03 February 2023
Dulwich Picture Gallery is currently holding an exhibition of the works of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the best known Lithuanian artist and composer. Over a hundred works are on loan from the M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art in Kaunas where most of the artist’s work is held. The exhibition venue itself has historical links with Poland and Lithuania. In 1790 Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, commissioned two art dealers to create a Royal Collection. By the time the task was completed, Poland had undergone three partitions and finally ceased to exist as a sovereign state. Stanisław August was forced to abdicate. As the British Museum’s trustees were considered to be “too arbitrary and aristocratic”, the collection was left to Dulwich College, on condition that it was made available to the public. What was supposed to be the Stanisław August Poniatowski’s Royal Collection became an important part of the collections of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest public gallery in England.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, 1905. Photograph by Stanisław Filibert Fleury. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was born in 1875 in the small Lithuanian town of Varėna, the eldest of nine children of a church organist. When he was three years old, the family moved to Druskininkai, a resort on the Nemunas river. Čiurlionis was a child prodigy, a pianist by the age of five and organist by the age of six. His talent came to the attention of Prince Michał Ogiński who became the boy’s patron. Čiurlionis moved to Plungė near Klaipėda where, between the ages of 13-16, he attended an orchestral school on the estate of Prince Ogiński. There he learnt to play several other instruments and also sang in the choir.
In later years Ogiński’s patronage enabled Čiurlionis to study piano and composition at the Institute of Music in Warsaw (1894-1899). Čiurlionis also studied harmony, the theory and history of music, natural sciences, astronomy, philosophy, numismatics and mineralogy. Later his studies took him to the Leipzig Conservatoire (1901-1902). He also attended lectures on aesthetics and other subjects at the University of Leipzig, until the death of his patron forced him to abandon his musical studies. Čiurlionis returned to Warsaw and devoted his life to art: he enrolled at the Warsaw School of Drawing and later the School of Fine Arts, supporting himself by giving private lessons. He never abandoned his music – he both painted and composed. During six very intense years (1903-1909) Čiurlionis created 400 musical pieces and 300 works of art. In 1911, diagnosed with severe exhaustion and struggling with his mental health, he was admitted to a sanatorium near Warsaw where he died of pneumonia at the age of 35.
M.K. Čiurlionis, The Family House in Druskininkai, 1905. Pencil on paper. Reproduced in Laima Marija Petruševičiūtė, Melancholy and Sun: Munch and Čiurlionis (Vilnius, 2010) LF.31.b.8488
Čiurlionis is a hugely important figure in Lithuanian culture and national consciousness. Not only is his work steeped in Lithuanian mythology and folklore; the artist, who declared his intention to “dedicate to Lithuania” all of his “past and future work”, was actively involved in the Lithuanian national movement and cultural life. In 1906 he returned to Vilnius and helped to organise, and participated in, the first three exhibitions of Lithuanian art. He was also a co-founder and board member of the Lithuanian Artists Union.
The influential Russian art critic Alexandre Benois called Čiurlionis “a genius cursed by fate, one of those true geniuses, mythmakers, who create works of sublime, ineffable meaning”. The artist’s originality has earned him a unique place in the history of art. Even though his direct contact with Western European art was limited, he is linked to symbolism, art nouveau, neo-Romanticism and abstract art. To the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who knew Čiurlionis , he was the first surrealist artist. Čiurlionis was also an innovative composer who used polyphony, modern chords and musical arabesques, and created a series of compositions and open musical forms. Igor Stravinsky, who owned one of Čiurlionis’ paintings, described him as “possibly the most talented member of the Russian School at the beginning of this century”.
Čiurlionis’ art, rich in symbols, has an otherworldly, poetic quality. His art is strongly influenced by Lithuanian landscapes, mythology and folklore. His works are full of natural images like birds, the sun, trees, mountains, grass snakes. In the artist’s early, symbolic works, such natural forms often appear in the form of a human or animal. Most of Čiurlionis‘ paintings are based on dichotomies: light and darkness, morning and evening, life and death, vertical and horizontal.
M.K. Čiurlionis, The Mountain, 1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, The Sun, 1907. Pastel on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Lithuanian Graveyard, 1909. Tempera on cardboard. Image from Wikimedia Commons
The dreamlike landscapes reflect Čiurlionis’ interest in Eastern philosophy and theosophy. A recurring theme is the figure of Rex – a mythical, benevolent figure of a godlike monarch, omnipotent creator and protector, reflecting the idea of the unity of the Earth and Universe and signifying protection and care.
M.K. Čiurlionis, Rex, 1909. Tempera on canvas. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Fairy Tale (Fairy Tale of the Kings), 1909. Tempera on canvas. Image from Wikimedia Commons
The artist’s deep interest in the relationship between man and the universe is seen, among others, in his cycle of 13 paintings Creation of the World (1905/1906). Čiurlionis wrote that, “This is the Creation of the World, not of our world according to the Bible, but another, fantastical world.”
M.K. Čiurlionis, Creation of the World V, 1905/1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Creation of the World IX, 1905/1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Čiurlionis is considered by some art critics as a pioneer of abstract art. According to the Estonian art critic Aleksis Rannit “Čiurlionis is the first abstract painter and yet few knew it... Kandinsky... only painted his first abstract work in 1911. But already in 1904, Čiurlionis gave the world a body of work that we must class as abstract, of semi-abstract painting”. Rannit’s statement started a discussion among art critics as well as a row with Kandinsky’s widow, who claimed that her husband had never seen Čiurlionis’ paintings and therefore could not have been inspired by them.
M.K. Čiurlionis, Sparks III, 1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Winter IV, 1907. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, My Road II, 1907. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
There is a close link between Čiurlionis’ music and his art. His synaesthesia enabled him to see sound in colours and images; he imagined “the whole world as a great symphony”. His paintings often have musical titles, like prelude, scherzo, andante, allegro, finale. Applying the principles of musical composition to painting, the artist created seven sonata cycles. Although other artists at the time also explored the idea of fusion of music and art, trying to “paint music”, Čiurlionis was more interested in the structure of the painting reflecting the structure of musical composition. He painted repetitions of motifs, his lines followed a melodic rhythm, creating harmonies with colours.
M.K. Čiurlionis, Sonata No. 6 (Sonata of the Stars), Allegro, 1908. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Sonata No. 7 (Sonata of the Pyramids), Allegro, 1909. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Angel (Angel Prelude), 1909. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
As an artist, for many years Čiurlionis did not achieve the recognition he deserved. His work was ahead of his time yet he remained on the fringes of Western art, in part because he lived away from Europe’s main artistic centres, on the fringes of what was then the Russian Empire. There were several occasions, however, when he came close to gaining an important place in the history of art. In 1908, during his stay in St Petersburg, Čiurlionis developed close links with the members of the Mir isskustva (World of Art) movement, especially Alexandre Benois, but unfortunately soon afterwards the artist’s health deteriorated. Another missed opportunity was the invitation in 1910 to take part in an exhibition held by Neue Künstlervereinigung München. The invitation came too late: Čiurlionis was already seriously ill. At the beginning of the First World War most of Čiurlionis’ works were moved to Moscow. The upheaval caused by the War and later by the Russian Revolution meant that planned critical works on Čiurlionis did not appear. In 1919 Čiurlionis’ works were returned to Lithuania. After a brief period of independence, the Second World War II and annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union followed. Čiurlionis’ works were not exhibited until the 1950s.
The 1960s saw a renewed interest in Čiurlionis in the Soviet Union but the modernist aspects of his art were often ignored. Until the restoration of Lithuanian independence, Čiurlionis’ original artwork wasn’t easily accessible to foreign art historians which excluded him from foreign art histories. His works rarely left Lithuania, partly for ideological reasons and partly because they are fragile (most of his works are tempera or pastels on paper or card as the artist could not afford oil paints or canvasses). However, there has been an increase in international interest in Čiurlionis in the last 20 or so years. His works have been exhibited in cities such as Paris, Bonn, Tokyo, Milan, and Helsinki. It was high time they came to London too.
Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections
References and further reading:
Kathleen Soriano, M.K. Čiurlionis: between worlds (London, 2022)
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: album; preface by Rasutė Andriušytė- Žukienė (Kaunas, 2007) LD.31.b.1395
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911): jo laikas ir musų laikas = His time and our time (Vilnius, 2013) EMF.2015.a.81
Laima Marija Petruševičiūtė, Melancholy and Sun: Munch and Čiurlionis (Vilnius, 2010) LF.31.b.8488
Rasa Andriušytė- Žukienė, M.K. Čiurlionis: tarp simbolizmo ir modernizmo (Vilnius, 2004) YF.2007.a.10706
Vytautas Landsbergis, Visas Čiurlionis (Vilnius, 2008) YF.2009.a.8557
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: twórczość, osobowość, środowisko (Warsaw, 2001) YF.2004.b.618
Antanas Andrijauskas, ‘Musical paintings of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis and Modernism’, Music in Art, Vol. 37, No. 1/ 2 (Spring –Fall 2012), pp. 249-264. 5990.227850
Genovaitė Kazokas, Musical paintings: life and work of M.K. Čiurlionis (1875-1911) (Vilnius, 2009) YD.2010.a.2999
12 November 2019
Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… published in Vilnius in 1589 is the oldest book in the British Library’s holdings which includes text in the Lithuanian language. It came to the Library as part of Sir Hans Sloane’s collection – one of the founding collections of the British Museum. It is not known when and how Sloane acquired it.
Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… (Vilnius, 1589) 5890.e.34
Gratulationes, written by the Vilnius academic community, is dedicated to King Sigismund III Vasa who visited Vilnius in 1589. It is an example of ceremonial greetings, a literary genre which became popular in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th-18th centuries. Ceremonial greetings were originally written in Latin but later also in other languages. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania they were used to welcome rulers and noblemen to Vilnius.
There was a set route of ceremonial processions in Vilnius: participants would gather in St Stephen’s Church, the procession would start near the Rūdninkų Gate and finish at the main entrance to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Welcoming ceremonies were very elaborate: King Sigismund was greeted in 1589 by a triumphal arch with four towers erected in Rūdninkai Street, adorned by portraits of Jagiellonian rulers and allegorical paintings. When the king was approaching the arch he was welcomed by four students from the Jesuit Academy, coming down from the towers dressed as angels. They symbolised the Republic of Lithuania, Religion, Arts and Sciences, and Vilnius. The main part of the ceremony took place in the Palace and started with six students greeting the king with short maxims about his glorious ancestors. Epigrams were written for each member of the Jagiellonian dynasty, with allusions to ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology. There were also actors personifying Religion, Virtue, Nature, Fortune, Rumour and Glory.
Portrait of King Sigismund III Vasa, artist unknown, Uffizi Gallety, Florence (Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
Several collections of ceremonial greetings are known to have been published in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo is particularly important as it is the first multilingual collection of greetings prepared by scholars from the Jesuit Academy in Vilnius (later Vilnius University): it includes texts in Latin, Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, and Polish. It also includes the earliest example of ceremonial greetings in Lithuanian, a panegyrical poem – the first Lithuanian text in hexameter, and the first original literary work in Lithuanian in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Inclusion of this text suggests that the Lithuanian language is treated here as equal to other languages, and like other languages capable of expressing complex ideas.
Gratulationes Serenissimo ac Potentissimo Principi Sigismundo III… (Vilnius, 1589) 5890.e.34
Interestingly, another collection of greetings dedicated to Sigismund III Vasa was published in the same year and included welcoming texts in Finnish and Swedish.
Part of court culture, ceremonial greetings were an excellent way for members of the academic community of the Vilnius Academy to show off their erudition, knowledge of rhetoric, mastery of Latin and ability to write in a variety of languages.
Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections
Eugenija Ulčinaitė, Kalbų varžybos : Lietuvus Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės valdovų ir didikų sveikinimai (Vilnius, 2010), YF.2011.a.17943
26 April 2019
The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 3 June 2019 in the Bronte Room of the British Library Knowledge Centre (formerly Conference Centre). The programme is:
11.00 Registration and Coffee
11.15 ALISON ADAMS (Glasgow), Claude de Seyssel’s La grand monarchie de France, Paris, Denis Janot, 1541: proof corrections
12.00 IAN MAGEDERA and ANDREW BOWHAY (Liverpool), French Books on India: Recent Developments
12.15 Lunch (Own arrangements).
1.30 LAURA CARNELOS (Reading), Choice or Mistake? Printing Defects in Italian Early Modern Books
2.15 JEREMY POTTER (Brighton), How to survive for 200 years: textbook lessons for book historians
3.30 ALEXANDRA WINGATE (London), ‘Prosigue la librería’: Analyzing the bookstore of Lorenzo Coroneu in seventeenth-century Pamplona
4.15 IAN CHRISTIE-MILLER, Lithuania, 1547, to Russia. Béarn, 1583, to Kralice with Watermarks
The Seminar will end at 5 pm.
03 April 2018
In this centenary year of the independence of each of the Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, great efforts are being made to promote the three very distinct literatures of those countries in translation. Until now, when lists of works appearing in translation were produced by the literature-promoting agencies of each country, English translations made up the shortest list among the European languages.
Since English is more widely spoken in Europe than the other languages into which translations are made, it is a matter of urgency to rectify this, and now, in this centenary year, being marked by ‘market focus’ status at the London Book Fair in 2018, there is a chance to showcase the rich diversity of Baltic literature – in translation.
The reverse side of the coin is the huge competition for the attention of English-speaking readers in the marketplace. Only a small proportion of each country’s literature is seen as worth translating into English, given the relative unpopularity of translated literature among Anglophones.
Part of the problem in the Baltic case is that there are practically no opportunities to study these literatures, either in the original or in translation, at British universities. At the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (part of University College London), from 2018 it will be possible to study an undergraduate course introducing the literatures of these three countries in English translation. The range of available texts is now at last expanding rapidly.
Each of the Baltic republics’ governments operates a state-subsidised translation programme; these have existed almost since the countries regained their independence in 1991. With the centenary celebrations and the market focus at the London Book Fair, English is being emphasised as a target language this year. Both modern works and the classical canon are being represented, and the introductory course will try to give at least a taste of as many genres and generations of writing from each Baltic country as possible.
Cover (above) and title-page (below) of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Kalevipoeg (Tartu, 1935). Ac.9076/19.
The languages are ancient, but the literary traditions are relatively young. To present the ‘folk’ literature of each nation is to be thrust into the 19th-century National Awakening which followed in the wake of Enlightenment scholars such as Herder and their influence filtered through the Baltic German nobility (at least in Livonia, the northern half of the region). In Estonia the national epic Kalevipoeg (The Son of Kalev) was largely the work of 19th-century authors Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald and Friedrich Robert Faehlmann, inspired by the more genuinely ancient folk poetry of the Kalevala in Finland.
In Latvia, too, the work of epic ancient heroism Lāčplēsis (The Bear Slayer) was the work of one 19th-century author, Andrejs Pumpurs. The germ of this creation, however, lay in much older oral verse, as gathered by Krišjānis Barons in his vast collection of dainas – short rhymed verses reflecting folk wisdom on various aspects of life, love and the annual cycle of the seasons.
The situation in Lithuania was slightly different, the result of different historical processes and the long political association with Poland. The first notable Lithuanian work available in any kind of English translation is Kristijonas Donelaitis’ 18th-century poetical cycle Metai (The Seasons) – there were earlier poets and writers, but their work is still virtually inaccessible to the English speaker.
From the 19th century onward certain trends are detectable that reflect European literary movements of the time, but the works are also specific to each country’s situation. 19th-century literature is inextricably linked to the struggle for recognition and development of the languages as literary vehicles in their own right.
Early examples of the novel genre, such as the Latvian Kaudzīte brothers’ Mērnieku laiki (The Time of the Surveyors), are not readily available in English. In fact, any literature written before the first independence period (1918-1940) is hard to come by in English translation. Breaking away from foreign cultural models was linked to the prevalence of Russian and German in education in the Baltic countries. The full flowering of the novel came with independence, with authors such as A.H.Tammsaare and Friedebert Tuglas in Estonia and Andrejs Upītis in Latvia. Among the most prolifically translated Baltic authors is Jaan Kross of Estonia.
Title-page and frontispiece of Friedebert Tuglas, Riders in the sky (Tallinn, 1986). YA.1992.b.648
Poetry in translation is mostly confined to anthologised work, but it spans both of the independence periods. Some poets have achieved international distinction, such as Tomas Venclova from Lithuania and Jaan Kaplinski from Estonia. What is more difficult to obtain in English is drama – very few plays from the Baltic republics have appeared in English, not even the works of the Latvian Rūdolfs Blaumanis, and thus the survey of literature in translation is a little lopsided as to genres.
Contemporary literature is much more widely available in translation. Writers who lived into the second independence period, or are writing now, are making their literatures known more than ever before. In Lithuania, Ričardas Gavelis and Jurgis Kunčinas; in Latvia, Pauls Bankovskis and Zigmunds Skujiņš; in Estonia, Andrus Kivirähk and Indrek Hargla have recently become available in English, to name but a few.
Baltic literature in English translation is still patchy in its coverage. Certain writers who are central to the canon in their own countries – Oskar Luts in Estonia, Jānis Rainis in Latvia and Vincas Krėvė in Lithuania, are still sorely under-represented. But this is an exciting time to become acquainted with this previously little-known corner of Europe and the literary treasures it holds.
Christopher Moseley, Teaching Fellow in Estonian, SSEES, UCL
On 9 April the British Library will be hosting ‘Being Baltic’, a discussion with three leading Baltic writers – Mihkel Mutt (Estonia), Nora Ikstena (Latvia) and Kristina Sabaliauskaitė (Lithuania) chaired by Rosie Goldsmith. You can find more details and book online here.
25 March 2018
I remember very vividly my confusion when in March 1990 I found myself on a park bench reading a thin samizdat publication, Dzien Voli (‘Freedom Day’), dedicated to the anniversary of Belarusian independence. It was delivered to Minsk from Vilnius where much Belarusian samizdat was published at that time. In the Soviet Union, we were told that Belarus and Belarusians had always been part of something else – of other countries and peoples.
From Dzien Voli I learned for the first time a story of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (also translated as Belarusian People’s Republic; BNR in its Belarusian abbreviation). It was proclaimed independent by representatives of civic and political organisations and parties in Minsk on 25 March 1918. They used a very short window of opportunity – just a few days – between the Russian Bolshevik army leaving Minsk and the advancing Germans entering the city.
Neither the occupying German authorities nor the Russian Bolshevik government fully recognised the BNR, though both had to take its existence into account. The BNR government in Minsk attempted to form its own army, school system, local authorities, trade and diplomatic missions. It was most successful in building relations with the Ukrainian Democratic Republic, which had declared its independence three months earlier and secured recognition from the occupying German authorities. The BNR’s main income came from forest wood sold to the Ukrainian government in exchange for cash and food supplies. The BNR government managed to established diplomatic missions in several other countries and took part in the Versailles Peace Conference after the First World War.
National Secretariat (the first government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic). Reproduced in Uladzimir Arloŭ, This country called Belarus: an illustrated history. (Bratislava, 2013). YD.2013.b.892
In January 1919, the BNR government left Minsk before the advancing Bolshevik army. It later operated in Vilnius, Hrodna (Grodno), Berlin and Prague. After the Second World War the Belarusian diaspora sustained its existence. Its role as a government in exile has always been symbolic, but symbols are capable of communicating memories and inspiring the strongest feelings.
Without BNR, the Bolshevik government might never have permitted the creation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which was among the founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922. Having their own state entity as part of the Soviet Union, though powerless in many respects, allowed the Belarusians to survive and develop further as a nation until full independence in 1991.
The BNR’s proclamation of independence was preceded by two other charters from the same body of civic and political representatives in February-March 1918. They confirmed the intention to build the future national state on democratic principles which can be easily found in the contemporary Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The BNR government adopted the ancient Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s coat of arms as the state emblem and the white-red-white flag as the state flag. The independent post-Soviet Republic of Belarus initially adopted the same symbols. They were replaced, however, with variations of the BSSR symbols four years later –society was not yet ready for radical changes.
Pahonia: Stamp of Belarusian Democratic Republic (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
For decades, the BNR was the subject of ideological wars and myths. The discourse started acquiring a more evidence-based form when in 1998 two monumental volumes Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (‘Archives of the Belarusian Democratic Republic’) were published. These contained about 60 percent of documents from the early years of the BNR government. These documents survived in the State Historical Archives of the Lithuanian Republic in Vilnius. Until the end of the Soviet Union, only selected and approved researchers had access to them. After Lithuania regained its independence, Siarhiej Šupa, a talented journalist and translator (among his translations into Belarusian were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984), stumbled upon them almost by chance and spent six years preparing their publication.
In Belarus, the consensus about the Belarusian Democratic Republic is still in its infancy. The topic has been politicised to an extreme degree until very recently. A new political situation, partly prompted by the events in Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas, has forced the authorities to re-examine the nation’s foundational events. The newspaper Nasha Niva recently reported that the Presidential Administration commissioned a report on the role of the BNR from the Belarusian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History. The report has not been made public, but its essence can be deduced from the book to which the Director of the Institute referred the journalist investigating the story. In the Institute’s collective work Historyia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (‘A history of Belarusian statehood from the end of 18th to the beginning of 21st centuries’) the BNR is characterised as the first attempt at a national Belarusian state.
A new generation of civic leaders, more pragmatic than those who led the political opposition in Belarus in the last twenty years, worked on getting permission from the authorities to celebrate the BNR centenary publicly. They also run a large and successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the celebrations. Among the events the authorities agreed on is a large open-air concert in Minsk and the installation of a memorial plaque on the building in which the independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic was proclaimed on 25 March 1918. It is fascinating to see how a sleepy (until very recently) country gets busy on rethinking its own past and how this past may shape the nation’s future.
Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.
D. Michaluk, ‘From the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: the Idea of Belarusian Statehood, 1915-1919’. Journal of Belarusian studies vol 7, no. 2 (2014), pp. 3-36. ZC.9.a.9127
Pers Anders Rudling, The Rise and Fall of Belarusian nationalism, 1906-1931. (Pittsburg, 2015). YC.2016.a.6887
Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus: at a crossroads in history (Boulder, 1993). YC.1995.b.7225
The proclamation of Byelorussian independence, 25th of March 1918. (London, 1968). X.709/26118.
Siarhiej Šupa talks about his research [in Belarusian]: https://www.svaboda.org/a/29048119.html
21 November 2017
George Orwell’s Animal Farm was first published on 17 August 1945 and on 28 August the Russian scholar and critic Gleb Struve wrote to Orwell to say that he found the book “delightful” and would like to translate it for the benefit of Russians, “who could read the truth about their country only when outside it”. Replying to this letter on 1 September, Orwell wondered “what the procedure is. Are books in Russian published in this country, i.e. from non-official sources?” He told Struve that, at about the same time, he had received a letter from a Pole who wanted to translate the book into Polish. Orwell’s main worry was how to pay his translators, but he said he was “anxious that the book should find its way into other languages. If translations into the Slav languages were made, I shouldn’t want any money out of them myself (The Complete Works of George Orwell (CWGO), vol. 17, pp. 274-5).
Cover of Teresa Jelenska’s Polish translation: Zwierzęcy folwark (London, 1947). 012642.pp.100.
The first translation of Animal Farm into a Slavic language – in fact, into any language! – was into Polish. It was made by Teresa Jelenska, the wife of a Polish diplomat, and published at the turn of 1946 and 1947 in London by the League of Poles Abroad.
Teresa Jelenska was also instrumental in putting her son’s friend, a young Polish-born Ukrainian Ihor Szewczenko in touch with Orwell. Szewczenko, then aged 25, wrote to Orwell in April 1946 immediately after he had read Animal Farm and saw at once, as he put it, “that a translation of the tale into Ukrainian would be of great value to my countrymen” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 72). Szewczenko (who later changed the spelling of his name to Ševčenko, the heading under which his works can be found in the British Library’s catalogue), translated Animal Farm while commuting between Munich, where he lived with his wife and mother-in-law, both Soviet-Ukrainian refugees, and Quackenbrück in the British zone of Germany, where he worked for a Polish newspaper.
A year later, when the translation was ready for publication by the Munich publisher Prometheus, Szewczenko wrote to Orwell again asking him for a preface for the book and Orwell, although he was “frightfully busy”, did indeed write the preface to the Ukrainian edition, which remains his most detailed explanation of his motives for writing the “fairy story”. He was particularly glad to find out from Szewczenko, who published his translation under the pseudonym of Ivan Cherniatynskyi, that his publishers in Munich were the Soviet Ukrainians, who defended the “acquisitions of the October revolution”, but turned against the “counter-revolutionary Bonapartism” of Stalin and the Russian nationalistic exploitation of the Ukrainian people. Orwell was “encouraged to learn that that kind of opposition exists in the USSR” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 73).
Cover of the Ukrainian translation by ‘Ivan Cherniatynskyi’, Kolhosp tvaryn: kazka, with an introduction by George Orwell. ([Munich, 1947?]) 12593.f.40.
The first Ukrainian edition was not very lucky. Orwell informed his friend, writer Arthur Koestler on 20 September 1947 (CWGO, vol. 19, pp. 206-7), that “the American authorities in Munich have seized 1500 copies of it and handed them over to the Soviet repatriation people, but it appears 2000 copies got distributed among the DPs (Displaced Persons) first”. In the same letter Orwell told Koestler that he had given Szewczenko his address and added: “I have been saying ever since 1945 that the DPs were a godsent opportunity for breaking down the wall between Russia and the West”. Shortly before that, in his review of James Burnham’s book The Struggle for the World (London, 1947; 8011.ee.32.), he expressed a similar thought even more directly: “one of the most important problems at this moment is to find a way of speaking to the Russian people over the heads of their rulers” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 105).
It was precisely the plan to send Animal Farm into the Soviet Union that made Orwell agree to fund the publication of Gleb Struve’s translation into Russian by the DP publisher Possev. Approached by Possev six months before his death, Orwell immediately supported the idea of publishing the translation in a book form (it had already been serialized in the publisher’s weekly magazine of the same name (no. 7-32, 1949) and smuggling it into the USSR, but he still wanted to know for sure who he was dealing with. “I suppose the editors of this paper are bona fide people and also not Whites?” – he asked his recent acquaintance, a German communist Ruth Fischer in a letter of 15 July 1949 (CWGO, vol. 20, p.146). The first part of his question could easily be confirmed, but it was more complicated with the second. As Orwell had feared Possev, unlike the Ukrainian publishers of Animal Farm, were indeed “Whites”. They enjoyed Orwell’s satire of the Soviet regime, but could not stomach him satirising the church and religion and the role they played in society. That is why – as it became known much later, in the 1980s – they censored Orwell and cut out from Animal Farm two paragraphs describing the role of Moses, the tame raven, who tells the animals about “Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died.”
Title-page of the Russian translation. Skotskii khutor. ([Frankfurt am Main], 1950). 12654.de.12.
This was of course only the beginning. Eventually Animal Farm was translated into at least 70 languages, including Esperanto, but it is worth stressing that the Slavic languages (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian) were among the first. The French publication appeared later than expected, only in October 1947, because, as Orwell wrote to Koestler in January 1946, “The French publisher, who had signed a contract to translate Animal Farm, has got cold feet and says it is impossible «for political reasons»” (CWGO, vol. 18. p.28) – this no doubt was the result of the 1945 elections in France, when the Communists became the largest party in the French National Assembly. But those whose countries were directly under the Communist rule continued publishing the book abroad – in 1952 Animal Farm came out in Lithuanian and in 1955 in Serbian.
Cover of the Lithuanian translation. Gyvulių ūkis. Fantastině apysaka. (London, 1952). X.950/31145
Masha Karp, editor of The Orwell Society Journal and author of a forthcoming Russian biography of George Orwell
The Complete Works of George Orwell edited by Peter Davison (London, 2000-2002). Vols. 17 (YC.2001.a.13719), 18 (YC.2001.a.16202), 19 (YC.2002.a.23095) and 20 (YC.2002.a.23177)
Masha Karp. ‘The Raven Vanishes’. The Orwell Society Journal. No. 9, December 2016, pp. 16-19
Ksenya Kiebuzinski. ‘Not Lost in Translation: Orwell’s Animal Farm Among Refugees and Beyond the Iron Curtain’, The Halcyon: Newsletter of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, no. 59, June 2017.
03 November 2016
On 21 October, to mark the approaching 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and of the start of the Protestant Reformation as well as the 350th anniversary of the death of Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, the British Library hosted a seminar on the first printing of the Bible in Lithuanian (1660), the legacy of Chylinski and links between British and Lithuanian Protestants.
Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, the son of a Calvinist preacher, was born around 1633 in Šventežeris, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Educated in the Calvinist school in Kėdainiai, in 1653 Chylinski was sent to the Franeker Academy in the Netherlands to study theology in preparation for the translation of the Bible into Lithuanian. Unable to return to the Grand Duchy because of the war, in 1657 Chylinski travelled to England where he received encouragement and financial support from his compatriot Samuel Hartlib as well as English Protestants including Henry Wilkinson, John Wallis and Robert Boyle. Boyle, a scientist and liberal thinker, was preoccupied with the idea of translating the Bible into vernacular languages, among others Irish, Welsh, Malay, Turkish and Lithuanian.
In 1659 Chylinski published an ornate pamphlet An Account of the Translation of the Bible into the Lithuanian Tongue in which he claims to have translated the whole of the Bible. An Account also includes a testimonial from Oxford professors and other prominent public figures supporting Chylinski in his endeavour. The pamphlet was meant for English patrons and was published in order to raise funds for the printing of Chylinski’s translation. The Latin version of the brochure, Ratio Institutae Translationis Bibliorum in Linguam Lithuanicam, was published in Oxford in 1660.
Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski, An Account of the Translation of the Bible into the Lithuanian Tongue (Oxford, 1659)
On July 12, 1661, Royal letters patent was issued by King Charles II, ordering a collection to be held towards the printing of the Lithuanian Bible and towards the relief for the Lithuanian Protestant churches devastated by the war. Money was to be collected in churches throughout England and Wales; door-to-door collections were also to be organised if necessary. The brief was sent to at least 40 major towns. A Privy Council memorandum, issued on the same day, stated that the brief should not serve as a precedent as the case was unique.
The printing of Chylinski’s translation started in 1660 but came to a halt in 1662 due to disagreements among Lithuanian Protestants. Chylinski’s printing expenses were misrepresented as his private debts and doubts were cast on the quality of his translation (it is important to remember that one of the persons appointed by the Vilnius Provincial Synod to check the translation was working on his own version). Chylinski lost the support of his patrons. His manuscript translation of the New Testament, in the British Library’s collections, includes many inscriptions, among others an unaddressed draft letter in which the author, destitute and desperate to return to his mother country, is asking for financial help. It is not known who the addressee was and whether the letter reached them. Chylinski died in poverty in 1666.
Manuscript of Chylinski’s translation of the New Testament, 1658. Add MS 41301
Chylinski wasn’t the first person who translated the Bible into Lithuanian. Jonas Bretkūnas translated the Bible between 1579 and 1590. His translation, never published, was based on Luther’s Bible whereas Chylinski’s one was based on the Dutch Statenbijbel.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were three known copies of Chylinski’s Bible. The so-called Berlin copy has been missing since World War II; the Vilnius copy has been lost since 1918. The only surviving fragment of Chylinski’s printed translation of the Old Testament (Genesis-Joshua), acquired by the British Museum in 1893, is in the British Library’s collections.
A page from Chylinski’s Old Testament translation, (London 1660-1662) C.51.b.13
Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator, Baltic Collections
Gina Kavaliūnaitė, Samuelio Boguslavo Chylinskio Biblija (Vilnius, 2008- ). ZF.9.b.1272
29 May 2015
Scholarship will always be indebted to George II, one of Britain’s least scholarly kings. In 1757 George boosted the reputation of the fledgling British Museum by donating some of the most precious books owned by his predecessors – 2,000 manuscripts and some 9,000 printed books. This donation, known as the Old Royal Library, has since passed to the British Library, where the manuscript portion is now known as the Royal Collection.
Among these manuscripts is an inconspicuous paper volume, written in a beautiful late 16th-century Secretary hand. It contains the (then) only known, yet unfinished copy of the elaborately titled A Relation of the State of Polonia and the Provinces United with that Crowne, Anno 1598, familiar to historians as the most detailed English account of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Because 16th-century Poland-Lithuania stretched into what is now Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, and Estonia, A Relation of the State of Polonia has become an important source for many Central and Eastern European historians. But the work also marks a milestone in the history of English travel writing: it is a highly sophisticated account of Poland-Lithuania’s politics, law, administration, culture, and diplomatic relations, together with risk assessment – not unlike the country profiles contained in the CIA’s World Factbook.
Poland-Lithuania in the late 16th century, from Giovanni Botero, Eynkommen, Reichthumb, vnd Schätz aller Keyser, Könige, vnd vornembster Fürsten der gantzer weiten Welt ... (Cologne, 1599) 10660.i.6.(2.)
Such a wealth of knowledge called for a well-connected author, and scholars were quick to suggest George Carew, a career diplomat who was sent in 1598 to negotiate with Poland’s Sigismund III Vasa. Others put forward the Scot William Bruce (c.1560–after 1613), a professor of the civil law at the Zamojski Academy. Whereas Bruce’s authorship can be firmly excluded on the grounds of language and religion, Carew’s involvement is largely speculative.
In 2013 I decided to re-examine the British Library manuscript, in the hope of finding evidence – any evidence – that would point towards the work’s author. It turned out that the text and the notes in the margin were written at different times: the events mentioned took place in 1598, but the marginal notes were added between 1602 and 1603. I also discovered that the paper came from Poland: I traced the watermark to the Olkusz paper-mill near Cracow, and it appears in two books printed in 1596 and 1597 by the court printer Jan Januszowski. With these new clues, I started to look for an Englishman who was in Poland between spring and autumn 1598, passed through Cracow, and had reason to update the text between 1602 and 1603.
That’s when I found John Peyton (1579–1635), son of Sir John Peyton (1544–1630), Lieutenant of the Tower. Peyton was in Cracow in the spring of 1598, and wrote a letter to his father detailing troop movements (I have since been able to prove that the younger Peyton was a spy in the employ of Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Robert Cecil). Peyton’s trail led to a manuscript (Kk v. 2) in Cambridge University Library. This gathers Peyton’s travel accounts, including one on Bohemia with an eerily familiar title: A Relation of Bohemia and the United Provinces of That Crowne. Anno 1598. What’s more, the collection contains the copy of a letter, sent to King James’s secretary, in which Peyton explains that his ‘discourse of Polonia’ is missing because he had ‘presented [it] to the king at his Majestyes first comming to London’ (fol. 6r.). I realised that the British Library manuscript must have been presented to James I during his coronation in the summer of 1603.
The discovery of Peyton’s authorship of this important text meant that the existing entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography needed radical expanding: at this time, John Peyton only figured as a paragraph in the entry for his more prominent father. The Dictionary’s editors responded enthusiastically to this find, and invited me to prepare a new, standalone entry for the younger John Peyton, for publication in one of the ODNB’s regular online updates.
I started looking for other copies of the text, trawling through countless 18th- and 19th-century auction catalogues. The quest proved rewarding: a copy entitled A Relation of the Kingdom of Polonia, and the United Provinces of the Crowne, by Sir John Peyton changed hands at least five times between 1751 and 1898, when the trail went cold after a Sotheby’s action. Anthony Payne, a former Director of Bernard Quaritch booksellers, located an annotated copy of the 1898 catalogue, which revealed that the book had been acquired by one of the Munich-based Rosenthal brothers – I later discovered that the buyer was Jacques Rosenthal. The ‘lost’ manuscript has since been acquired from an anonymous seller from Prague by St Andrews University Library (I discuss this new manuscript, ms 38902, in the journal The Library).
But why would Peyton go through the expense of producing a lavishly written and gilded copy, which is then left unfinished? I found out that Peyton was among those waiting at Elizabeth’s deathbed in March 1603, on his father’s orders. When the queen died, Peyton raced to Edinburgh to break the news to James VI. He arrived second, but the king bestowed estates on Peyton and knighted him, publicly referring to Peyton as his ‘first knight’. The British Library copy was a well-timed coronation gift for James, its completion was interrupted by Elizabeth’s death. But the marginal notes and the change in the title from ‘Kingdom’ to ‘State’ (as an afterthought as is visible in the image), reveal that Peyton’s marginal notes furnished James with details about the then 200-year-old union of Poland and Lithuania – the only existing parliamentary union at the time. Unsurprisingly, James kept bringing up this type of union between England and Scotland over the next few years, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was frequently discussed in British constitutional debates.
Sebastian Sobecki, Professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture, University of Groningen
This post is based on the author’s research on medieval and early modern travel writing and on his identification of John Peyton’s authorship, first published as ‘John Peyton’s A Relation of the State of Polonia and the Accession of King James I, 1598–1603’ in the English Historical Review.
19 February 2014
In the British Library's Lithuanian collections, probably the most important item is the only surviving fragment of the first printed Lithuanian Bible (C.51.b.13), translated into Lithuanian by Samuel Bogusław Chyliński. The printing started in London in 1660. Although the whole Bible was translated, due to various disagreements only a part of it was printed (Genesis-Joshua). At the beginning of the 20th century only three copies of the printed part were known. The second one, known as the Vilnius copy, kept in St. Petersburg, has been lost since World War I. The third one, known as the Berlin copy, has been missing since World War II. Apart from the printed fragment of the Old Testament the library has also Chyliński's manuscript of his translation of the New Testament. It contains his private notes on the first and last leaves [Add.41310].
Watermark research on the first book ever printed in Lithuanian, the Catechismvsa Prasty Szadei, by Martynas Mažvydas (Königsberg, 1547) of which there are only two known copies in the world (one in the Library of Vilnius University, the other in the Library of Torun University, Poland) and of a rare Cyrillic book Наука о седми сакраментах албо тайнах (Treatise on the Sacraments, Kyiv, 1657) by Sylvestr Kosiv (two copies in Marsh's Library in Dublin), has revealed watermarks where it was thought there were none and has shown surprising links with Western Europe.
The author, thanks to support from the Bibliographical Society, has been able to image every page of the 1547 Lithuanian Catechism. This has revealed the crown watermark which has also been found in a 1548 book in the British Library.
The use of digital image processing has also allowed every gathering of this octavo to be re-assembled. The resultant Photoshop files have 19 layers. Eight are of the front-lit pages. Eight are of the back-lit pages. By selecting the appropriate layers one can therefore choose to view the re-assembled sheet either by conventional reflected light or by light passing through the sheet. Two other layers contain the page numbers. The top layer of the 19 is a rule which can be moved over the images and so rotated as to allow measurements. This facility was used to confirm that the chain line separation in both the books is 25 mm. Here are thumbnail images of the reassembled sheets:-
The watermark in the paper used throughout both copies of the Kyiv printed Treatise is a fool’s cap. The fool’s cap was widely used. Use of the on-line Bernstein watermark facility shows that the fool’s cap watermark in the Treatise is remarkably similar to one found in a Rembrandt etching.
This was recently reported in an article in the journal Solanus. Here are images for comparison:
The image on the right shows the watermark NL-RHA-84 found in paper used by Rembrandt for a drypoint etching created in Amsterdam. The etching is of Saint Jerome beside a pollard willow and is currently held in the Rembrandthuis. It is signed and dated.
The full potential of the imaging techniques as described above is being realised across the globe. The author is eager to contribute to that process and would welcome comments at: [email protected]
Ian Christie-Miller, http://www.earlybook.info
Information on the British Library’s Lithuanian Collections from Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator and Cataloguer, Polish-Baltic Collections.
‘Treatise on the Sacraments, 1657 - Two Copies Compared: The Paper and a Rembrandt’, Solanus: International Journal for Study of the Printed and Written Word in Russia and East-Central Europe. New Series,Vol. 23 (2013) 2716.a.2.
23 December 2013
“And the winners are: Yaroslav Melnyk and Maryana and Taras Prokhasko!” On Friday 13 December BBC Ukrainian announced the winners of its Book of the Year 2013 awards at the Conference Hall of Hotel Vozdvyzhensky in Kyiv.
The BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year award was established in 2005. Many prominent Ukrainian writers have been winners: Jury Vynnychuk in 2012 for his Tango smerti (‘Tango of Death’ ) , Volodymyr Rutkivsky in 2011 for his historical novel Syni vody (‘Blue Waters’), Serhiy Zhadan in 2010 for Voroshylovgrad – to name just a few. All these books are available for our readers in the original in our Ukrainian collections. Hopefully English translations will follow, thanks to the publishing house Glagoslav and other publishers offering translations of literature from Central-Eastern Europe.
In 2012 the nomination “Children’s Book of the Year” was added. Both awards are now presented in the partnership with the EBRD Cultural Programme. The lovely illustrated Khto zrobyt’ snih (‘Who will make the Snow’) by Maryana and Taras Prokhasko won this year’s Children’s Book award.
Yaroslav Melnyk’s novel Dalekyi prostir (‘The Remote Space’ or in another translation ‘The Distant Space’ - cover of the book on the left, reproduced by kind permission of the author) was named the BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year 2013. First it was in the Long list of 20 publications, then in the Short list of alongside Za chvert' desiata (‘Quarter to Ten’) by Yuriy Makarov and Frau Miuller ne nalashtovana platyty bil'she (‘Frau Muller Isn’t Disposed to Pay More’) by Natalka Sniadanko.
Artyom Liss, the Editor of BBC World Service Europe Hub, writes about the novel: "The winning novel by Yaroslav Melnyk is a dystopia which explores the issue of freedom. The novelist writes about the freedom to see - to escape the world of the blind - but also to escape the world of those who can see, and who rule the blind. These are themes found in literature around the world, and through its protagonist’s journey, this novel very effectively explores what freedom means and what is its price."
Yaroslav Melnyk is the most cosmopolitan Ukrainian writer of the 21st century. Born in Ukraine in 1959 he graduated from the Lviv University and started his literary career as critic. He soon established himself as one of the best literary critics in Ukraine. The British Library holds his first book of literary portraits Syla vohniu i slova (‘The force of fire and word’ - Kyiv, 1991; shelfmark YA.1996.a.7452) as well as small book of deeply lyrical poetry Ridna (‘Kindred spirit’; Dubno, 1992 shelf mark YF.2013.a.6021) donated to the library during his visit to London at the invitation of the London Ukrainian Literary Club.
After studying in Moscow at the Maksim Gorki Institute of Literature Melnyk settled in Lithuania where he soon became a well-known writer and a member of the The Lithuanian Association for Writers. His works have been translated into French from Lithuanian (Les parias d'Éden in French translation was published in Paris in 1997 by Robert Laffont Publishers). The British Library holds a book of short stories in Lithuanian Labai keistas namas (‘Very Strange House’) published under the Lithuanian form of his name Jaroslavas Melnikas (Vilnius, 2008;YF.2009.a.7219). In 2012 Melnyk returned to writing in Ukrainian with his book of philosophical stories Telefonui meni, hovory zi mnoiu (‘Call me, talk to me’; Kharkiv, 2012; YF.2012.a.25352).
You can find the fragments of an English translation of the Lithuanian version of The Distant Space by Diana Bartkute Barnard and a synopsis of the novel in the issue 34 of the bi-monthly review of books and writing from around Europe Transcript, published by Literature Across Frontiers.
Congratulations to the winners!
Olga Kerziouk, Curator of Ukrainian Studies
European studies blog recent posts
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- The Centenary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic
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- Samuel Boguslaus Chylinski’s Lithuanian Bible
- How the spy John Peyton put Poland on the map (to keep King James on the throne)
- Light links : Lithuania to Königsberg & Kyiv to Rembrandt
- BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year 2013