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Making a Great Ruler
Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania

Giedre Mickunaite is Associate Professor at the Department of Art History and Theory of the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts in Lithuania.

How does a ruler become "the Great"? Is greatness a part of authority exercised or a part of an image created? These and other questions are addressed in this volume on the life and memory of Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania (r.1392-1430). The study raises a hypothesis that Vytautas was the main engineer of his image as the great ruler while his contemporaries and later generations developed this image and adapted it to their needs and understandings.

Investigating the propaganda surrounding the grand duke, this study reveals that, in fact, there were two opposite images: that of a good ruler and that of a tyrant. The paradox is that frequently these opposites were based on the same features of the grand duke's character or episodes from his biography. The research is based on a wide array of written and visual sources as well as on records of oral tradition. Rich and diverse primary materials are analysed from the perspectives of political and social history, memorial culture, as well as iconography and rhetoric.


Acknowledgements; List of illustrations; List of abbreviations; A note on personal and geographic names; Introduction; Chapter I Vytautas creating his own image; The early years; Right of blood; On the grand ducal seat; On the field;Within the system of Christian values: from Saracen to a new Messiah; The visual expression of lordship; The cherised and troubled crown; The final word of praise; Chapter II The fifteenth century: Shaping of the image; Memory and memorial; The good old times of Vytautas in law and anecdote; Jan Dlugosz on Vytautas; Chapter III The early-medern image of Vytautas; In Lithuania and in Poland; Folklore tradition; In other countries; Chapter IV Image and image;
Memory and oblivion: Medieval and early modern images compared; Following the patterns of kingship; The sense of Byzantium; The making of national hero; Paths not pursued; Conclusions; Selected bibliography; Primary sources; Secondary literature; Illustrations

"This handsome volume brings to the attention of Anglophone readers a major player in early fifteenth-century European affairs, a ruler wooed from Byzantium in the east to Spain in the west. A Holy Roman emperor and a pope offered him crowns. His image dominated Lithuanian and Polish militant nationalist historiography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and remains potent today." - Slavic Review

"Mickunaite shows how Vytautas's image took various forms in the early modern era: in the fifteenth century as a legislator (rather a stretch, considering that legal tradition was an embryo during his reign); in the sixteenth century as a warrior and Christianizer of his land; in Western Europe as a bloodthirsty semipagan tyrant; in Russia as a warrior king. Particularly interesting, and deserving of further study by folklorists, are the popular legends of Vytatutas, such as the founding of the village Sorok Tatary near Vilnius."- Russian Review

"The English of the text is sound, the bibliography is excellent and the conclusions well-argued. An important figure in the history of this region has here received a reliable study of how his image was formed, how it was subsequently shaped, and, more briefly, what role it has played in the forging of modern Lithuanian national identity." - Renaissance Quarterly

358 pages, 80 illustrations (7 in color)
ISBN 978-963-7326-58-5 cloth $50.00 / €42.95 / £37.00