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

Hall VI

Lithuania’s baptism took away the barriers of paganism and allowed Western European art with its then dominate Gothic style to spread eastwards. The earliest religious works in Lithuania were imports from Livonia, Prussia, Germany, Poland and Czech. Later on, local artists adapted Western style and forms and modified them to reflect their own artistic sense. The hall features a remnant of the most ancient pieces of fine art still in Lithuania.
A sculpture of St Martin of Tours, fashioned by a skilled German master is a work of the early 16th century. The knight is depicted cutting off a piece of his robe, which he will give to a handicapped beggar. Such themes were vehicles for Christian ideals, which made their way into the hearts of local people.
Lithuanian artist from the 17th c. A Saint with a Book (St Catherine ?). LDMThough the Gothic style persisted into the 16th century, it was then intermingled with the Renaissance. The second half of the century saw the emergence of Mannerism, and for a certain period of time all art styles coexisted. Bartholomeus Spranger, 1546-1611, born in Antwerp, was among the most famed and frequently copied Mannerist. St Ursula with Martyrs is a fine example of finesse and elegance characteristic of the works by Bartholomeus Spranger. Graceful, sumptuous and expressive in style makes St Louis, a sculpture piece by an unknown master, easily recognizable as Mannerism. For many years, this sculpture piece had been a highlight in St Nicholas’ Church in Vilnius. Franciscan monks, who had custody of this church from the 15th century, must have commissioned the image of the French monarch, the patron saint of the Franciscan Tertiaries.
By the time when trends in West Europe started shaping early religious painting in Lithuania, the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church was already rooted in the eastern lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Orthodox churches were built not only in Slavonic lands, but also in Vilnius. The icon tradition of the Orthodox believers left a deep impression on Lithuanian religious art and contributed to some of its unique features.
Orthodox Ruthenian art of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania also acquired some regional features. The 18th -century icon of St Michael, because of its characteristics attributed to the region of Brasta, is also an icon painting typical of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The 18th century icon of the Virgin Mary is a part of the Deçsis group of iconostasis. The conventional representation, obvious in its arrangement shows the retained legacy of Byzantine art, but the way of modelling the Virgin’s face, hands and drapery indicates the impact of the Renaissance. In the background, the acanthus ornament and inscription in so-called Lithuanian italics, which was Vilnius’ invention, indicate that the icon was painted in Vilnius.

Lithuanian artist from the 18th c.
A Hermit. LDM

German artist from the 16th c.
St Martin of Tours. LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 16th c.
Blessed Virgin Mary and Child
from Old Trakai. LDM

Bartholomeus Spranger
(1546-1611). St Ursula with
Martyrs. LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 17th c.
St Philip the Apostle. LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 17th c.
Seven Franciscan Martyrs.
LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 17th c.
Virgin Mary. LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 16th c.
St Louis. Church of St Nicholas
in Vilnius

Lithuanian artist from the 17th c.
St Casimir. LDM

The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child from Old Trakai was painted in the Western European tradition, which during medieval period absorbed and modified Byzantine prototypes. In this icon, the Virgin Mary is depicted like the Queen of Heaven, with a crown on her head and a sceptre in her hand. The legend has it that the painting is a baptismal present from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Palaeologus to the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas. Vytautas, who invited the Benedictine monks to Old Trakai, gave the painting to the church. In 1859, the image was transferred to the Cathedral of Vilnius. At that time the painting was framed with a new Neo-Gothic style frame. The painting is a work of a local artist of the late 16th century. The image being a local work is proved by the peculiar features of the Virgin and decorative characteristic of gilt background of the period. The tradition of gilt and decorative backgrounds of religious paintings in foliage patterns persisted in Lithuania until the mid-17th century. A relaxed figure of more realistic postures, and physiognomic types were the first imprints of the Renaissance on religious art. In St Philip the Apostle, a painting by an unknown Lithuanian artist from the 17th century, the figure of the saint modelled to create an impression of volume, is depicted at a brave angle against the gilt background. An interesting detail is the book held by the saint turned to the viewer to read. Since the Apostle is depicted almost from the back, the emphasis here is on the Holy Scripture which he holds in his hands. The painting St Paul is dominated by serene colours, while its restrained composition is reminiscent of an icon painting. Inspired by Humanist ideals, an imposing figure of the saint embodies will power and evokes noble and harmonious sentiment.
Part and parcel of Western European influence on Lithuanian religious painting was a long established tradition of presenting Christian subjects; with time this was enriched by the local element. The Franciscans of Lithuania disseminated the cult of Vilnius Franciscan Martyrs. Legend has it that several Franciscan monks were martyred on the Hill of Three Crosses in pagan times. Seven Franciscan Martyrs, of the 17th-century made in one of the numerous monastic workshops, though of somewhat primitive composition, is an ingenuous statement of the Franciscan spirit of simplicity.
In 1602, Casimir, son of Casimir Jogailaitis (Jagiellończyk), ruler of Poland-Lithuania, was venerated as a saint, after almost a century-long process of canonization. In the 17th century painting, St Casimir is shown as a youth, clad in an ermine robe, wearing a royal crown. He is holding a lily branch and a cross, symbols of chastity and faith. In the background, the Upper Castle of Vilnius, the Hill of Three Crosses and Vilnius Cathedral with St Casimir’s Chapel, completed in 1636, can be seen.

  © 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