New exhibition opening in Vilnius celebrates the famous dynasty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and later, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – the magnate house of Radvilos (Radziwiłł in Polish).
Various relics, documents, and other exhibits are on display at the Palace of the Grand Dukes in Vilnius, lent by the Radziwiłł family estate and monasteries from seven European countries.
The exhibition covers a 400-year history told through various artefacts: from embroidered tapestry immortalising the moment of Radvila the Black receiving the title of grand duke to centuries-old documents and personal belongings, such as the clothes of Radvila the Orphan.
“The Radvilos family, as often the de facto rulers of Lithuania, had to fill the power vacuum of the Grand Duchy,” said Vydas Dolinskas, head of the museum at the Palace of the Grand Dukes.
Family portraits that decorated the Nesvizh residence in present-day Belarus will be on display, along with a symbol of power held by Jonušas Radvila (Janusz Radziwiłł), the Duchy's grand hetman, that was kept at the family treasury before being brought to the Russian tsar.
“The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, gave the power symbol to one of the Radvilos women who was beautiful and knew how to speak with him,” says Dolinskas. “She brought it back and, therefore, we can see it today.”
Big part of the portrait gallery is dedicated to the Radvilos women. Since the 15h century, Radvilos daughters would be married off to various European houses. The most famous among them is arguably Barboba Radvilaitė (Barbara Radziwiłł), the wife of the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund II Augustus.
A separate gallery will be dedicated to the golden Radvilos generation of the 16th century. Helmets belonging to Radvila the Black were brought from museums in Krakow and Paris.
One of the more precious exhibits is a letter of permission given to Mikolajus Kristupas Radvila Našlaitėlis (Mikołaj Krzysztof "the Orphan" Radziwiłł) to travel to the Holy Land.
One of the surviving descendants of the dynasty, Maciej Radziwiłł, says it is important for the family to have this exhibition held in Vilnius, where the family once had nine residences. The 30 remaining Radziwiłł descendents in the world were willing to lend exhibits to, as they said, their homeland.
“Among the things precious to us is the portrait of Our Lady which was found after the great battle in Vienna in 1683,” says Maciej Radziwiłł. “It decorated the Nesvizh palace for several hundred years.”
“Also the 18th century Radziwiłł banner which, to this day, is draped on the coffin whenever a Radziwiłł passes away.”