Devils in Amber

  • 2015-05-31

There is only one place in the world to see over 3000 devils, and Kaunas is it. There is no need to sell your soul, or your first-born to gain entrance to this fantastic display, a mere EUR 2 will do.
Far from a terrifying figure, the devil in Baltic folklore is more of a trickster than pure evil. There are many devils, mostly portrayed as small, but not-too-bright, and easy to outwit if one is moderately clever. Their mischievousness is well-displayed at the Devils’ Museum in Kaunas, Lithuania.

The Žmuidzinavičius Museum, more commonly referred to as the Devils’ Museum, is the eerily charming three-story former house of Antanas Žmuidzinavičius (1876-1966); the perfect place to head to understand the role of the devil in the Baltics. Or if you need an overdose of satanic artifacts, devilish humor, or sarcastic depictions of the devil in various forms and in more types of artwork imaginable the Devil’s Museum can accommodate you.

Žmuidzinavičius, a Lithuanian painter, started the devil collection himself, and many of the devilish artifacts in the museum are his. Obsessed with 13, the ‘devil’s number’, he started collecting devil items, ranging from pipes and stamps, to musical instruments and figures. Today, the museum is filled with devilish items from around the world, many brought to the museum by collectors. Indeed, so many contributions made it necessary to build an addition onto Žmuidzinavičius’s former home in 1982.

Žmuidzinavičius’ devil collection is featured on the first floor, full of sarcastic renderings, and hilarious devilish portrayals. Mostly dedicated to Lithuanian devils, the items featured here are more classic in design, created of ceramic or painted on silk. This floor also features the devil as incorporated into household items, such as aprons and salt and pepper shakers.
The second floor is filled with wooden devils, mostly Slavic and Eastern European in origin, given to the museum over the ages. Quite superstitious, according to Slavic mythology, one was most vulnerable to the devil while in the bath/sauna, when one did not wear one’s prayer belt. The second floor also features the more jocular exhibits, and images of the devil found in pebbles and sticks.

The third and final floor, holds devils from the world over. Cuban, Japanese, Armenian, and other devil artifacts from around the world grace the glass cases and inspire one to explore the views of hellions on earth in more detail.
The stairwells between the floors are decorated with macabre scenes, and there is a hell-themed café in the basement. Despite the grisly and gruesome scenes, one leaves the museum strangely uplifted, as the atmosphere in the museum is rather playful rather than frightening and horrific.

Perhaps the collection was started as a pact between the artist and the devil. Towards the end of his life, Žmuidzinavičius said that the devil offered him a long life, good health and treasures, in exchange for the chance for devils to be shown in the artists’ home to others. “I gathered 20 baker’s dozens, I was not sick, but healthy and happy. The devil made good on his promise!”

Well-curated, the museum is organized neatly, with signs in Lithuanian and English and is made accessible to children.
For more Lithuanian devil wonders, head to Juodkrante, a sleepy seaside village on the Baltic Sea, home to the Hill of Witches, a park of over 70 large witchy and devilish wooden sculptures.

The museum is open Tuesday - Sunday 11-17; Thursday 11-19. Entrance fee is about EUR 2. Address: V. Putvinskio g. 64, Kaunas 44211

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