Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł and the "Arbor Humanae Vitae": Reflections on Human Life


  • Jolita Liškevičienė Vilnius Academy of Arts, Vilnius, Lithuania




iconography, theatre of human life, graphic art of the first half of the 17th century, Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł, Theodoor Galle, Tomasz Makowski


The print The Tree of Human Life (Arbor Humanae Vitae) is distinguished by its size and rich textual and iconographic material. It combines several iconographic themes – the tree of life, a comparison of a rich man’s and a poor man’s life based on the text of the New Testament (Lk 16, 19-31), and the themes of death and eternal life. These themes are intertwined and related to separate periods of human life (birth, life, death and eternal life), and the engraving itself is embellished with numerous quotes from the Holy Scripture. In total, the copper engraving has a hundred (100) inscriptions-quotes, which expand its visual part and are grouped semantically, while the right and the left sides of the engraving are connected according to the principle of opposites. Though the number of quotes is incredibly large, the artist successfully “dealt” with this task, creating a relatively harmonious composition, even though in some places the inscriptions infringe on the visual part of the illustration or overshadow it. On the other hand, the amount of the inscriptions shows that the author of the engraving, Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł, was well versed in the Holy Scripture and arranged them consistently, bringing out the theme of earthly life relevant for that time, and introducing a vision of eternal life. The iconographic analysis of the artwork that has barely caught the attention of Lithuanian art researchers shows its relation to the poetic work The Rise of the Radziwiłłs (Aulaeum Radzivilaeum,1604) by Mathias Nevius.

It is one of the very few examples in the history of Lithuanian art when the main idea of the artwork and the name of the author of its drawing/engraving? (Tomasz Makowski (1575–1630)) is conveyed through the poetic word. This engraving created in Antwerp illustrates the cooperation between the author of the idea, magnate Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł, and his engraver Theodoor Galle who embodied his client’s vision.

Author Biography

Jolita Liškevičienė, Vilnius Academy of Arts, Vilnius, Lithuania

is a Doctor of Humanities in art research and a senior researcher at the Institute of Art Research and a lecturer at the Vilnius Academy of Arts. Main areas of scholarship: illustrations of 16th–18th century Vilnius publications, emblems and heraldry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the sources and iconography of Lithuanian baroque art, contemporary illustrations of children’s books. She prepared the monograph Mundus emblematum: Illustrations of 17th­Century Vilnius Publications (2005), and the collections of sources: Andrzej Młodzianowski, Symbolical Images of the Life and Death of the Blessed Martyr Josaphat, Archbishop of Polotsk. Source, Translation and Study (2016), and Books of Emblematic Meditations by Mikołaj Krzysztof Chalecki: Allegories (1618) and Binary (1642) (2020).



How to Cite

Liškevičienė, J. (2022). Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł and the "Arbor Humanae Vitae": Reflections on Human Life. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (106), 78–106. https://doi.org/10.37522/aaav.106.2022.118