• Portrets in Manor Collections

      Portrets in Manor Collections

      In almost every Lithuanian manor there were portraits of family members, relatives, the family’s forefathers and those who earned renown in society. In manor collections from the Baroque period, portraits of the extended family dominated. Entire portrait galleries would be formed, which had to demonstrate the family’s early beginnings, its influence and merits in society, and leave an impression on all who happened to see it. Family portraits remained important in later epochs as well. They were not just a form of representation, or a way of preserving memories of a particular family’s ancestors, but also an expression of more intimate personal feelings.

      Educated aristocrats who truly appreciated the fine arts would commission Europe’s best artists to paint their family portraits: Michał Kleofas Ogiński and his family had their portraits painted by the Frenchman François Xavier Fabre who lived in Florence, while the Italians Philipp Arons and Oreste Cortazzo created the Tyszkiewicz family’s portraits, etc. Local artists Ludomir Janowski, Kazimierz Mordasewicz and Stanisław Bohusz-Sietrzeńcewicz also gained renown for their impressive portraits of the aristocracy, memorialising numerous members from the Tyszkiewicz, Plater and other families.

      Manor owners who nurtured an interest in the arts, among whom there were quite a few art collectors as well, were not satisfied purely with painted portraits. They would also commission sculptured busts that made their palace interiors more elaborate and grand, as well as graphic art works that could be kept for posterity in albums, shared amongst their close ones or given as gifts to family members.

      Smaller format, chamber portraits were more popular in the 19th century, which could be hung in offices or small personal rooms. The Vilnius University professor Jan Rustem, his student Karol Rypiński and other artists from the Vilnius Art School visited many Lithuanian manors, created portraits as they travelled. Chamber portraits were also commissioned to famous foreign artists – Austrian painter Johann Nepomuk Hueber painted portraits of the Przeciszewski, Szemiot and other noble families.

      An important aspect of manor culture from the Age of Enlightenment was not just studying art history, but creating art works as well. The portrait was one of the favourite forms of creative expression undertaken by amateur artists among the nobility. Members from the Römer, Burba, Górski, Skirmunt, Ślizień, von Ropp and others families were quite good at drawing and painting. Some of them went on to become professional artists – Alfred Izydor and Edward Mateusz Römer, Helena Skirmunt (née Skirmunt), Szymon Skirmunt, Rafal ślizień, etc. have left a rich collection of illustrations, painted works, watercolours and sculptural works depicting their close family and friends.

      During the years of historical turmoil and transition, the portrait collections of Lithuania’s manors became scattered over various locations. Many of the most artistically valuable portraits were taken abroad. Only small fragments of the former collections found their way to Lithuania’s museums.

      D. Tarandaitė

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