Sigismund Augustus’ Tapestries at the Residence of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland in the Lower Castle Palace in Vilnius

  • Ieva Kuizinienė
Keywords: tapestries, Jagiellons, Sigismund Augustus, Vilnius Lower Castle palace, artistic textile


This article presents an analysis of the stages and specifics encountered during scholarly research on the chosen theme, stating that separate stages in the research were determined according to different aims, research methods, and approaches. The research was conducted under circumstances characterised by a lack of sources and the fragmented nature of the information, which meant that as the research went on for 150 years, scholars generally relied on a solitary known source: the panegyric by Stanisław Orzechowski written on the occasion of the wedding of Sigismund Augustus, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, and Catherine Habsburg at Wawel Royal Castle in 1553, in which he described the tapestries used to decorate the palace for the event. As a subsequence of this, for the rest of the mentioned period, no reference was made in scientific publications to the connection between Sigismund Augustus’ tapestries and Vilnius or to the Vilnius Lower Castle, which had been the ruler’s most important residence for a long time. In this article, based on sources and the most recently discovered artefacts, evidence is provided that Sigismund Augustus began collecting tapestries whilst he was still only the grand duke of Lithuania and that his earliest commissions were made in Vilnius. This is irrefutably evident from a document dated 14 January 1547 in Sigismund Augustus’ accounts for the period of 1546–1548, recorded by the young ruler’s treasurer Jan Lutomirski at the Vilnius palace. There is no doubt that the ‘pictures’ – Creation of the World and The Story of Noah – mentioned among the expenses were the first sketches for the upcoming series of biblical textiles created by Michiel Coxcie. Nonetheless, the most important evidence is the heraldic tapestry acquired by the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in 2009. Woven before 1548, it features the combined coat of arms of Sigismund Augustus, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, with the great crown of the Lithuanian grand duke above it. The same combined coat of arms of Sigismund Augustus was minted on Lithuanian coins during his reign and was also used on the great seal of the state of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

In summary, it can be stated that Sigismund Augustus owned tapestry series in Vilnius from as early as 1543. This was where the famous series The Story of the First Fathers and The Story of Noah were commissioned. The Lithuanian court treasury accounts attest that between 1545 and 1561, tapestries were often displayed at the Vilnius palace, the main residence in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and were taken with the ruler when he travelled to his other residences in Trakai, Rūdninkai, Skierniewice, or Rawa.