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|On 13 May 1922, Italy recognized Lithuania de jure.|
|On 30 August 1991, diplomatic relations were re-established.|
|1993-1994, Stasys Lozoraitis served as the first Lithuanian Ambassador to Italy after the re-establishment of independence.|
|From 1991 to 1996, Franco Tempesta served as the first Italian Ambassador to Lithuania.|
One may talk about diplomatic relations between Italy and Lithuania in the true sense of the word from the end of the First World War. Lithuania declared independence in 1918: Italy recognized the newly established state on 20 December 1922 and was one of the first countries to establish its diplomatic premises in Lithuania.
During the interwar years the governments of the two countries have signed several agreements: the Italian diplomatic service operated in Kaunas and the Lithuanian diplomatic service in Rome. The latter was established by Petras Klimas, followed by other famous diplomats, such as Vytautas Čarneckis and Stasys Lozoraitis.
The Italian government has never recognized the Soviet occupation as legitimate and Rome during the entire period of occupation has remained the shelter for the political and cultural activists. On 26 August 1991 Italy recognized the renewed independence of the Republic of Lithuania and on 30 August 1991 the diplomatic relations between the two countries were successfully restored.
The first contacts between Lithuania and Italy were made via the Holy See in the thirteenth century. It was Mindaugas, the grand duke of Lithuania, who was first to try and introduce Catholicism to the pagan country. Having converted to Catholicism and baptized the Lithuanian population, Mindaugas sent his delegation to Pope Innocent IV, who, on 17 July 1251, gave the rights to Henric, the bishop of Culm, to crown Mindaugas the king of Lithuania. However, the ceremony was carried out only two years after. In 1263 Mindaugas was murdered by conspirators and the Lithuanians relapsed again into paganism.
In 1317 Pope John XXII wrote a letter to another grand duke of Lithuania, Gediminas, where he invited him to convert to Catholicism. Gediminas received many more letters sent by the Holy See, but he always politely refused the offer. The definite conversion of Lithuanians and their country took place only in 1387.
However, even after this date paganism was the dominating belief in Lithuania. Therefore, it is not surprising that Enea Piccolomini (1406-1464), the bishop of Warmia and later Pope Pius II, scathingly spoke of Lithuania. Nevertheless, he has dedicated to the country at least three of his works. Jan Dlugosz (1415-1480), on the other hand, the Polish contemporary of the Pope, claimed in his work that Lithuanians descended from the Romans. This idea especially gained ground after 1518, when Sigismund I, the ruler of Lithuania and Poland, married Bona Sforza, the duchess of Milan. His son Sigismund II (Augustus) became the king in 1548 and for this occasion he received the work in Latin “De Moribus Tartarorum, Lituanorum et Moschorum”, written by the nobleman Michailo Lituanus, where he argues that the country of Lithuania was founded in the Roman times and that originally Lithuanians spoke Latin. To prove his argument, Michailo Lituanus lists more than seventy words that are similar in both languages.
Soon an Italian Alessandro Guagnini (1554-1614), who had served in the Lithuanian army, wrote a work in Latin, “Sarmatiae Europeae descriptio”, where he pays much attention to Lithuania and repeats once again the theory about the Roman origins of Lithuanians. The Lithuanian Albertus Wiiuk-Koialowicz (1606-1677) used the work by Guagnini as the source to write his own history of Lithuania in two volumes - “Lituanae pars prior ” (1650) and “Lituanae pars seconda” (1669). He writes about the presumed Roman origins of Lithuanians with a great fervour and conviction.
In 1570 the Jesuits founded the College of Vilnius which in 1578 received University rights from Pope Gregory XIII. This temple of knowledge has attracted many Italian students: one of the most renown is Stephanus Laurentius Bisius (ca.1720-1790), who wrote his PhD in Padua and worked in Turin and Venice. When invited to Vilnius, the professor taught anatomy and osteology, prepared several scientific studies, worked as a doctor and directed the University’s Medicine faculty.
Italians have significantly contributed to the development of arts in Lithuania. The grand duke Sigismund Augustus invited to Vilnius numerous artists from different foreign countries, mostly from Italy, who brought to the city the particularities of Italian Renaissance and Baroque, the University of Vilnius and its seminary being the examples of Italian architecture. The Italian painters, such as Zanobio da Gianotti, Giovanni Cini, Giovanni Jacopo of Caraglio and Giovanni Batista Frediani da Luca, left their works in Vilnius Cathedral, St. Ann’s church, St. Michel’s church and others. Later Pietro Perti and Giovanni Maria Galli, together with local authors, designed the Church of St. Paul and St. Peter’s, the architectural and sculptural masterpiece, financed by Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas (1624-1682), the Great Hetman of Lithuania and voivode of Vilnius. Moreover, another member from the family of Pacai, Kristupas Zigmantas Pacas (1621-1684), was the founder of yet another stupendous Baroque complex, Pažaislis Abbey in Kaunas, designed by the Venetian Lodovico Fredo. After Pacas’s death, he was replaced by Pietro and Carlo Putini, while Giovanni Merli, Michele Arcangelo Palloni and, so it seems, also the aforementioned Pietro Pert,i created sculptures and frescoes that are still visible around Vilnius. Furthermore, many other colleges and churches in Vilnius contain works by the Italian artists, which are less known, but equally adorable.
Many famous Lithuanian artists have matured in the atmosphere of Italian arts and architecture. Between 1770 and 1773 an Italian Carlo Spampani taught at the University of Vilnius. The Lithuanian Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius (1753-1798) went to Rome to continue his studies, which left notable traces in his further works, such as Vilnius Cathedral and its Town Hall. In addition, from 1797 the faculty of painting was directed by Žemaitis, the student of San Luca Art Academy in Rome, later by Pranciškus Smuglevičius (1745-1807), who invited to the faculty Jonas Rustemas, a diligent and prolific painter and Marcello Bacciarelli’s student. Kanutas Ruseckas (1800-1860), tutored by J. Rustemas, continued his studies and worked in Rome and Naples. Although on the brink of the twentieth century and later it was Paris that mostly affected the arts in Lithuania, Italy nevertheless has remained the Mecca for Lithuanian artists. Here Jonas Mackevičius, Vincas Dilka, Rimtas Kalpokas and Vincentas Gečas studied painting, Bernardas Bučas sculpture, Vytautas Landsbergis architecture.
Italy and Lithuania have swapped an infinite number of musicians. Obviously, the most notable sector includes opera. The first opera theatre in Lithuania was opened at the end of 1920 with “Traviata” by Verdi. Since then, for more than ninety years this opera has been traditionally staged each year on the same day. Other operas by Verdi have also been performed, including “Aida”, “Otello”, “Don Carlos”, “Ballo in maschera” and “Requiem”. Moreover, the works by other Italian composers, such as Giacomo Puccini (“Tosca”, “Madam Butterfly”, “La Bohème”, “La fanciulla del West”, “Gianni Schicchi”), Gioachino Rossini (“Barbiere di Seviglia”), Vincenzo Bellini (“Norma”), Gaetano Donizetti (“Lucia di Lamermoor”, “L’Elisir d’amore”, “Don Pasquale”) and Ruggero Leoncavallo (“I Pagliacci”) have also been staged. In addition, Lithuania can boast that its famous opera singers, such as Kipras Petrauskas, Ipolitas Nauragis, Antanas Sodeika, Irena Milkevičiūtė, Vaclovas Daunoras, Sergėjus Larinas and others, have honed their talent in Italy, the country of bel canto, or beautiful singing.
Italian theatre is well-known in Lithuania thanks to numerous plays, staged by the Lithuanian theatre-directors. In the past years, the works by Carlo Goldoni (“Donna di maneggio”, “La vedova scaltra”, “La locandiera”), Carlo Gozzi (“Il re cervo”, “Turandot”), Eduardo De Filippo (“Il cilindro”, “Filumena Marturano”, “Natale in casa Cupiello”), Luigi Pirandello (“Enrico IV”, “Sei personaggi in cerca di autori”) and Manlio Santanelli (“Regina Madre”) have been staged. In addition, actors and film directors of Italian origins, such as Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio De Sica, Pietro Germi, Luchino Visconti, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroiann and others, are also famous in Lithuania.
The masterpieces of Italian literature have reached Lithuanian readers in the form of translations. Well-known and established are works such as “Divina Commedia” by Dante (transl. A. Churginas), “Decamerone” by Boccaccio (transl. E. Viskanta), “I promessi sposi” by Alessandro Manzoni, translated by A. Vaišnoras, who has also received the translation prize from the President of the Italian state Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, and many other contemporary authors. On the other hand, Italian philologists pay attention both to the Lithuanian culture and history and Baltic studies. The most famous works were written by Pietro U. Dini (University of Pisa), Guido Michelini (University of Parma), Maria Teresa Ademollo (University of Florence), Enzo Pellai (Milan) and Andrea Damilano (Rome).
Lithuanians are keen to learn about Italy and its culture as well as to speak the language. In 1995 Accademia Vilnense di Studi Italiani was established and in 1997 it organized its first scientific conference. Lithuanian students can choose Italian as a subject at the University of Vilnius, University of Educational Sciences and Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. In the latter city a society for Dante lovers operates, it has a seat also in the city of Panevėžys and there is a club for the lovers of Italy in Vilnius.
Text adapted from La Lituania verso il XXI secolo. Prof. Hab. Dr. Henrikas Zabulis. I rapporti culturali della Lituania con l’Italia. Società “Du Ka” (Lithuania in the World), Vilnius, 1999