A California attorney, Donatas Januta, beat out competitors in New York’s high-end auction house, Sotheby’s, by successfully acquiring a unique piece of Lithuanian history. The item in question is an original portrait of Jonas Kazimieras Vaza, the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania (1609-1672). It is authored by the classic Dutch Baroque painter, Pieter Danckerts. The 17th-century piece, which went on the auction block from a private German collection, will complement the collection of art already gracing the Palace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in Vilnius which is located proximate to the Vilnius Cathedral.
Donatas Januta told Draugas that he received an authorization from the Palace’s representatives to proceed in acquiring this historic treasure only a few days before the bidding began. “I do not claim to be an authority in the valuation of art, I wasn’t sure what to bid for this picture. We were in competition with the Poles; we did not know how much they were willing to bid. A Lithuanian journalist Vilius Kavaliauskas, author of several historical books, placed the bids by phone from Lithuania. In the end, we prevailed,” said Januta. The price? After taxes, it amounted to about $17,000.
Why did the administration of the Palace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania turn to Donatas Januta to finance the purchase of the portrait of Jonas Kazimieras Vaza? “When I was in Lithuania I visited a number museums and consulted with their staffs. I told them that if they ever need financial support, they can look to me. At least once a year I provide some assistance for the Lithuanian cause,” he confided.
He related the story, or perhaps only a legend, associated with the author of the portrait. Pieter Danckerts (1605-1661), one of the so-called Dutch Golden Age painters actually lived and worked in Vilnius. Reportedly he was attacked and killed by some brigands in the Rūdininkai Forest situated in Vilnius vicinity.
It is said that before he died, he was able to draw reasonably accurate representations of the malefactors. Based on his renditions, the criminals were apprehended, sentenced and executed. This legend has survived over the centuries and its veracity may never be fully confirmed or denied.
Mr. Januta himself is an avid student of Lithuanian history. He has authored a series of articles published in various publications in Lithuania and abroad including Draugas. He has also authored a book, Lietuviški takai (Lithuanian Pathways).
Mr. Januta visited Lithuania this summer and was able to finally set his eyes on Pieter Danckerts’s masterpiece, the portrait of the King of Poland and Grand Duke, Jonas Kazimieras Vaza, honorably enshrined in the Palace of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.