Unique Collection of Old Cartography Opened at VMU


At the end of February, the walls of Vytautas Magnus University library’s Vaclovas Biržiška Reading Room (K. Donelaičio g. 52–218) have been decorated with the collection of 15th-18th century maps gathered by economist, diplomat, public figure and collector Dr. Jonas Norkaitis.

Norkaitis began collecting old cartography in 1965, when he acquired the first old map of Lithuania in a graphics fair in Stuttgart, Germany. He donated his entire collection of old maps and city images to Vytautas Magnus University in the summer of 2004, during the 50th Annual European Lithuanians Study Conference in Hüttenfeld. In early 2005, the collection was first exhibited at the VMU Centre of Lithuanian Diaspora Studies which is also preserving Jonas Norkaitis’ personal archive.

"Before the start of the year, people could get acquainted with the collection of old maps by viewing the library’s archive of virtual exhibitions. From now on, all members of the academic community and guests at VMU will be able to view the collection of original maps from the 15th-18th centuries up close. The library is hoping that it will be an interesting and useful introduction to the old maps that witnessed the passage of time, and also it will be a subject of research to anyone interested in the past of their nation and country", said the head of the Manuscripts and Special Collections sector at the VMU library, Dr. Laima Bucevičiūtė.

Jonas Norkaitis’ collection includes maps of Lithuania in 1595, drawn by one of the most famous cartographers of the Renaissance, German-Flemish scientist Gerardus Mercator, and a map by early 16th century cartographer Peter Van Keeres, considered to be a remade map of Lithuania in 1595. Especially significant to the history of Lithuanian cartography is the map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, published in 1613 by initiative and with the funding of Vilnius’ province governor (vaivada) Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila-Našlaitėlis. Norkaitis’ collection also has a later version of this map and its various remakes from the end of the 17th century to the middle of the 18 century. Among the collection’s many other exhibits, there also are German publisher’s Johann Baptist Homann’s early 18th century maps dedicated to Poland and Lithuania, as well as maps and iconographic materials by French cartographer Robert de Vaugondy, German cartographer and writer Franz Johann Joseph von Reilly and many other authors.

Jonas Norkaitis was born in Kaunas in 1928, graduated from primary school and three classes of gymnasium. In 1940, moved with parents to Germany, where he studied for half a year at a vocational school in Berlin and a year and a half in Stolp (currently Slupsk), Eastern Pomerania. After returning to Lithuania in 1942, he spent two years studying at the 5th gymnasium of Kaunas but moved back to Germany again in the summer of 1944. At the universities of Tübingen, Strasbourg and Freiburg, Norkaitis studied philosophy and economics. In 1956, he successfully defended dissertation in the sciences of philosophy, titled "Kulturphilosophie bei Leo Frobenius"; in 1957 Norkaitis finished the studies of economics at this university as well. An active member of the "Ateitininkai" movement of Lithuanian community in Germany, Norkaitis is also one of the most active organizers and participants of the 50th Annual European Lithuanians Study Conference. He is also one of the founders of the Lithuanian Cultural Institute in Germany, which was opened in 1981.

In 2005, Norkaitis was awarded golden Honorary Badge of Merit by the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. Currently, the public figure lives in Germany but is closely following the everyday pulse of Lithuanian public life and visits homeland every year.

You are welcome to view the photo report by Alvydas Vaitkevičius (a.vaitkevicius@vkt.vdu.lt).

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