GUIDE TO THE EXHIBITION "CHRISTIANITY IN LITHUANIAN ART"
(28 December, 1999 - 31 December, 2003)

Hall XII

A large section is devoted to folk art. The majority of exhibits include the works of the 18th and the 19th century folk artists, sculptors, painters, graphic artists, smiths, and embroiderers. The displayed works are from the collection of the Lithuanian Art Museum.
The folk art heritage contains small art pieces, which are particularly valued - the decaying crosses, roofed pillar-type crosses and pillar-type chapels erected at farmsteads, on waysides and in fields. Kazys Simonis (1887-1978), when travelling around Lithuania made a number of their drawings and fixed a variety of their forms. In Zemaitija preference was given for pillar-type crosses and small shrines, while in Aukstaitija tall roofed pillar-type crosses were more popular. One of such impressive two-tier roofed pillar-type crosses, fascinates one with its skilful carving. It was originally located in Zarasai vicinity in 1842 and today can be seen in the exposition. The artist is unknown, like many other masters, who hollowed and carved wooden crosses and statuettes, painted pictures and created woodcuts. Folk artists did not usually put their signature to their works.
As soon as the visitor enters the hall, he is met by monolithic oak crosses with the hollowed out figures of saints. These are works created by the talented master Vincas Svirskis (1835-1916), who devoted all his life to the carving of crosses. He went from village to village, and worked on farms. He lived where he worked - he had no home of his own. Over 200 of his crosses stood in the villages of Middle Lithuania. Now they are housed in Lithuanian museums. All the halls containing folk art display Vincas Svirskisí crosses marked by high-relief compositions, demonstrating their complex Baroque plastic art - the Last Supper, St Isidore, Christ among Apostles, the Baptism of Christ, Pieta.

Aleksandras Vinkus
(1832-1912). St Joseph and
Child with Other Saints.
LDM

Folk artist from the early 20th c.
St George and a Princess.
LDM (showcase 3)

Aleksandras Vinkus
(1832-1912). Movement for
Abstinence in Lithuania.
1861.
LDM

Folk artist from the 19th c.
Lamentation over Christ.
LDM

Crucifixion. 1882. Picture of
the processional banner. LDM

Folk artist from 19th c.
St John of Nepomuk. 1850.
Picture of a processional banner.
LDM

Smaller art forms are used for memorial purposes. Crosses, pillar-type chapels and roofed pillar-type crosses were erected in commemoration of people and historical events. They usually contained figurines of saints and depended on the occasion. They were carved by skilful, uneducated but naturally gifted folk craftsmen, who had seen other sculptures in churches. People called them dievadirbiai (god-carvers). They used simple everyday tools: knives, an axe, a chisel. Professional art did not have a great impact on their works. Sometimes they didnít even follow the usual rules for the depiction of saints. Statuettes of saints were often static, in frequent cases of irregular proportions, abounding in ethnographic elements and domestic attributes. The strength of expressiveness is increased by the use of colours. Apart from round-sculpture, bas-reliefs - St Casimir, the Nunsí Handicrafts, St Cecil and St Simon high-reliefs (V. Svirskisí crosses) were gaining popularity.Folk artist from the 19th c. The Nazarite. LDM (showcase 6)
God-carvers chose to depict saints whom country-folk loved and respected the most, and who were, of course, expected to help them in the event of illness, famine or flood. St Isidore with a basket in his hands, two angels and oxen in a furrow (showcase 1) helped them in fieldwork. St George, the Valiant Knight, on a horseback, thrusting a spear into a wriggling dragon under the horseís hoofs, was guardian of the peasantís cattle. His holiday - Jurgines (St Georgeís Day) - is associated with the rebirth of nature at Spring time. The Pensive Christ was particularly meaningful to the peasant and inseparable from his mode of life. Lost in thought, he looked at people from wayside roofed pillar-type crosses and pillar-type chapels. The pilgrim St Roche guarded them from the plague, and St Florian from fire. At bridges and rivers the statues of St John of Nepomuk were often built. A frequent subject in folk art is the life of the Holy Family.
Mary is given a particular place in folk art and a great number of prayers and hymns dedicated to her. People understood her sorrow for the Son and took it deeply to their hearts. Mary - the Sorrowful, the Merciful, the Gracious, of the Immaculate Conception (V. Svirskisí crosses, a small processional altar). In statuettes, she is different every time, sometimes smiling, worried, spreading her so-called graces, lofty as a queen, or in suffering. In Pieta she is most frequently depicted with a crown and seven swords thrust in her heart, symbolizing the sorrow of Mother from Simeonís prophecy about the death and burial of the Saviour.
The Folk Art hall highlights a great many moments from Christís life - from Baptism (V. Svirskisí pillar-type chapel) to the scenes of the Stations of the Cross (processional banners). In thematic respect Jesus of Nazareth with his tied hands and a crown of thorns on his head is closed to them. Such iconographic statuettes are spread all over Lithuania, when god-carvers began to imitate the statuette of the Nazarite from the Church of Madrid Trinitarians brought to Vilnius. Worthy of mention are the rarest works - the Last Super (showcase 5) by Stanislovas Burneika from Kursenai, who worked in the early 20th century and the Sleeping Apostles by Pranas Perminas (1864-1937).
Self-educated painters, like sculptors, portrayed the same popular saints and themes from the Holy Scripture. Unknown painters imitated professional art and did their best to make the personages of their pictures correspond to Christian iconography. However, the folk artistís creative ideas were less influenced by outer factors - changing styles can hardly be noticed in their works. The drawings of self-educated artists are primitive and the view flat. Their paintings are of special merit due to their lively folk quality.
A triptych of the altar antependium St Francis Nurtured by Angels (17th c.) of the Staliorai cemetery chapel should be attributed to the most valuable folk art pieces. The rules of perspective were not observed. The angels standing in the wings, slightly turned to the saint, form a closed static composition. Of interest is the colouring of the picture - the angelsí red wings, the white and deep brown pulsating tones of the background contrast with the smoke-coloured forest. A peaceful mood of early Baroque prevails in the picture.
St Casimir, considered to be the patron of Youth by Lithuanians, won the peoplesí great favour. He was featured in statuettes, woodcuts, and paintings. Duke Casimir, who died young, was very kind to the poor. His kind heart could not help exciting the imagination of artists. The picture painted in the first half of the 19th century depicts that it was in the power of saints to work miracles - in the background, the artist narrates a victorious battle of Lithuanian troops with the military forces of Muscovy in 1518 at Polock.Folk artist from the 1st half of the 19th c. St Casimir. LDM (showcase 3)
More paintings of interest are: Stations of the Cross of the Church in Paskarbiskes, the Holy Family, Christ on the Lilac Hill, the Last Supper and some of the saints - St Francis of Assisi, St Dominic, St George, St Barbara, St Ursula, St Jude Thaddeus and St Simon (processional banner). The paintings inlaid with abundant and rich decorative carvings were sometimes installed in small portable altars carried during church processions. Among them are displayed Crucifixtion, St Joseph and Child, Tree of Redemption, Sin and Penance.
By the 19th century, there was an increased demand for religious pictures. It was related to the ban in printing Lithuanian books as well as the abstinence movement which stimulated folk artists to take up wood carving. The displayed colourful and decorative graphic sheets of simple and clear-cut artistic idiom by Steponas Kuneika, who worked in the first half of the 19th century, Kajetonas Grigalauskas (d. ca. 1880), Aleksandras Vinkus (1832-1912) and by some other unknown folk wood carvers enjoyed great popularity.
The displayed processional banners look impressive during church processions. Embroidered, appliquťd and painted by nuns and the needlework of lay-persons, processional banners carried by smartly dressed people alongside others with crosses, church lanterns and small altars created solemn ritual due to their expensive materials and the intricate trimmings. The exposition includes five pairs of church lanterns from the collection of Rev Mykolas Dobrovolskis (Father Stanislovas). They are small tin boxes with colour glass windows, forged crowns, flowers and small crosses mounted on a long staff. Today, blacksmiths no longer make them. They were used up to World War II.
Showcase 9 features some rare specimens of applied arts associated with church liturgy, namely: a monstrance, a paten, a baptistery and an offering-box.
This comparatively small exposition cannot cover the diversity of Lithuanian folk art and display all the creative process of several centuries. The selection was based on the principle of presenting works which unfold the peasantís world perception formed by Christian culture as well as the spiritual and moral values of the nation.

  © Lithuanian Art Museum, Fund of Samogitian Culture, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics 
     Comments and  remarks please  send to:  samogit@delfi.lt
     Last updated 2011.08.12