Visuality in funeral solemnities of the Radvila (Radziwiłł) family in the 18th century

  • Aistė Paliušytė
Keywords: Radvila (Radziwiłł) family, funeral ritual, visual culture, 18th century, Grand Duchy of Lithuania


The research is focused on the funeral solemnities of the Radvila (Radziwiłł) family, including those to which no proper attention has been paid so far in historiography. Attempts are made to reconstruct and evaluate the visuality of the Radvila’s funeral and compare it to the tradition of other nobility solemnities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The scenery of the Radvila solemnities changed according to the course and spatial context of the rituals. The most of attention was paid to arrangement of a solemn view in Nesvizh and its approaches. Emblems and other images were applied mostly in church interiors and catafalques. Heraldic motives, insignia were extensively applied, metaphoric and metonymic motives were integrated. Catafalque compositions resounded the virtues of the deceased, expressed their eminent background and status. After studying the cases of funeral solemnities of the Radvila family, it can be stated that elements of military visualization were more important than it had been witnessed by earlier research. Such often applied military requisites expressed a connection to the nobility ethos of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a cultural image of a nobleman-warrior. The importance of the family memory motives in the funeral décor was also noticed. Although images related to a deceased person were used in the décor of solemnity, the general scope of the motives and their application principles reiterated and were in line with the visual rhetoric tradition of funerals in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Although a lot of attention was paid to listing of the décor motives in funeral descriptions, not only their recognisability was considered important. The funeral rhetoric foresaw some visual experience for the viewer, which changed continuously while conducting funeral rituals. The authors of solemnity descriptions noticed and sometimes commented on effects of illumination, shapes and their spatial relations. Dynamic observation, change of a viewer’s position, focused viewing of separate details and the so-called saccadic viewing were foreseen for solemn events. In summary, it can be stated that the research of the Radvila family solemnities revealed the suggestibility of the Baroque culture that was based on a viewer’s visual experience.
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