The Chodkevičiai Palace complex is located in the very centre of Vilnius Old Town, near Town Hall Square. The representative façade of the western building is one of the most striking parts of Didžioji Street. Its architecture is eye-catching – a building of late Classicism forms and volumes developed during the Gothic and Renaissance periods, with valuable fragments of Empire interior design.
Didžioji Street is one of the oldest and most significant streets in Vilnius. The Road of the Rulers intersected it, the Town Hall was built on it and so were the Church of St. Casimir, the Orthodox Church and palaces belonging to the nobility. It was a street where important infrastructure was developed. The beginning of the street is framed by the Chodkevičiai Palace.
The Chodkevičiai is one of the most famous, richest and most influential families of Lithuanian nobles of Gudian origin, whose descendants are still alive. From the 14th to the 15th century the Chodkevičiai were famous as clever and brave soldiers and diplomats, loyal defenders of the interests of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and even blood related to the ruling Gediminaičiai/Jogailaičiai dynasty by marriage. Historical sources only mention the Chodkevičiai at the beginning of the 15th century, when their ancestor Chodka Jurjevičius testified in the Melno Treaty with the German Order as the elder of Polotsk in 1422. This was a great achievement for an Orthodox Christians, since according to proclamations in 1387 and 1413, the rights of the nobility were recognised and public office could only be held by persons of the Catholic faith.
The Chodkevičiai, who were initially Orthodox and later sympathetic to Calvinism, eventually became active Catholics. They actively supported the Catholic Church in Livonia, generously funded Catholic churches and monasteries throughout the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and were patrons of the Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic faiths. The Chodkevičiai family accumulated collections of valuable works of art in their residences, hand ad rich libraries and archives significant to the history of the entire state.
The Chodkevičiai Palace is a building of late Classicism forms and volumes, built during Gothic and Renaissance periods, with valuable fragments of Empire interior design.
Looking from above, you can see that the roofs of the palace are covered with tiles, and the buildings are located over the block between Bokšto and Didžioji streets, and close the perspective of the latter seen from the Cathedral Square. To the north of the palace is a triangular square loved by contemporary artists that leans against the Orthodox Church of Paraskeva Piatnica. The main west façade is slightly curved and exits onto Didžioji Street. There is a rectangular officina and a northeastern building next to Bokšto Street. Their main façades are in a continuous row of Bokšto Street facades. The officina, together with the other buildings, surround the spacious enclosed courtyard of the irregularly designed palace, which has two entrances connecting it to both streets. The palace is three-stories and only the officina is two-stories. The officina premises are arranged in two rows; the others in various ways – some rooms are transitional. On the Didžioji Street side, the cellars are Gothic and the building’s northwestern wall is also Gothic. The foundations are made of stone and the walls are made of brick masonry and plaster. The basement vaults are cylindrical and cross-styled.
The prevailing horizontal lines on the palace façade suggest that it is a late form of Classicism. The middle part of the main façade protrudes slightly: it is accentuated by the pediment and the second floor.
There is an entrance under the balcony. Semi-circular arched niches with rectangular windows divide the first floor. The high windows on the second floor are surrounded by edges with straight joints and a middle part with triangular joints. The windows on the third floor are also edged, based on rectangular niches. A cornice based on an S-shaped bracket surrounds the shelter and inter-floor bands separate each level. All the façades of the western building have a low pediment with an elliptical or semi-circular window recess. The façades of the western building and the winged courtyard mirror the decorative elements of the main façade: semi-circular arched niches with rectangular windows dominate the first floor and the second floor features windows with linear protrusions above them. Moreover, the roof cornices are recessed. The balcony railing on the centre of the main façade is decorated with Empire-like wreaths and crossed arrows. The ends of the brackets holding the metal balconies end with sculptural heads of a man and woman. The interior of the second floor is decorated with Empire-style polychrome paintings featuring plants and others motifs.
The Officina’s courtyard façade is also symmetrical and in the style of late Classicism. The middle part has a portico of four Doric columns. The first floor of the façade of the Officina from Bokšto Street has patterned rectangular windows arranged in niches with segmental arches. The entire shelter is surrounded by a wide cornice.
Brick buildings already existed in the palace’s place in the 16th century. In 16th and 17th centuries, the Chodkevičiai family replaced those with a fortified city residence with a courtyard and towers. At least eight generations of the Chodkevičiai family, a branch of Supraslis, lived in the palace over three centuries. In 1600, the palace became famous for its armed clash with the Radvilos family over the dowry of the last Duchess of Sluckas, Sofia Olelkaitė. Then Samogitian elder Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius established himself in the palace and gathered his army of supporters. It is said that during the conflict, even artillery cannons were fired from the Chodkevičiai and Radvilos palaces. In 1611, Vilnius Castellan Jeronimas Chodkevičius bought a house next to the Paraskeva Piatnica Orthodox church. His son, Marshal of the Supreme Tribunal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kristupas, the Voivode of Vilnius, bought adjacent concessions, and the palace was expanded and consolidated.
The palace was expanded in the 17th and 18th centuries and rebuilt several times after fires and wars. In 1754–1762, architect A. Vireneris led a reconstruction project at the palace. The palace was refurbished again around 1825–1834, probably by architect Tomas Tišeckis. At that time, the palace had 33 halls and rooms in which the guests stayed; they were later rented after the remodelling project.
In 1812, Napoleon’s retreating army was stationed there. Later, the palace was handed over to Vilnius University. In 1834, the Academy of Medicine and Surgery was established there, and in 1841, the Vilnius Education District Chancellery. Part of the palace was rebuilt, spacious halls were partitioned, and apartments were furnished.
University professors also lived in the Chodkevičiai Palace during the war and post-war years. These were the apartments of economist Vladas Jurgutis (also known as the father of the Lithuanian Litas), philosopher Vosylius Sezemanas, poet Kazys Binkis, writer Kazys Boruta, theatrologist Irena Veisaitė and other prominent people of science, art and culture. The biggest surprise is Levas Karsavinas’ hideout, which was built in 1944 by the philosopher’s family in the palace basements. Levas Karsavinas (1882–1952) was a world-class media historian, cultural historian, and rector of St. Petersburg University who was expelled from Russia by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. He worked at Vytautas Didysis University for many years but was exiled in 1950 during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. In exile, he wrote about 20 works of philosophy, including poems entitled Wreath of Sonnets and Tercinos. He died in exile. He argued that culture and its history are an expression of spirituality, inseparable from religion in human activities. He also believed that a sense of wonder originates in an individual’s cognition.
The Vilnius Picture Gallery has operated in the western building of the Chodkevičiai Palace since 1994. The administrative branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum, the library, the archive, and the repositories of works of art are located in other buildings.