THEATRUM BIBLICUM. Scenes from the Easter Prelude

Exhibition Theatrum biblicum (The Bible Theatre) of the Church Heritage Museum is dedicated to scenography. It presents a unique collection of baroque Holy Week and Easter decorations discovered in the last decade, painted scenes from the Old and New Testaments from St. James the Apostle Church in Švėkšna and from the collections of other Lithuanian churches and museums. By interacting with each other, these works of specific function show how the Holy Week liturgy was conceived through metaphors and allegories in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. Installed during the Holy Week, the scenery changed the customary view of the church, turning its interior into an impressive, striking space that served to express the main idea.

The staging of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ spread during the Baroque period and was one of the forms of the so-called "sacred theatre" (Latin Theatrum sacrum), a concept disseminated by the Jesuits. This fascinating spectacle helped people to emotionally experience the crucial moments of the story of Salvation. The creation of the magnificently decorated scene of the Sepulchre of Christ reached its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries. This type of Holy Week scenery spread throughout Catholic Europe, and mostly flourished in the Alpine region – Germany and Austria. As interest in the phenomenon of Theatrum sacrum was growing in Europe during the 21st century, the scenery of the Sepulchre of Christ was rediscovered, restored and revived in churches. These works are also important today as relics of the history of scenography. Theoretically, the principles of creating baroque decorations are known, and there are surviving drawings and sketches, but this exhibition is a rare opportunity to see how the implemented ideas looked in real life.

In the first part of the exhibition, the series of paintings of the Švėkšna Church is exhibited. The paintings originally constituted a huge (circa 320 x 850 cm) single painting or several large paintings and were arranged in twos, one on top of the other. However, in the middle of the 19th century, they were cut into separate pieces. The exhibition presents the reconstruction of this huge canvas and the album Theatrum biblicum by the Amsterdam publisher C. J. Visscher (1643); some of the Švėkšna paintings were created according to the biblical engravings by famous Dutch graphic artists included in this album. The series is distinguished by the way of presentation: biblical scenes are embedded in painted frames, and each of them is accompanied by an inscription. However, these images are not a “poor man’s Bible” for medieval illiterates. The plots are carefully selected and presented in a meaningful sequence, thus encouraging reflection on the human relationship with God: unbelief, doubts, distance, reconciliation, and God’s boundless forgiveness.

The second part of the exhibition is dedicated to the parts of the Holy Week decorations, the so-called Sepulchre of Christ, from the mid-18th to the first half of the 19th century. These are spectacular backdrops, biblical scenes, and figures of the prophets. Secular theatre scenery did not survive in Lithuania, which makes these exhibits even more unique. Metaphorical and allegoric visual characteristics of the Baroque era are perhaps best revealed by the pictures of Jesus and the prophets with special openings carved in their chests. Blessed Sacrament used to be installed or placed inside them. In the Baroque period, professional masters who painted these pieces of scenery were well-versed in the principles of monumental art. Their works still fascinate by their grandeur, expression, and evocativeness. These paintings illustrate the biblical narrative but convey deeper theological and allegoric meanings. In the words of preacher Fabian Birkowski, at first, one needs to “take a look and read them” and then “take a deeper look and understand them”. Thus exposed, the layers of the Scripture lead us through the scenery of the Holy Week to the Easter Vigil and the triumph of the Resurrection of Christ.

The exhibition is crowned by a painting of Christ Resurrected, with the words of the prophet Isaiah “...his resting place will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10) inscribed above it. Why was so much attention paid to the tomb of Christ during the Baroque period? The answer can be found in the Gospel – on Easter morning, the empty tomb proclaimed the news about the Resurrection: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!” (Luke 24: 5-6).

Exhibition will be on display until September 2, 2023.

Upcoming events:

March 29, 18:00 Lecture “Searching for the Origin of the Painting Series of the Švėkšna Church – Could the Prototype Have Been an altar veil for Lent?” by Dr A. Giniūnienė;

April 19 Talk “Contemplating the Gospel. Narrative of the Early Paintings of the Švėkšna Church” with Dr A. Giniūnienė and Rev. A. Akelaitis;

May 17 Talk “Thresholds. Biblical Images in Dialogue with the Present” with Dr A. Giniūnienė and Dr I. Gudauskienė;

May 31, 18:00 Lecture “To Make Artificial Look Real. The Baroque Theatre in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania” by Dr H. Šabasevičius.


Curator Asta Giniūnienė

Project coordinators: Kamilė Jagėlienė, Emilija Jovaišaitė, Violeta Indriūnienė, Indraja Kubilytė, Vidmantė Narvidaitė, Livija Salickienė, Sandra Stonytė

Architect and designer Povilas Vincentas Jankūnas

Museum’s financial supporters: Vilnius Archdiocese, Lithuanian Council for Culture

Sponsor BTA Insurance

Media sponsors:, Vilnius 700, UAB JCDecaux Lietuva, IQ magazine, Kelionė magazine.

The organizers are grateful for the lending of exhibits and cooperation to Čekiškė Church of the Holy Trinity; Judrėnai Church of St. Anthony of Padua; Kaišiadorys Diocese; Kaunas Archdiocese; Telšiai Diocese; Semeliškės Church of St. Lawrence; Švėkšna Church of St. James the Apostle; Seda Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Šiauliai Diocese; Šiluva Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Tytuvėnai Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Queen of Angels; Veiviržėnai Church of St. Matthew the Holy Apostle and Evangelist; Vilnius Church of All Saints;

National Museum of Lithuania; Lithuanian National Museum of Art; Wróblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences; Rundāle Palace Museum; Cultural Heritage Centre, Samogitian Museum Alka.

The upcoming tours of the exhibition: March 18, 25, 15:30 and March 22, 18:30; educational programmes for families – March 25, 12:00. Tickets can be purchased at the Museum’s ticket office or online via the "Paysera Tickets" system.

The exhibition is presented as part of the programme. 

For more information: email, tel. +37052697800


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       Domus Maria