The Collection of Lawyer Jaunius Gumbis: The Past Preserved in Books
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In 2012, the National Museum of Lithuania started the series of exhibitions “The Museum and the Collector”. From September 2016 to January 2017, it hosted the exhibition presenting the collection of Lithuanian art of the lawyer, bibliophile and collector, dr. Jaunius Gumbis, “Collected and Preserved”. This time the museum shows a part of Gumbis’s collection of early books from Lithuania and related to Lithuania. The exhibition introduces valuable sources of the history of Lithuania, which are rarely found in Lithuanian museums and libraries.
The larger part of the exhibition consists of works by Lithuanian authors prepared and published in Lithuanian or other European cities. There are several works by foreign authors containing historical information about Lithuania. The chronological frame of the exhibition ranges from the end of the fifteenth century, the early press period, to 1904, when the ban on the Lithuanian press introduced by the Russian authorities was lifted. One of the gems of the collection is an incunabulum (an early book printed in the fifteenth century), the German edition of Das Buch der Chroniken (The Book of Chronicles) by Hartmann Schedel, published in Augsburg in 1496. It is one of the first printed sources of Lithuanian history.
The exhibition also presents four editions of the treatise The Great Art of Artillery in Latin, French, German and English by the artillery engineer of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Casimir Siemienowicz. The visitors can admire a collection of poetry Four Books of Verses (Lyricorum libri IV) by one of the most outstanding seventeenth-century European poets who wrote in Latin, Motiejus Kazimieras Sarbievijus. The frontispiece of the book boasts an engraving by Cornelis Galle made after a drawing by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens. Four editions of the Third Statute of Lithuania adopted in 1588 are displayed.
A particularly valuable exhibit is the historical album of portrait engravings of the noble Radziwiłł family of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Images of the Radziwiłł Family of Dukes (Icones familiae ducalis Radivilianae…), created by the prominent eighteen-century portrait engraver of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the court artist of the Radziwiłłs, Hirsh Leibovich. Copper engravings recreate 165 portraits of the members of the Radziwiłł family from the picture gallery of the Nesvizh castle.
The most important from the exhibited early books in the Lithuanian language is a collection of sermons Postilla by the dean of Königsberg Jonas Bretkūnas who laid the foundations for Lithuanian writing. It is the first work of this genre in Lithuanian. The most valuable exhibit from the period of the Lithuanian press ban is a set of issues of the Aušra newspaper from 1883–1886 bound into booklets. It was the first periodical publication in Latin characters for Lithuania Major.
The exhibition also presents many other rare books valuable for the history of Lithuania: the first printed History of Lithuania by Albertas Kojalavičius-Vijūkas, the chronicle Description of Sarmatian Europe by Alessandro Guagnini, the historical work Samogitian Diocese by Motiejus Valančius, and others. They are valuable not only in their textual content. These books can be viewed as artworks, their magnificent covers, art design and engravings can by admired. The engravings found in the books are also important historical sources. Some of them – maps on which Lithuania is marked, portraits of famous people and authors of books, the family tree of the nobles of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Sapiehas, etc. – are exhibited in the form of copies. Each printed book is a unique source of information about its own time.