see the portraits of some prominent female members of the Radziwill family. The Radziwills' merits to culture, art and science, and evidence of their patronage, which will be revealed in the halls on the second floor, are also briefly presented here. The stairwell features an impressive tapestry from a valuable series that was commissioned by the Lithuanian Grand Marshal Stanislaw Kazimierz Radziwill. The photographs on the stands show the impressive armour of the Radziwills, goldsmithery and other treasures that are scattered all around the world that could not be brought to this exhibition for various reasons.

Hall III called The Family's Golden Age firstly presents probably the most famous and influential generation of the Radziwill princes from the 16th century and its most eminent representatives – the cousins who became princes of the Holy Roman Empire, Mikolaj Radziwill the Black and Mikolaj Radziwill the Red, and the Grand Duchess of Lithuania and Queen of Poland, Barbara Radziwill, a veritable national hero and the wife of the last Gedimind-Jagiellon on the Polish and Lithuanian throne, Sigismund Augustus. The fact that a number of very famous Lithuanian statesmen came from the Radziwill family throughout the whole 16th century is also being stressed in the exhibition: from the Lithuanian Chancellor and Vilnius Palatine Mikalojus Radvila, who was the first to receive the title of prince in 1518, to the Lithuanian Grand Marshal and Vilnius Palatine  Mikolaj Krzysztof Radziwill the Orphan – a famous statesman and diplomat, a very educated patron of the arts and sciences, also known as a pilgrim and writer.

The valuable items on display in the halls are a real art and history treasure. Aside from the impressive portraits (including a unique cameo depicting Barbara Radziwill) and a canvas memorialising an important historic event in the life of Sigismund Augustus, visitors can also witness significant 16th-century documents associated with the Radziwills (among which are the letters of Barbara Radziwill and Sigismund Augustus), prints, examples of valuable weapons and armour from the collections of European state rulers, and relics from the journey to Jerusalem made by M. K. Radziwill the Orphan. One of the most splendid early Lithuanian academic achievements is also being demonstrated here – the unique map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, commissioned by M. K. Radziwill the Orphan and created by engraver and cartographer Tomasz Makowski at the turn of the 16th–17th centuries.

Hall IV called The Church and Confessions is dedicated to the exceptional merits of the Radziwill princes to the Catholic Church and the Reformation, presenting four of the most important themes: The Catholic Church, Cardinal Jerzy, Leaders of the Reformation and Pompa funebris.

The first two themes in the hall inform visitors of the role of the Radziwills regarding the Catholic Church and to present the most important patrons of this institution. Attention is drawn to the work done by Cardinal Jerzy Radziwill, the brother of Mikolaj Krzysztof Radziwill the Orphan, in implementing the Catholic Reform, and his special merits to culture, art and science. On display are the images of the Radziwill family, former Catholic bishops and the most generous Church donors, documents and publications testifying to their activities, valuable liturgical dishes (e.g., the gifts of Cardinal Jerzy Radziwill), impressive textiles and paintings, among which the so-called Radziwill Madonna is of particular historical value.

This hall also highlights the fact that the Radziwill princes were also the most active initiators and supporters of the Reformation in Lithuania. Significant heritage of the Evangelical Reformed Church is still kept in Biržai and Kėdainiai, which is related to the Radziwills and is being demonstrated in this exhibition – portraits of the most prominent representatives of the Reformation, important documents and publications (e.g., the famous Brest Bible) and liturgcal dishes (e.g., an impressive baptismal bath from the mid-17th century). The Radziwills also contributed to nurturing the traditions of religious tolerance in Lithuania, supporting both Catholics and Evangelical Reformed believers, as well as other Christian traditions – Lutherans and Orthodox believers. Incidentally, Sofija Olelkaitė-Radziwill was even considered an Orthodox saint.  

The material in this hall also reveals a unique funeral tradition nurtured within the circle of the Radziwill princes – both among its Catholic and Protestant believers. Here we can see the sarcophagus of Elisabeth Radziwill from the early 17th century and the burial robe of the Lithuanian Hetman and Vilnius Palatine Janusz Radziwill, the so-called “coffin portraits”, burial monuments and their images, obituary-like publications, as well as the 18th-century flag used during the Radziwills' funeral ceremonies.

Hall V called Culture, Art, Luxury presents themes such as 18th-century Figures, Residences and Cities, and Art and Luxury. Most attention is dedicated to representatives of the Radziwill princely family that lived in the 18th century and the secular art that was popularised in their circle, as well as artistic works initiated by the magnates. A separate part of the exhibition awaits visitors at the end of the exposition in this hall – Epilogue from the Early 19th Century, where the most prominent Radziwills who tried to further the tradition of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth are presented.

Portraits, often of impressive measurements, created by famous artists featuring the men and women of the Radziwill family from the 18th and early 19th centuries gaze from the walls of this hall. They are glorified in contemporaries' panegyrics and some even tried their hand at creating works of literature and music. The documents and printed material exhibited in the display cases reveal several of the already-mentioned themes – the Radziwills' interests in developing cities and self-government structures in their domains, and their residences in Vilnius and elsewhere, in the proper preparation of fortresses and military officers, amassing libraries and archive collections, supporting the sciences (astronomy, medicine), manufactories and the production of artistic luxury goods. Some of the most impressive artistic works created at the enterprises founded by the Radziwills were valuable textiles: armorial rugs, opulent kontush sashes and other fabrics, as well as modern weapons, elaborate glass objects and so on. Visitors can see the entire collection of signets and other seals with the Radziwill coats of arms. Some of these treasures were created by jewellers and other masters who worked for the Radziwills. When we look at the map of the Radziwills' domains, it becomes quite evident that when the princes travelled around Lithuania, they could indeed stay only at their own estates. Stove tiles bearing the coats of arms of the Radziwills are evidence of the luxury at their residences in Vilnius, Dubingiai, Biržai and Kėdainiai, reflecting their aspirations for displaying the proper levels of representation.

Exhibition patron
President of the Republic of Lithuania Gitanas NAUSĖDA

Exhibition organisers
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Prince Maciej RADZIWILL

Exhibition partners and exhibit owners 
Lietuvos dailės muziejus
Lietuvos mokslų akademijos Vrublevskių biblioteka
Lietuvos nacionalinė Martyno Mažvydo biblioteka
Lietuvos nacionalinis muziejus
Lietuvos valstybės istorijos archyvas
Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, Polska
Muzeum Narodowe w Nieborowie, Polska
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Polska
Motiejaus Radvilos privati kolekcija, Lenkija
Vilniaus universiteto biblioteka
Zamek Królewski na Wawelu – Państwowe Zbiory Sztuki, Polska
Zamek Królewski w Warszawe – Muzeum, Polska

Exhibit owners 
Archiwum Glówne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie, Polska
Bažnytinio paveldo muziejus
Biržų evangelikų reformatų bažnyčia
Biržų krašto muziejus „Sėla“
Custodia Terrae Sanctae – Terra Sancta Museum, Jerusalem
Kauno miesto muziejus
Kėdainių evangelikų reformatų bažnyčia
Kėdainių krašto muziejus
Klasztor i Bazylika Franciszkanów św. Franciszka z Asyżu, Kraków, Polska
Lietuvos etnokosmologijos muziejus
Musée de l’Armée, Paris, France
Muzeum Diecezjalne im. Jana Pawła II w Drohiczynie, Polska
Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, Polska
Muzeum w Nieborowie i Arkadii (Oddział Muzeum Narodowego w Warszawie), Polska
Muzeum Warmii i Mazur w Olsztynie, Polska
Nacionalinis muziejus Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės valdovų rūmai
Sanktuarium Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej na Jasnej Górze oraz Klasztoru OO. Paulinów Jasna Góra, Polska
Staatliche Münzsammlung München, Deutschland
Viliaus Kavaliausko privati kolekcija
Vilniaus arkivyskupijos kurija
Vilniaus Šv. vysk. Stanislovo ir šv. Vladislovo arkikatedra bazilika
Vilniaus universiteto muziejus
Vytauto Didžiojo karo muziejus
Волинський краєзнавчий музей, Україна
Львівська Національна Галерея Мистецтв імені Бориса Возницького, Україна
Нацыянальны гістарычны музей Рэспублікі Беларусь
Нацыянальны мастацкі музей Рэспублікі Беларусь

Exhibition concept and exposition plan authors
Prof. habil. Dr Przemyslaw MROZOWSKI
Dr Vydas DOLINSKAS
Marijus UZORKA
Gintarė DŽIAUGYTĖ

Exhibition curators and coordinators
Marijus UZORKA
Gintarė DŽIAUGYTĖ
Dalius AVIŽINIS
Dr. Toma ZARANKAITĖ-MARGIENĖ
Dovilė ČYPAITĖ

Exhibition consultants
Assoc. Prof. Dr h. c. Edmundas RIMŠA
Prof. Dr Ieva KUIZINIENĖ
Eimantas GUDAS
Rita LELEKAUSKAITĖ

Exhibition publishing coordinator
Dr Živilė MIKAILIENĖ

Exhibit restoration maintenance coordinators
Deimantė BAUBAITĖ
Andrius SALYS
Mantvidas MIELIAUSKAS
Jurgita KALĖJIENĖ
Dainius ŠAVELIS

Scientific and cultural program coordinators
Dr Jolanta KARPAVIČIENĖ
Gintarė ROŽĖNAITĖ
Arnita PETRULYTĖ

Educational program coordinators
Dr Nelija KOSTINIENĖ
Ieva LUCKUTĖ
Daiva TUINYLIENĖ

Marketing and information coordinators
Mindaugas PUIDOKAS
Ramunė VAIČIULYTĖ

Technical installation coordinators
Eduardas KAUKLYS
Kęstutis KARLA

Sponsors