Collection of Portraits of Benedictine Abbesses of Vilnius: 18th to 20th Centuries

Auksė Kaladžinskaitė (PDF)

Works of portraiture are not merely monuments of art. They also serve as a record of history, culture and memory. Though the early origins of the portrait genre can already be observed in the Gothic art of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the tradition of painting images of the rulers and the nobility became established only in the 16th century with the spread of Renaissance ideas. Portraiture became very popular in the Baroque epoch. Portrait works were principally collected by the nobility. Portraits of the clergy adorned residences of bishops, cathedrals and chapter houses.

Lithuanian historiography contains little material on portrait collections held by monasteries. There has been no previous wider research into the subject. Nevertheless, historical facts and surviving pieces suggest that monasteries of various orders have collected portraits of the most renowned members and superiors of monastic communities. Among the examples is a collection of six portraits from the 18th to early 20th centuries depicting the abbesses of the Benedictine Convent of St Catherine in Vilnius. The collection might have reached our times incomplete but retaining the status of a collection. The portraits are currently preserved at the Benedictine Convent in Żarnowiec (Poland), where they were deposited in the 1940s. Previously, in addition to marking the live memory of the Benedictine Convent of St Catherine in Vilnius and representing the history of the convent’s management, this collection had also been helping the convent residents to understand its history through factual knowledge and artistic images.

This collection is significant to the study of portraits of members of religious communities and to the investigation of artworks that existed within the monastic environment. It is also important for researchers of Lithuanian art and cultural history, as it is evidence of the assemblage of portrait collections at monasteries.

Keywords: portrait, collection, Benedictines, monastic community, Vilnius, GDL, from 18th to 20th centuries