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International exhibition “The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus in Vilnius”

The tapestry collection of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund Augustus (1544/1548–1572), distinguished for its highest level of artistry, historical significance, unparalleled scope of an artistic project realised by one client, legendary material value and turbulent destiny is truly a diamond in the context of European art collections. It is viewed as an idiosyncratic phenomenon of European patronage, art and cultural heritage, an actual historic relic of the early Polish-Lithuanian state, equalling the insignia of rulers in terms of its symbolic significance. In current-day Poland, Sigismund Augustus’ tapestries are named as the most valuable historic collection and the most important exhibit at the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, drawing inquisitive audiences from around the world.

Sigismund Augustus’ tapestry collection consisted of around 160 artistic textiles. Of these, 140 exist today, most of them being kept at the Wawel Royal Castle. The tapestry collection is made up of large format works depicting biblical scenes, as well as textiles bearing the ruler’s initials SA and the coats of arms of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the White Eagle and Vytis, verdures with animals and plants, as well as other textiles for the decoration of window openings, doorways and furniture.

The drawings for Sigismund Augustus’ tapestries and the actual weaving were executed by the most acclaimed masters of the day. The author of the tapestry designs with biblical scenes is considered to be Michiel I Coxcie (1499–1592) from Mechelen, otherwise known as the “Flemish Raphael”. Heraldic tapestries and those decorated with the ruler’s monograms (initials) were created based on graphic art from Antwerp, displaying the influence of Cornelis Floris (1514–1575) and Cornelis Bos (1506 (1510)–1556). Tapestries featuring wool and silk thread, embellished with gold and silver metallic thread, were woven in as many as eight workshops in Brussels which belonged to figures such as Pieter van Aelst the Younger, Jan de Kempeneer, Willem de Kempeneer, Jan van Tieghem and other masters.

This exhibition presents all groups from the collection of Sigismund Augustus’ tapestries. Visitors will be able to see 37 textiles – 9 tapestries with biblical scenes of the First Parents, Noah and construction of the Babel Tower, 10 verdures, 6 tapestries with the ruler’s initials, 10 textiles with the coats of arms of Lithuania and Poland and 2 smaller tapestries. Some of the textiles have been integrated into the palace interiors exposition. A tapestry collection of this scale has never before been displayed beyond the walls of Wawel. This fact makes the exhibition an exceptional gesture of the Wawel Royal Castle’s and Poland’s attention and good-will towards Lithuania, the finest possible gift to Vilnius on the occasion of its 700th anniversary. It is also one of the most complicated, largest and most expensive projects undertaken in the history of museology in Lithuania. The exhibition’s importance and historical significance, reminding us of the long-lived unity of Lithuania and Poland and the whole region, is further underpinned by the patronage of the presidents of Lithuania and Poland.

Sigismund Augustus’ tapestry collection is considered one of the most valuable collections of monumental artistic textiles in the world. It offers an excellent representation of European Renaissance culture, artistic ties, the representational aspirations of the last ruler of the Gediminid-Jagiellon dynasty – the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania – and the traditions of patronage. This textile collection of the ruler of the joint state is also a further reminder of the period when Krakow and Vilnius truly flourished – the Renaissance.

2023-05-03 - 2023-07-16
7.00 Eur
Purchase tickets at:
Museum box office
700 Vilnius, Exhibitions
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