The Vilnius Museum of Antiquities

History has always aroused interest of the people as well as culture. Museum is just the place where these concepts can exist freely together. But, unfortunately, not all know the history of the appearance and development of the Belarusian museum. Meanwhile, every honest Belarusian has to know the names of Belarusian scientists, enthusiasts and researchers such as Adam Kirkor, Teodor-Mateusz Narbutt, Władysław Syrokomla. The names of the brothers from Logoysk Konstanty and Eustachy Tyszkiewicz, the world-famous scientists, take one of the first places in the list. They worked as archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers and they made a significant contribution not only to the science of their own country but also to world science and culture.

The brothers Tyszkiewicz conducted their research work mainly on the territory of the provinces of Minsk and Vilna.
Scientists unearthed about 200 mounds, sites of ancient settlements and citadels; they gave a detailed description of each of them. At the same time, they traced back the history of their region, studied the way of life of the local people.

The brothers Tyszkiewicz wrote a lot of well-grounded works. Their books have not lost their value even today. Among their most important works the following books should be mentioned: «A description of the Barysau district», «The riversides of Vilia», «Information about the castles, ancient settlements and burial mounds». Also they were the authors of a number of scientific articles in the periodical press of those days.

However, this was not the only merit of scientists. In 1842 the brothers opened the first in Belarus Museum of Antiquities (Muzeum Starożytności) in their two-story palace in Logoysk. They not only alloted three separate rooms for a museum, but also created the original exposition which was highly evaluated by such scientists and historians, as P. Shpilevsky, A. Kirkor, J. Kraszewski, M. Belinsky. The main guide was their gray-haired, but very lively father, Pius Tyszkiewicz, who lived 102 years.

One of the halls of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities

One of the halls of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities

A home art gallery and the archaeological findings discovered by them during archeological expeditions were taken as the basis of the museum. The museum had a rich numismatic collection (1,140 coins and medals), library and archive (3000 volumes, 500 of which were ancient monuments of printing, manuscripts, old maps, documents). Сreations of the masters of ancient Rome, Florence, Naples took an important place in the museum. Two swords with miniature portraits of Stephen Bбthory, a church cross of time of the Polish King Sigismund’s I reign, the sword of Peter I and other unique art objects stored there. And a gallery of portraits of Tyszkiewicz family representatives from Logoysk was there. 200 paintings of Italian artists, paintings and sketches of Belarusian, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish masters were exhibited.

The museum also had a unique collection of towels, napkins, which were woven at a linen cotton factory founded by Konstanty Tyszkiewicz in Logoysk in 1837.

But Eustachy Tyszkiewicz was dissatisfied with a small number of visitors of the Logoysk museum. Logoysk was a small town, with only two thousand inhabitants. And Eustachy had intention of founding a public museum in Vilna or Minsk based on his own home museum.

In 1852 the brothers Tyszkiewicz petitioned to Petersburg for permission to open a public museum. Finally, permission to establish the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities was granted. It was based on a part of the exhibits of the Logoysk collection: the archaeological collection of two thousand exhibits, paintings, antiques, icons, crosses, three thousand books. Władysław Syrokomla gave the museum numismatic, heraldic artifacts, books. Personal works, manuscripts, rare historical things were contributed by A.Kirkor, I. Khodko, T. Narbutt, I. Kraszewski, M. Belinsky and others.

There were other donors who considered it an honor to hand over their antiques in the hope that their materials would be presented in the exhibition.

The Vilnius Museum of Antiquities was opened on January 1, 1856 in the library room of Vilnius University. The Archaeological Commission was established attached to the museum. Its aim was to carry out excavations on the territory of Belarus and Lithuania in order to let the material come to the museum and become an object of scientific research. The Chairman was E. P. Tyszkiewicz, the Vice-Chairman-M. I. Belinsky, and its members were T. Y. Narbutt, K. P. Tyszkiewicz, A. K. Kirkor, I. I. . Kraszewski and others. The Archaeological Commission acted from 1855 to 1865. For the Commission all ten years of work were very rich and productive: listening to reports on excavations, the discussion of papers on the issues of study of local lore, debates on the issues of identification, study and publication of documents.

Commission members developed a methodical instruction. They made an archaeological dictionary by joint efforts. Most of the materials of local researchers were printed in «Notes of Archaeological Commission of Vilna.»

The objectives of the museum itself were to collect old books, documents, manuscripts, coins, medals, weapons, statues and other items that belonged to the history of the Western Region of Russia, to promote the preservation of monuments of antiquity, to ensure the opportunity to use them for studying the region not only in historical, but also in commercial, industrial, agricultural and strategic relations.

In the same 1856 The Vilnius Archaeological Commission made a special appeal to all persons concerned to make donations to the Museum of Antiquities. In 1856 according to «The catalog listing of objects in the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities», there were registered 1.5 thousand donated archaeological materials, a thousand — manuscripts, autographs, engravings, maps, diplomas. The numismatic collection reached 3 thousand items; there were 750 units of items made of stone including 387 stone axes.
Art canvases, works of small plastic art and fine art could form an independent gallery.

The collection with conventional name «The objects of the mythological significance» consisted of 40 items. This included, besides the Lithuanian God of thunder Perkunas (Perun),sculptures of Mongolian, Chinese idols and other exhibits. There were also things of ancient castles, weapons of XIX century, Slutsk belts in the museum. The catalog compiled by A. Kirkor in 1858 included more than 10 thousand storage units.

At the time of the opening the exposition of the museum was as follows:

1. The collection of coins and medals.

2. The collection of engravings, maps and atlases.

3. The collection of paintings, portraits and sculptures.

4. The collection of diplomas, manuscripts, autographs of historical figures.

5. The memorial collection, which included treasures of the local gentries.

6. The archaeological collection. Its basis was the findings from the excavations conducted in the territory of Belarus and Lithuania. The exception was one hundred stone implements brought by Eustachy Tyszkiewicz from Scandinavia.

7. The library.

The day April 17, 1856, became the solemnest day for the museum and the Archaeological Commission, when the public opening of the first exhibition was held. It was attended by ordinary citizens as well as those who sent their exhibits, special guests from Vilnius and other cities of Belarus — all about 300 people. The organizer and founder of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities, its head Eustachy Tyszkiewicz appealed to all present, he noted the importance of this event for the revival of the history and culture of the region and thanked the numerous sponsors who had donated to the museum material values and money.

The first five years of the museum’s existence were characterized by an intense deepening of funds mainly through donations.
The archeological excavations, conducted by the Archaeological Commission, were an important source of replenishment of the collection of the museum.

A valuable asset for the museum was the collection of ancient weapons of Count Kosakovsky, seized by Russian authorities after the Uprising of 1831 and transferred to the museum due to the efforts of the Chairman of the Committee from St. Petersburg.

Gathering of documentary materials was organized immediately after the unveiling of the museum. Documents related to the War of 1812 became the basis of this collection. In 1858 a collection of documents was enriched by the valuable archive of the Sapieha family, which was given to the museum by the Grodno Chamber of the State Property. Already in the first year of the museum’s existence, а collection of ethnographic materials, considered as part of the historical past of the region, was undertaken.

In October 1857 the head of the Vilna educational district gave the order to pass mineralogical and zoological laboratories of the former Vilna University to the museum. The son of Constantine Tiesenhausen transferred a famous ornithological collection of his father to the museum. Up to 1861 the ethnographic collection of the naturalist S. Grosso, which had about 20 thousand units, as well as some other collections of the Belarusian flora and fauna stored at the museum.

The popularity of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities grew rapidly, as evidenced by the increased number of visitors. Thus, in the first two months of its existence, the museum received about 3.5 thousand people, and just for the year 1856 it was visited by 7150 inhabitants of Vilna and visitors from other cities. In the following years the museum was visited by about a thousand people, who were given comments and answered questions by the museum staff. In the days closed to visitors, classes conducted in the exhibition halls.

The scientific activity of the museum had a fairly wide resonance. It was heard of in Moscow, Kiev, Krakow, Odessa. The scientific community recognized the merits of Eustachy Tyszkiewicz: in 1859 he was elected an Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

Thus, 50-60th years of XIX century were a period of development of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities.

But, unfortunately, the museum existed only for 10 years. The reason for the defeat of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities was the Uprising of 1863–1864 led by Kastus Kalinouski. The government started the war with the so-called «Polish intrigue». The museum was requisitioned by the Archaeographic Commission established by the Governor-General of the Vilna district M. N. Muravyov. Exhibits were removed and transferred to N. Rumyantsev’s Museum in Moscow. About 800 valuable items were taken out of the museum, including a group «Hedwig and the Jagiello», numerous works from the Tyszkiewicz collection, 56 printed portraits of Polish kings, 160 portraits of private individuals, 93 engravings of the icons, 203 paintings on historical subjects, the guild flag of Vilna, the weapons and equipment of the period of the Patriotic war of 1812, and a lot of other things.

Some of archaeological findings K. P. Tyszkiewicz passed to the Museum of Archeology in Krakow, and a glass collection of the Roman Empire period — to the National Museum in Warsaw.

Modern Exposition in the National Museum of Lithuania

Modern Exposition in the National Museum of Lithuania

An archaeologist from Minsk G. Tatur bought some exhibits (mainly icons in rich openwork frames) in 1905 in Logoysk, and later handed over to the Lviv National Museum of Ukrainian Art. Even today they are kept there. In the same Lviv city, in the State Historical Museum, one can see the picture of the artist v. Valkevich — a portrait of Eustachy Tyszkiewicz.

Meddling of M. N. Muravyev in the activities of the museum threw its development far back. Many well-known figures of the Museum, including its founder, were left out of work. But despite all the difficulties, the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities left a significant mark in the development of archeology, ethnography, historiography and art of Belarus. But life does not stop with the defeat of the museum. And perhaps the most important of the history of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities was the fact that he became a ground for the growth of the Belarusian scientific elite. Such outstanding figures as E. R. Romanov, D. I. Rykov and others passed through the walls of the museum.

The Director of the Logoisk Local Lore and History Museum named after Konstanty and Eustachy Tyszkiewicz S. Zhigunova

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