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

Hall VIII

The advent of Baroque to Lithuania is related with the activity of the Jesuit Order and the Counter-Reformation. In the latter part of the 16th and early 17th centuries, most of the influential nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania returned to Catholicism. The wave of conversions brought along plentiful donations to churches and monasteries. The monasteries enjoyed bountiful support; consequently, 36 monasteries of the 16th century grew into 329 in the 18th century. Most of the orders, first of all the Jesuits, had their own professional architects and artists. Generous and ambitious founders aspired to erect sacred buildings no less sumptuous than those in the West. Talented Italian artists invited by the noble families such as Pacas or Sapiega families travelled to work in Lithuania. Local masters, who initially maintained the old tradition, starting with the middle 17th century, were also attracted by the Baroque style.
Restrained forms and preference for simple, usually one-figure, compositions are characteristic features of the 17th-century Lithuanian Baroque painting. In the works by Lithuanian artists, dynamics and emotionality, typically associated with Baroque art, translates not so much into movement, gesture or facial expression, as into undulating line and the rhythm of falling drapery. St Catherine, featured by the exhibition, is a perfect example of the style of the period. The art of the 18th century is marked by more movement and more freely applied angles, with contrasting light and shadow. Most of the artists then gave preference to light warm colours and simple, ornate compositional arrangements.

Lithuanian artist from the 18th c.
Blessed Virgin Mary of
Belynitchi.
LDM

Jan Ungefugt (Unbefugt).
St Agatha.
1739. LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 18th c.
St John of Nepomuk. LDM

Szymon Czechowicz (1698-1775), one of the greatest and most prolific Polish painters, spent a few years in Lithuania. He worked under Carlo Maratti and made his name through ornate religious paintings of serene atmosphere. He was extremely skilled at depicting space, applied bold angles and had exquisite colour sensibility. Invited by the Jesuits, he arrived in Vilnius around 1756. Initially he painted a number of paintings for the Jesuit churches, later, he worked for the Benedictine and Salesian Order. Among the best works by the artist are twelve altarpieces for the Church of St Catherine in Vilnius. The Holy Trinity, featured in this hall, coming from the second tier of the High Altar, is an example of the artistís talent - it creates the impression of the high open sky. The oval paintings St Walburga and Death of St Benedictus were painted for the second tier of side altars in the same church. Of paintings commissioned by the Salesian Order for their church in Vilnius, two of them show the founders of the order, St Francis of Sales and St Joanne Francisca of Chantal.
Though many of the artists active in Lithuania in the 18th century are known (on display is St Agatha carved in 1739 by the Vilnius based sculptor Jan Ungefugt and carries the masterís signature), however, larger part of religious art works come from unknown artists.
Works of art commissioned to decorate monasteries and cloisters most often show founders, benefactors and the most venerated saints. The latter were frequently depicted at the culminating moment of their spiritual experience, in ecstasy or captured by a vision. Thus St Clara is often represented stopping the soldiers from capturing the monastery with the Holy Sacrament, St Francis Xavier is painted as having a vision of multiple crosses in the sky, St Theresa of Avilla is shown fainting when an angel pierces her heart. Multifaceted symbolism characterizes the painting Vision of St Felix of Valois. The painting shows St Felix of Valois with the Virgin Mary and angels singing vespers in the monkís choir. To illustrate the legend of the saintís life, the artist represented the Virgin Mary not only as patroness of the Trinitarian Order, but also as Queen of Heaven. A symbolical number of seven angels can be paralleled with seven planets; while the Virgin is paralleled with the Sun. Number seven is repeated in seven Joys and seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, who was also thought to have seven Virtues.

Lithuanian artist from the 18th c.
St Clara. 1775. LDM

Antependium (the front plate of
the altar table) with the
monogram of the Virgin Mary.
Lithuania, 2nd half of the 18th c.
Velvet, embroidered with silver
and gilded silver thread, painting.
Church of SS Peter and Paul
the Apostles in Vilnius

Lithuanian artist from the 18th c.
Ecstasy of St Theresa of
Avilla.
LDM

Szymon Czechowicz
(1689-1775). The Holy Trinity.
1756-1758. LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 19th c.,
according to a picture of the
17th c. St John of Capistrano
before the Grand Duke of
Lithuania and King of Poland
Casimir Jogailaitis.
LDM

Lithuanian artist from the 18th c.
Blessed Virgin Mary of
Belynitchi.
LDM

Cloister buildings were often decorated by a series of paintings, which captured historical episodes of this particular monastery or the whole of the monastic order. Incidents from the life of the founders of monastic orders, miracles and episodes from the life of the most loved saints were also subjects for works of religious art. One such series, owned by the Bernadine monastery in Vilnius, included a painting, which became a prototype for the canvas depicting St John of Capistrano before the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Casimir Jogailaitis. The painting celebrates the occasion of the Franciscan monks being received to settle in Poland-Lithuania. At the gate of Krakow, Casimir Jogailaitis, King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania with his mother Queen Sophia welcome St John of Capistrano with his monks.
Unlike Protestants, Catholics indulged in the cult of the Virgin, hence numerous churches across the country had as its highlight, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, many of which, like those of Siluva, Samogitian Calvary, Pivasiunai, Tverai, Linkuva were well known through graces received. The Great courtyard of Vilnius Jesuit Academy was dominated by a sculpture of the Virgin Mary Queen of Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary of Belynitchi, the altar painting of the 18th century by an unknown Lithuanian artist previously in the Church of St Catherine in Vilnius, was done after the early 17th century, according to the image of the Virgin at the monastery of Belynitchi (in the vicinity of Mogilev) which had been so famed through its miracles that in 1716 it was honoured by a crown sent by the Pope.
The Counter-Reformation stimulated the cult of the saints. Mostly spread and venerated in Lithuanian were the images of St Anthony, St Barbara, St Catherine, St John of Nepomuk and the patron saint of Lithuania St Casimir.

© 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