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THE SAXON ELECTORS – THE GRAND DUKES OF LITHUANIA: Court Culture and Art under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III. Exhibition of the Dresden State Art Collections

6 July–14 October 2018
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

With this sensational international exhibition, The Saxon Electors and the Grand Dukes of Lithuania: Court Culture and Art Under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III, the Dresden State Art Collections and the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania both commemorate and celebrate the centenary of the restoration of the State of Lithuania (1918–2018). This exhibition of priceless treasures related to Lithuania is undoubtedly not only probably the most important event in museum life and culture in Lithuania, but also an exclusive gift from Germany and Saxony to Lithuania on its anniversary. This wonderful gift to the Lithuanian nation comes from one of the most famous museum institutions boasting one of the richest collections in Europe and the world, on par with the museums in the Vatican City, the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London – the Dresden State Art Collections. The exhibition also commemorates the culmination of the completed reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes. Even though these Wettin dynasty's co-rulers could not live in the ravaged and abandoned palace during their reign, now they have temporarily returned to their Vilnius residence in the form of an exhibition, bringing us back a glimpse of this historical memory.

The exclusive cultural, historical, diplomatic and political significance of the international exhibition, The Saxon Electors and the Grand Dukes of Lithuania: Court Culture and Art Under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III, and importance of historical ties between Lithuania and Germany, as well as the close cooperation of today, is highlighted by the special patronage offered to this project by the President of the Republic of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Testimony of its significance also lies in the special guests invited to the opening on July 6, 2018 – the Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Saulius Skvernelis and the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Prof. Monika Grütters.

The exhibition and its unique treasures seek to offer a review of the historic, political, cultural and artistic links between Lithuania and Saxony, spanning a period of around one thousand years, and going back to the very first mention of the name of Lithuania, which is also incidentally associated with Saxony. The final highlights of the exhibition bring us to the beginning of the 20th century, the era when the modern Lithuanian state was being created, when Saxony played an important role in the state's formation. The thousand-year-long “Saxon thread” unravelled in the exhibition naturally links the early Lithuanian state – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – with the statehood traditions of the modern Republic of Lithuania into an inseparable whole. It allows us to ponder Lithuania's development in the context of Europe's history, to recall the state's major turning-points, to reveal the active relations established with our neighbours, first of all, with Poland and Germany, to recognise common European indicators of culture and art, and to delight in our common layers of heritage which strengthen historical memory and nurture a European identity.

Yet, the main chronological accent in the exhibition is the reign of the Saxon electors, who went on to become the grand dukes of Lithuania and kings of Poland, Augustus II (1697–1733) and his son, Augustus III (1733–1763). Their reign brought several states and nations under one crown, combining their material and spiritual powers, providing so much hope and opportunity creating the ideal conditions so that Baroque culture and art could flourish, while also bringing the bitter taste of misfortune. The court culture and art of the co-rulers is the main thematic field of this exhibition. Rarely do we consider that not only Vilnius and Kaunas, but many regions across the broad domains of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, from Tytuvėnai to Mazyr, and Hrodno to Polotsk were once similarly adorned with rich Late Baroque architectural monuments created precisely during the reign of the Saxon Wettin dynasty's rulers. This Baroque legacy from the first half of the 18th century is one of the clearest and easily recognisable indicators of European culture and art in this region of Europe, namely, the unique Vilnius Late Baroque art school. Nowhere else in the world are there so many symbols embodying the Lithuanian state – the coat of arms with the Vytis – as in Dresden, equal only perhaps to Krakow, the city of the co-rulers of Poland and Lithuania. The co-rulers Augustus II and Augustus III can be credited with the fact that Dresden boasts so many traces of Lithuania, something that is clearly proven in the content of this exhibition and in specific exhibits.

The 500m2 space dedicated to the international exhibition The Saxon Electors and the Grand Dukes of Lithuania: Court Culture and Art Under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III presents 150 unique and various treasures from 8 museums that comprise the Dresden State Art Collections. They come from the Dresden Armoury (Rüstkammer), the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe), the Dresden Porcelain Collection (Porzellansammlung), the Numismatic Cabinet (Münzkabinett), the Old Masters Picture Gallery (Galerie Alte Meister), the Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum), the Cabinet of Prints, Drawings and Photographs (Kupferstich-Kabinett) and the Sculpture Collection (Skulpturensammlung).  The collection of authentic exhibits compiled especially for this exhibition is enriched with several historic iconographic images. This is probably the first time in the history of Lithuanian museum life that a world-renown museum complex of this calibre is presenting such a large and valuable display of early heritage works demonstrating such a distinct Lithuanian context. The level and significance of the exhibits is very noteworthy. A significant number of the treasures on show in Vilnius are important accents of the existing and soon to be opened permanent exhibitions of the Dresden museums. Upon their return from Vilnius, they shall adorn the representational interiors of the Dresden residential castle that is nearing the completion of its reconstruction, and will not leave these spaces for many years to come. This circumstance testifies what a major exception the Dresden State Art Collection is making, in bringing its treasures to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius.

Taking into account the richness and importance of the exhibits, the international exhibition The Saxon Electors and the Grand Dukes of Lithuania: Court Culture and Art Under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III has been divided into five thematic parts, the first and last of which bear a chronological aspect.

In its FIRST PART, THE INITIAL LINKS, the exhibition begins with a presentation of the ties between Lithuania and Saxony, which go back to 1009, when the name of Lithuania was first mentioned in the annals of the Quedlinburg monastery in the Saxon city of Anhalt. The beginning of dynastic links between Lithuania, Poland and Saxony also date to the late Middle Ages: in 1496 the daughter of the ruler of Poland and Lithuania Casimir Jagiellon, Barbara, married the Elector of Saxony and Margrave of Meissen, George the Bearded. In the Renaissance, the work of the famous Italian sculptor Giovanni Maria Mosca Padovano united Saxony and Lithuania, Dresden and Vilnius. Visitors can admire the captivating panorama over Dresden, known as the German Athens or the Florence of the Elbe, as well as other images of this excellent Baroque city and its festivals created in the middle of the 18th century, revealed to us from the graphic art works of the famous artist Bernardo Bellotto, known as Canaletto, and others. A reminder of the twists and turns in Lithuania's history in the 16th century comes in the form of the sword associated with the ruler of Poland and Lithuania, Stephen Bathory, dating to 1583, and the golden vessel (drinking kovsh) of the Tsar of Muscovy, Ivan the Terrible, created after 1563, which was plundered by the Muscovites when they captured Płock, a city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The SECOND PART of the exhibition, ELECTION OF THE WETTINS, reminds us of the elections of Augustus II and Augustus III and tries to recreate the image of their coronation ceremonies (1697 and 1733–1734) when they were declared kings of Poland and grand dukes of Lithuania. The authentic musical instruments (trumpets and timpani), weapons (partisans, or lances), and the unique Polish and Lithuanian coronation banners and swords help create a stronger impression of what this event could have been like. There is an eye-catching representational portrait of Augustus II created by the famous painter Louis de Silvestre and the Equestrian figure of Augustus III created at the Meissen porcelain workshops in the 19th century after a model from 1745. There are also absolutely unique Lithuanian reliquaries which highlight the independence of Lithuania in the structure of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – a coronation banner and sword of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1733–1734 – which are placed alongside the analogous Polish symbols.

The THIRD PART of the exhibition, REPRESENTATION OF THE COURT, is the culmination of this exhibition: akin to a small treasury testifying to the European cultural traditions of the court of the rulers of Saxony, Lithuania and Poland, Augustus II and Augustus III, the role of art treasures and precious jewels in representing the ruler's status, the symbolic significance of insignia and awards, the master workmanship of artists who worked for the rulers, the exceptional luxury of the Wettin court and its inherent ceremonial culture, and their passion for collecting. A ceremonial sword crafted by the famous goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger in 1719–1722 is more reminiscent of a piece of jewellery than a weapon, and is the first piece welcoming visitors. Further inside this space visitors' attention is also drawn to the Baroque Audience throne created before 1719 with the armorial cartouche dating to the early 18th century, symbolising the union of Saxony, Lithuania and Poland ruled by the Wettin dynasty. Just as eye-catching is the royal regalia on display – the crown of Augustus II created by the famous jeweller Johann Friedrich Klemm in 1697, and the cap blessed by the pope and sent to this ruler in 1725.

Situated on either side of the throne are elements of the diamond garniture dating to the second half of the 18th century from the first Polish and Lithuanian state award established by Augustus II in 1705, and one of the oldest and most prestigious symbols in Europe associated with the Habsburgs – the Order of the Golden Fleece from the mid-18th century with yellow Brazilian topaz gemstones. All this symbolism may be admired for the master craftsmanship of the jewellers and the brilliance of the gemstones used. The gold-embellished justaucorps of millitary state dress belonging to Augustus II sewn in around 1700 reflects the fashions and luxury of the Wettin court. Also, the ring of Augustus III created after 1734 and mended in 1763, featuring a wonderful drop-shaped rose diamond. One of the most exotic exhibits on display – a rare ostrich-shaped goblet created in 1734 – reminds us of the Wettins' special inclination to amass collections of jewellery, artworks and rarities.

The FOURTH PART of the exhibition, LITHUANIAN ACCENTS, presents the so-called Gallery of Beauties (Galerie der Schönheiten) – a collection of portraits of the most beautiful women from the Wettin court in Dresden from the first half of the 18th century that bear an association with the families of magnates from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Ogińskis, Radziwiłłs, Czartoryskis, Wiśniowieckis, Pociejs and Zawiszas. The portraits were created by famous court painters Louis de Silvestre and Adám Mányoki. Marcibelė Oginskytė Zavišienė (Ogińska-Zawisza) has been captured in two portraits, depicted by Louis de Silvestre with a garland of flowers.

Numerous historic figures related to Lithuania have also been immortalised in the medals on display. The rulers of the Wettin dynasty also enhanced their collections with gifts they had received or treasures they had acquired from Lithuanian and Polish magnates, such as Japanese porcelain and weapons from the Radziwiłł princes. Representatives from this family gave Augustus II a very impressive shield dating to the mid-17th century. There is also the Sketchbook of Giovanni Battista Gisleni, a famous Italian architect, stage designer and musician, which is now kept in Dresden. Gisleni spent around 40 years in the service of representatives of the Vasa dynasty who ruled Poland and Lithuania, visited Vilnius and left some of his works there. Parts of the impressive representational coronation dining service set created in around 1733 that belonged to Augustus III, decorated with the joint coats of arms of Saxony, Lithuania and Poland, will remind us why the porcelain discovered in Meissen in the beginning of the 18th century and the manufactory established there became the calling-card of the Wettin dynasty and Saxony throughout the whole world.

The last, FIFTH PART, PEOPLE AND FACTS, will reveal several important historic events from the Wettin epoch. One is the Great Northern War of the early 18th century, which had such severe repercussions for Lithuania. Other eminent figures that linked Saxony and Lithuania in the 18th–early 20th centuries are also remembered here (Adam Mickiewicz, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, etc.). Legends about the exceptional strength of Augustus II had spread for over 300 years, making him known as Augustus the Strong. We have the chance to see evidence of this ruler's might in this space – a horseshoe he broke in 1711. It is symbolic that the exhibition dedicated to commemorate the centenary of the restoration of Lithuania's statehood ends with the portrait of the last king of Saxony, Friedrich Augustus III, who in 1918 was considered as a potential candidate to the throne of king of Lithuania. The portrait is kindly on loan from this ruler's descendants.

This rich and exceptionally valuable international exhibition, The Saxon Electors and the Grand Dukes of Lithuania: Court Culture and Art Under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III, is the result of years-long collegial cooperation between the Dresden State Art Collections and the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Some of the treasures presented at this Vilnius exhibition have not only never been outside of Germany – they have never been removed from their initial place of display. Some of the items related to Lithuania's history have been restored especially for this demonstration in Vilnius, giving the exhibition an even greater purpose and value.

The National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, together with the Dresden State Art Collections and other partners will commemorate this internationally-significant museum event with a comprehensive scientific catalogue. It will feature texts presenting the history of the ties linking Saxony and Lithuania and the Dresden art collections, as well as detailed descriptions and photographs of all the treasures. There will also be a scientific publication with material from the international scientific conference held in 2017, “One ruler's loyal subjects...”: Lithuania and Saxony under the Wettins. The international exhibition is enhanced by a series of scientific, cultural and informative events, as well as educational programs.

Cooperation between the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Dresden State Art Collections, especially its Dresden Castle branch, has been underway since 2004. The reconstruction of the Dresden Castle after World War II and its adaptation for use as a museum has been one of the most important forms of methodical support for the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius. The coordinator of the reconstruction of the Dresden Castle and the Director of the Green Vault and the Dresden Armoury, Prof. Dr Dirk Syndram, has become the official consultant for the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes in Vilnius – he offered a great deal of help and advice in various areas concerning reconstruction and museum activity.

Thus, on behalf of the exhibition's visitors and itself, the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania community wishes to offer its most sincere thanks to the leaders of the Dresden State Art Collections – the General Director Prof. Dr Marion Ackermann and Director Prof. Dr Dirk Syndram – for their friendly cooperation, collegiality, acceptance, support and understanding. We also thank the other leaders of the Dresden State Art Collections and its separate museums and collections, scientific staff, guardians, restorers, catalogue text authors, photographers and everyone who contributed to the successful organisation of the epic exhibition in Vilnius, The Saxon Electors and the Grand Dukes of Lithuania: Court Culture and Art Under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III.

Under the high patronage of the
President of the Republic of Lithuania DALIA GRYBAUSKAITĖ
President of the Federal Republic of Germany FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER

Exhibition organizers
Dresden State Art Collections / Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

Exhibition partners
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Lithuania
Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Germany

Managing directors of the Dresden State Art Collections
Prof. Dr Dirk SYNDRAM
Dr Julia WEBER
Dr Stephan KOJA

Managing directors  of the National museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Dr Vydas DOLINSKAS
Dr Jolanta KARPAVIČIENĖ
Eduardas KAUKLYS

Exhibition concept authors
Prof. Dr Dirk SYNDRAM
Dr Vydas DOLINSKAS

Exhibition curators
Dr Theda JÜRJENS
Dalius AVIŽINIS

Exhibition technical coordinators
Marijus UZORKA
Catrin DIETRICH

Exhibition restoration coordinators
Medeina STEPONAVIČIŪTĖ
Prof. Dr Jūratė SENVAITIENĖ
Catrin DIETRICH

Exhibition publishing coordinator
Dr Živilė MIKAILIENĖ

Exhibition scientific and cultural program coordinators
Dr Jolanta KARPAVIČIENĖ
Vytautas GAILEVIČIUS
Arnita PETRULYTĖ

Exhibition educational program coordinators
Dr Nelija KOSTINIENĖ
Daiva TUINYLIENĖ

Exhibition information coordinators
Ramunė VAIČIULYTĖ
Mindaugas PUIDOKAS
Dr Stephen ADAM

Exhibition installation coordinators
Eduardas KAUKLYS
Kęstutis KARLA

Exhibition installation technicians
Eugenijus ILIŠKA
Tomas KUBILIŪNAS
Aurimas RAMELIS
Ričardas SEREDIS
Gintaras ŠĖMYS
Vydmantas VALANTAVIČIUS
Tomas VALATKEVIČIUS
Česlavas VOITONIS

Last update
2018-07-30
Home  |  Visitor information  >  Exhibitions  >  THE SAXON ELECTORS – THE GRAND DUKES OF LITHUANIA: Court Culture and Art under the Reign of Augustus II and Augustus III. Exhibition of the Dresden State Art Collections