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6 July–1 December 2019
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

2019 marks the 450th anniversary of the Union of Lublin, the treaty between Poland and Lithuania that united the two countries into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a unique state in Europe. It was a crucial event in the development of the historical state of Lithuania. On July 1, 1569, the Union of Lublin was concluded, which changed the relations of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland by establishing a two-member federation that later grew stronger and brought closer the cultures of both countries. This treaty, however, did not destroy their symbols of statehood or the main attributes of their political identity. The Union of Lublin is not only a treaty of historical significance, but also a source of inexhaustible stories which have inspired artists from Lithuania and Poland to look for different means of expressing the emotions, details, and political events of the time. In the 19th century, the approaching 300th anniversary of the event encouraged eminent Polish painter Jan Matejko to commemorate the union of the two neighbouring countries by painting an impressive work entitled Union of Lublin.

The artist bought a vast canvas and the paint for the planned picture inParis in 1867. The first sketches were painted and the last strokes were made between 1866 and 1869. The picture belongs to those works of Matejko which immortalise the most crucial moments of history. The Union of Lublin was the first of Matejko’s pictures that drew his countrymen’s attention to the positive aspects of their past. The picture earned him the Grand Cross of the Legion d’Honneur of France. The majestic canvas is dedicated to the final moment at the Sejm of Lublin: the union oath in the Renaissance hall of Lublin Castle on July 1 1569. Attention is focused on the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund Augustus, who is raising up a cross, as if he is encouraging the signing of the act. Besides Sigismund Augustus, the huge painting depicts key Polish and Lithuanian statesmen who took part in drafting and signing the Union treaty. Over 30 persons linked to the Union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania can be identified. Matejko’s intention was not only to depict the concluding moment of the Union of Lublin, but also its earlier beginnings, thus he included statesmen such as Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Red who had actually passed away before the signing of the Act. Protestant representatives are gathered on the left side of the picture; all the supporters of the Union are positioned in the centre, while Lithuanian delegates are depicted on the right. The most important persons in the picture can be identified by the scheme that is provided.

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