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Giedrius Kazimierėnas "Gaon of Vilnius – 300 years. Black Tapestries of Lithuanian History"

January 7–31
Opening – January 7, 6 p. m.

For the past 15 years, Professor Giedrius Kazimierėnas, a creative artist, has been working on creating large format depictions of events and their protagonists from the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In his interpretation of Lithuanian history, the artist has created a special world of painting, where the unique depictions intertwine with authentic facts from written and graphic sources: a world that speaks to the viewer in the language of symbols and metaphors.

Giedrius Kazimierėnas, a native of the village of Teberiškė in the region of Švenčionys, commenced his studies at the National Art Institute (now the Vilnius Art  Academy – Vilniaus dailės akademija) in 1966. For the first two years he studied in the Faculty of Art Pedagogy (Dailės pedagogikos katedra), after which he took up painting as his specialty, studying under Professor Antanas Gudaitis, a leading figure in modern Lithuanian painting. After completing his studies in 1972, Giedrius Kazimierėnas started work as a restorer of wall hangings at the Cultural Monuments Restoration Trust. Over the 5 years that he worked in this capacity, he contributed to the restoration of the frescoes of the central nave of Šv. Jonų church in Vilnius, the polychrome work of Visų Šventųjų church, the frescoes on the façade of the Bernardine (Bernardinų) church and other objects. From 1980 the artist began a career as a teacher at the Vilnius Art Academy, where he continues to share with his students the subtleties of painting, even though he is now a Professor (Faculty Head). In 2002–2003, Giedrius Kazimierėnas was Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, and he oversaw the arrangements for the 3rd Conference on Lithuanian Culture as Chairman of the Commission. In 2011 he was awarded the Culture and Art prize of the Lithuanian Government.

Since the 1970s, Giedrius Kazimierėnas has been taking part in exhibitions in Lithuania and abroad, where he has arranged 11 personal shows. His canvas „Žalgiris. Rūstybės diena“ (“Žalgiris. Day of Wrath”)is on display in a permanent exhibition at Medininkai Castle; while his painting „Vytautas, laukiantis karūnos“ (“Vytautas awaits his Crown”) is in Trakai Island Castle.

It might be considered that 1975 was the year when the artist began in long journey of creative search, directed at the historical painting genre, as it was the year when he began to create cycles of symbolic compositions, in which he presents the present-day person’s link with old cultures: „Prancūziškas ciklas“ (French Cycle)(1997), „Itališkas ciklas“ (Italian Cycle)(2000), „Graikiškas ciklas“ (Greek Cycle)(2001), „Ispaniškas ciklas“ (Spanish Cycle)(2003–2005). In 2005 he undertook the monumental topic  of a series of paintings about Lithuanian history, the first in this series being his work „Mindaugo karūnavimas. Lietuvos krikštas“(Coronation of Mindaugas. Baptism of Lithuania)(2006) and  „Pirmojo Lietuvos Statuto priėmimas“ (Introduction of the First Lithuanian Statute)(2006). Having found a vocation in portraying the pages of Lithuanian history, the painter broadened his vision, interpreting new subjects: „Zimburgės vestuvės“ (Wedding at Zimburg)(2007), „Algirdo žygiai į Maskvą“ (Algirdas’ March on Moscow)(2008), „Gedimino laiškai 1322–1324“ (Gediminas’ Letters 1322–1324)(2009), „Atsisveikinimas su Kęstučiu“ (Saying Farewell to Kęstutis)(2009), „Algirdo pergalė prie Mėlynųjų Vandenų“ (Victory of Algirdas at Blue Waters)(2009), „Žalgiris. Rūstybės diena“ (Žalgiris. Day of Wrath)(2013), „Vytautas, laukiantis karūnos“ (Vytautas awaits his Crown)(2013), „Vilniaus Gaonas“ (Gaon of Vilnius)(2015), „Dubingių altorėlis“ (Altar of Dubingiai)(2017) and others. Between 2010 and 2015 he produced the cycle of paintings called „Juodieji gobelenai“ (Black Tapestries): „Barboros Radvilaitės laidotuvės I“ (Funeral of Barbora Radvilaitė I), „Barboros Radvilaitės laidotuvės II“ (Funeral of Barbora Radvilaitė II), „Vytautas laukiantis karūnos“ (Vytautas awaits his Crown), „Kęstučio nužudymas. Žalčio užkapojimas“ (Murder of Kęstutis. Hacking the Serpent), „Vytautui pranašauja pralaimėjimą prieš Vorsklos mūšį“ (Defeat is Prophesied to Vytautas before the Battle of Vorskla), and „Vilniaus Gaonas“ (Gaon of Vilnius). Before picking up his paintbrush, this artist studies historical literature, analysing works of art characteristic of the relevant historical period, and authentic artefacts. It is noteworthy that large-format multi-figure paintings create the feeling of sacred illuminations from a mediaeval manuscript. The use of silver and gold on the canvases of the works of Giedrius Kazimierėnas give a royal flavour to his depictions of the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Audra Čižienė, one of Lithuania’s leading art restorers, collaborated in the execution of these technically complex and painstaking creations. Artist Virginijus Stančikas created the impressive Gothic-style wooden décor for several of the paintings.

The exhibition is dedicated to commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the distinguished, world-renowned Talmud and Torah scholar, the Gaon of Vilnius. The advent of this propitious anniversary prompted the Seimas (parliament) of the Republic of Lithuania to proclaim 2020 to be the year of the Gaon of Vilnius and the History of Lithuanian Jewry. In this exhibition will be displayed for the first time almost the complete “Black Tapestries” cycle and the latest to be created in the series (2015), the painting “Gaon of Vilnius”. The painting was painted spontaneously, in order to immortalise the phenomenon of Jewish culture in the context of Lithuanian history, in which the culture of the Litvaks developed successfully, taking on the inimitable flavour and appeal of the local environment.

The start of Jewish history in Lithuanian can be traced to the second half of the 14th century. Lithuanian Jews, known as Litvak, distinguished themselves from other Jews through their particularly strict adherence to religious traditions, their intellectual rationalism, their devotion to scholarship, and in certain aspects of religious and daily life. Litvaks have given the world many famous people, such as philosopher Emmanuel Levin, violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, sculptor Jacques Lipschitz, artist Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall (who was born in Vitebsk), and many others...

One of the most famous people in Lithuanian and global Jewish history is Elijahu ben Solomon Zalman (1720–1797), the Gaon of Vilnius.  He was an outstanding rabbi, who studied the Kabala as well as Talmud and Torah. He understood that constant transcription of ancient documents inevitably introduces errors and false interpretations, and he felt it was essential to clarify and rectify these. His greatest achievement was editing and commenting on the Babylonian Talmud. The Gaon wrote about 70 treatises on a variety of topics: Holy Scriptures, Talmud, commentaries on texts from the Kabala, Hebrew grammar and general scholarship: geometry, astronomy, medicine, trigonometry and other works. Most of his works were published after his death.

The Gaon was known also for his struggle against Chasidism – a mystical, more liberal branch of Judaism with pantheistic tendencies, which arose in Western Ukraine in the 18th century. He condemned it severely and did all he could to stop it.

The name of Elijahu ben Solomon Zalman, Gaon of Vilnius, greatest mind of 18th century Jewry, became connected to myths and legends, helping to make Vilnius renowned as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”. The city became a spiritual centre for Jews. 

The exhibition will be under the care of Dr Rasa Gečaitė, noted scholar and historian of culture and Lithuanian language studies.

Giedrius Kazimierėnas