History of the Museum


On November 12, 2009, the Vilnius University Senate Commission approved the conceptual plan for a university museum, and on February 23, 2010 the full Senate voted to establish a core, non-academic branch of the university, called the Vilnius University Museum.  The new museum officially began its activities on April 1, 2010 – the 431st anniversary of Vilnius University.Museum goals:
-    To collect, preserve, and research the academic, cultural, and scientific heritage of the University;
-    Through various modes of outreach, to present the rich and honourable history of the University, its cultural and scientific heritage, to varied publics – the University community, the Lithuanian people, and foreign visitors;
-    To provide aid and advice to other core branches of the University in caring for their collections, and help them research them;
-    To collaborate with, and foster collaboration among the various University faculty museums and collections, and with other museums and cultural institutions in Lithuania and abroad – by loaning objects, organizing exhibitions and educational programmes, seeking partners for larger projects, and forming collaborative networks;
-    To foster the use of new information and communication technologies in exhibitions, in cataloguing and digitising the collections, and in providing educational outreach about the history of the University and its cultural heritage;
-    To foster and instill new museum administrative and organizational methods and to raise the qualifications of museum workers.
In order to achieve these goals, the Museum carries out these functions:
-    Collects important cultural, artistic, historical, and scientific artifacts related to the history and development of the University and reflecting its activities and everyday life; shapes those collections;
-    Helps to formulate policies and procedures related to collecting and care of collections;
-    Ensures that the objects in the collections are properly registered, secured, conserved, and preserved;
-    Researches and systematizes the collections, digitises them, and enters collections data into established museum databases (e.g. LIMIS); helps administer those databases;
-    Prepares permanent, temporary, traveling, and virtual exhibitions as well as public programmes related to the social, scientific, intellectual, and cultural life of Lithuania and the University;
-    Gathers information about the University’s material cultural heritage in other museums or institutions in Lithuania and abroad, as well as in private collections;
-    Coordinates and provides methodological advice concerning care of collections, museum standards and ethics, and best museum practices to the other faculty museums and collections;
-    Coordinates and fosters the use of new digital technologies in all aspects of museum work;
-    Organises museum education programs for students and schoolchildren;
-    Organises or helps implement national and international museum projects as well as general University projects;
-    Participates, together with members of the university’s central administration, in the control and administration of the museum activities (such as collection registration and security) of the other University museums and collections;
-    Helps raise the qualifications of museum workers in the field of museology and in their specific areas of expertise or specialization;
-    Works collaboratively with the Faculty of Communication in providing and supervising internships for museum studies students;
-    Prepares, publishes, and disseminates in print and electronic media museum-related publications: brochures, flyers, pamphlets, posters, monographs, and catalogues;
-    Provides information about museum activities to other museum and educational websites;
-    Collaborates and maintains ties with Lithuanian and foreign museums; participates in international museum projects and programmes;
-    Joins and participates in the work of Lithuanian, European, and other international university and museum organizations;
-    Provides expert advice to the University on museum matters;
-    Provides services to institutions and individuals according to prices established by the Senate;
-    On behalf of the University, accepts gifts from individuals or institutions of important objects or collections documenting the history of the University.The Museum is a member of the Lithuanian Museum Association (LMA), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Committee for University Museums and Collections (UMAC) and the Universeum – European Academic Heritage Network.


The basis for the new university museum is the old “Vilniaus universiteto pažangiosios mokslo minties muziejus” [Vilnius University Museum of Progressive Scientific Thought], which was established in the Church of the St Johns on September 16, 1979.  The idea for such a museum came from the university rector Prof. Jonas Kubilius (1921-2011) in the early 1970s.  The University was preparing to celebrate its 400th anniversary in 1979 and the Church of the St Johns was being renovated for that occasion.  The Church would become the major venue for exhibitions celebrating the 400-hundred-year history of the university.
The first director of the museum was a senior museum person, historian, journalist, and editor Vincas Žilėnas (1907-1982).  He was able to assume the position of director of the university museum after being “forced” to retire from his long-term directorship of the Lithuanian History and Ethnography Museum in 1973.
The 400th- anniversary exhibitions were to consist of three parts: a traveling exhibition which was to tour Lithuania’s cities and towns, separate faculty exhibitions in their own buildings, and the main university exhibition in the Church of the St Johns.  The latter was to have two chronological sections: the history and development of the university from 1579-1940 [actually starting in the 15th century] and from 1940-1979.  Žilėnas was responsible for the main exhibition in the church. The older section (1579-1940) was to be displayed in the church sacristy and side chapels, and was meant to be permanent. The newer section, representing the Soviet period, was displayed more prominently in the center of the church, but was to be temporary – only until the end of the anniversary year.
 The planned historical exhibition was to be quite impressive – consisting of 60 portraits, 80 books, manuscripts, and original founding university charters borrowed from the Central History Archive. Most of the original materials, especially portraits, were going to be borrowed from other museums, while others were to be created on order by well known portrait artists of the period. Unfortunately, the exhibition as planned was not to be. Photocopies rather than original portraits were displayed, so that they would not contrast too much with the black and white photographs of the Soviet scientists and scholars on display in the main, Soviet-period exhibition. Remnants of the old historical exhibition are still on display in the sacristy and side chapels of the church. Portraits especially painted for this exhibition, such as those by the painter Vytautas Ciplijauskas, and bas-relief sculptures created by Gediminas Jokūbonis and Juozas Kėdainis, are also still on display on the church walls and pillars.
The museum’s first director Žilėnas was also responsible for acquiring the first significant collections/acquisitions for the museum. One of the most valuable ones was the numismatics collection of Povilas Karazijas, which also included valuable works of graphic art, rare books, especially the first editions of the Third Lithuanian Statute, and rare ritual objects belonging to a Vilnius University Masonic lodge. Scope of collecting was not limited to artifacts associated with the history of the university but broadened to include Lithuanian history in general. One of the outstanding acquisitions of the period was the Vilnius (Ribiškis) silver bar treasure: Lithuanian silver bars, Kievan grivinas, and Great Novgorod rubles from the 12th – 15th centuries. Over 350 19th-century lithographs from the Album de Wilna [Vilnius album] by Jonas K. Vilčinskas were added to the collections as well as manuscript books from the 16th-18th centuries. The museum also has a valuable collection of university diplomas, seals, medals, and iconography.
After the death of director Žilėnas in 1982, the museum had four other directors until it became part of the university library in 2006. With the establishment of the University Museum in 2010, the museum once again became a separate, non-academic branch of the university, with a more focused mission and more limited scope of collecting, namely the history of Vilnius University.

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