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International exhibition „Baptism of Lithuania. The Painting by Wojciech Gerson“

26 September–10 December 2017
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

Gallery

This is an exhibition featuring one very valuable exhibit. The exhibit is the painting by the renowned Polish Academic and Realist art creator, Wojciech Gerson (1831–1901), titled Baptism of Lithuania and created to mark the 500th anniversary of Lithuania’s baptism. The work is considered an exceptional piece of art for its monumental dimensions (almost 4 x 7 m), the rare monochromatic painting technique used, the complexity of the composition, the scenes depicted and the richness of characters, the symbolic iconographic accents, historical subject matter and their interpretations.

The painting was held to be lost for 100 years, which is why it is not widely known and relatively unresearched. Thus, the exhibition held at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is an excellent opportunity to bring back into the spotlight a somewhat forgotten work of art. The last time the painting was displayed at an exhibition was in 1890 in Los Angeles (USA). It was rediscovered several years ago and returned to Poland where it has been placed on permanent display at the Museum of the John Paul II Collection in Warsaw (Poland). The painting that has been especially restored for this official viewing in Vilnius is being exhibited again after an interval of over 120 years.

Gerson’s painting Baptism of Lithuania is one of the important artistic historic visualisations of Lithuania’s path towards Christianity and Europeanisation. In the composition’s centre is the figure of the Crucified Christ with the baptiser of Lithuania Jogaila standing nearby with his hands raised. The magnates, nobles and clerics of Lithuania and Poland are gathered around the ruler, in the distance we see Lithuanians being baptised. The most important source for the work’s theme was the information recorded by chronicler Jan Długosz.

Gerson, the creator of this exceptional work, had studied in Warsaw, Saint Petersburg and Paris, and on occasions incorporated Lithuanian motifs in his art. He has been and is still compared to another famous representative of Polish historic and didactical painting, Jan Matejko, who is similarly credited with arousing the Polish and Lithuanian national revivals during the years of occupation, strengthening the state tradition of historical memory and national pride. The painting Baptism of Lithuania highlights the historical bonds between Lithuania and Poland, Lithuanians and Poles alike, urging us to rethink interpretations of our common history and common heritage, not to mention the assembly of the European states of today and the latest developments in Lithuanian-Polish relations.

The exhibition organised in commemoration of the 630th anniversary of the baptism of Lithuania encourages us to recall one of the most important events in Lithuania’s history – the Catholic baptism of 1387, as a result of which Lithuania became one of the nations of God and was incorporated into the Western global civilisational space. This determined the European context of the development of the Lithuanian state and its culture. The decision Lithuania made 630 years ago has clearly visible markers of a living belief in the Catholic faith in society, and European art, culture, political and mental traditions: our Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque heritage, sacred art treasures, democratic ideas, the concept of human rights and freedoms, and other values inherent in the free world.

Exhibition organisers
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (Vilnius, Lithuania)
Museum of the John Paul II Collection (Warsaw, Poland)

Exhibition partners
Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in the Republic of Poland
Polish Institute in Vilnius

Exhibition patrons
Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania Prof. Dr Viktoras Pranckietis
Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland Marek Kuchciński
Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Saulius Skvernelis
Vilnius Archbishop Metropolitan Dr Gintaras Grušas
Metropolitan of the Warsaw Archdiocese Cardinal Dr Kazimierz Nycz

Last update
2017-09-15
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