Through the Gates of the East: Orient in Lithuanian liturgical textiles XVI–XX c.
The exhibition presented unique Oriental fabrics and embroidered articles preserved in Lithuanian liturgical textiles. This was the third exhibition of liturgical textiles at the museum, which houses the largest and most valuable collection of old textiles in the country (“Šilkas ir auksas” (Silk and Gold) in 2013 and “Siuvinėtas dangus” (Embroidered Sky) in 2017). The exhibition featured 32 textiles and embroideries from the 16th—20th centuries created in the Ottoman Empire, Safavid Persia, Mughal India and Central Asia. The Silk Road from China stretched across these countries from the 2nd century BC to the 15th century, laying the foundations for a deep tradition of silk fabric production. Chinese textiles are highlighted by a separate presentation of unique ecclesiastical vestments made from the fabrics of the region. The exhibition was a must-see for one of the rarest fabrics in Europe — 17th-century Indian velvet — and to admire real brocades in the classic Ottoman palace style. One of the strangest exhibits in the exhibition was a Catholic liturgical vestment, the chasuble, with its cross decorated with Chinese dragons. Several 18th-century chinoiserie-style fabrics broaden the narrative of the Eastern influence on European art. The exhibition was complemented by enlarged drawings of fabric patterns, which allow a more detailed view of the individual motifs of the ornaments and reveal their symbolic meanings. Its unique patterns, luxurious materials and high technological quality have made Oriental textiles one of the most appreciated applied arts in Europe. The exhibits came from five museums, nine churches and two private collections.
The division of the world into East and West began very early, in the 5th century BC, when the ancient Greeks fought the Persians. Over the centuries, the concept of the Orient and its geographical scope have evolved. As the renowned US scholar Edward W. Said argued, the Orient was a creation of the European imagination. The Orient is currently associated with the Asian continent, but the historical concept of the Orient has never included all of Asia. At various times, it has included territories outside this part of the world, such as North Africa or south-eastern Europe. Since ancient times, the Orient has been a place associated with adventure, exotic creatures, memorable experiences and extraordinary landscapes for Europeans. Some of these stereotypes are still held by Europeans today.
Textiles became a key economic and political power in the three superpowers of the early modern Islamic world — Safavid Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Mughal India. The exhibition tells the story of centuries of links with these distant countries. The exhibition presents fabrics from the Ottoman and Safavid empires of the 16th and 17th centuries, characterised by their distinctive ornamentation, new colouring, and richly stylised figures of various animals and birds, illustrating the “golden age” of the craftsmen of these lands, with its characteristic high artistic value and technological complexity.
Once the sea trade routes became established in the 17th and 18th centuries, a wave of popularity and fashion for Chinese wares emerged in Europe and Lithuania. The Chinese fabrics and embroideries of Lithuanian ecclesiastical vestments do not date back to early times, most of them dating back to the 19th-20th centuries, but they are unique in Lithuania and reveal several Chinese textile traditions, and thanks to their many symbolic images, they present the whole spectrum of elements of this ancient culture. The Vosiūnai Church chasuble is made of kesi type fabric, the Alanta Church chasuble damasks with Chinese symbols, the chasubles of Riešė Church and Vilnius Cathedral are made of embroidered Chinese clothes, and the Turgeliai chasuble with dragons embroidered in gold make up an impressive Oriental collection of churches from Lithuania. The exhibition presented examples of the European style of chinoiserie, which was shaped by the applied arts and architecture of the Orient, especially China.
Curators of the exhibition: Rita Pauliukevičiūtė, Gabija Surdokaitė-Vitienė. Consultants: Anna Jolly, Sigita Maslauskaitė-Mažylienė, Dalia Vasiliūnienė. Coordinators: Kamilė Jagėlienė, Livija Salickienė, Sandra Stonytė, Violeta Indriūnienė. Architects: Ša Atelier. Designer: Laura Varžgalytė. Restorer: Indraja Kubilytė.
The project was funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture.
Sponsors: The Archdiocese of Vilnius, Vilnius City Municipality, UAB “Baltisches Haus”.
Informational sponsors: bernardinai.lt, “Vilnius 700”, UAB “JCDecaux Lietuva”, “IQ” magazine, “Artuma” magazine, “Kelionė” magazine, VšĮ “Magnificat leidiniai”.
The organisers of the exhibition would like to thank: the Museum of the Kaunas Archdiocese, the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum, the Lithuanian National Museum, the Lithuanian National Art Museum, the custodians of the collection of Algirdas Mykolas Dobrovolskis OFM Cap in Paberžė, the custodians of the collection of Alanta Church of St. James the Apostle, the Giedraičiai St. Bartholomew church, Karvys St. Joseph Church, Nemajūnai St. the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul, Blessed Virgin Mary’s Name Church of Plokščiai, Reškutėnai Church of St. Isidore, Riešė Church of St. Stanislaus the Bishop, Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus in Rūdiškės, Sudervė Church of the Holy Trinity, Trakai Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Turgeliai Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Veiviržėnai St. Matthew The Apostle Church, Vilnius Cathedral, Vilnius Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vosiūnai Church Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Žasliai Church of St. George.
The event was part of the www.700vilnius.lt programme.