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ITALY LITHUANIA: INTERACTION OF CULTURES
By Audrone Kasperaviciene, Historian
If you would ask with which European nation Lithuanians were seeking for the generalities and affinity for the most part throughout the history, we would answer without hesitation with Italians. It is not only because the Lithuanian language is similar to the Latin language. The heathenish Lithuanian trust and mores are similar to the ancient Roman religion. Both nations worshiped almost the same gods (god of igneous Vulcan, Jupiter matched the Lithuanian Thunder) and stood on the same religious ceremonies: burned a holy fire, worshiped the grass-snakes. Lithuanians, alike the heathen Romans, had the holy forests, in which the gods lived.
The origin of Lithuanians and establishment of the capital city Vilnius is weaved with legends, in which, as a rule, the affinity with remote Italy is stressed. In XV century Polish historian Jan Dlugosh was convinced that Lithuanians originated from Romans. But how did they get into Lithuania, which is far away from Italy? The historian guessed that a group of noble Romans from the Italian family, who were the upholders of Pompey, left to Lithuania with all their wealth and servants escaping from the wrath of Caesar. The annalist stipulated that the name of their new homeland Lituania is professedly an awry name Italia, since a letter l used to be added at the beginning of the word. Hereinafter the origin of the name Vilnius is explained. The name of the leader of Roman emigrants was Vilius. The historian wrote: Firstly they established Vilnius city, which is currently the capital city of the state, and named it in the name of duke Vilius, who led the emigrants to Lithuania. The same names weregiven to the rivers near Vilnius Vilija and Vilnia.
Yet before christening in the year 1387, a distinctive Lithuanian culture formed under the influence of Western Europe culture, especially the culture of Hansa cities and Byzantine Russia, however, as from XIV century, the input of Italian artists becomes very substantial.
Links with Italy became especially strong in XVI century, at a rule of Jogailaičiai dynasty. However, the monuments of Renaissance culture of this period, especially buildings, for the most part did not survive in Vilnius. Most of them were destroyed during the wars with Moscow in XVII century and after were reconstructed in the periods of Baroque and Classicism. Nevertheless, the evolution of culture of Lithuanias capital city was affected greatly by Renaissance period, whereas the Italian architects, painters and sculptors used to visit Lithuania and settled here till the end of XVIII century.
Italian Renaissance came to Vilnius from Hungary due to the dynasty links. Due to the reason that at the end of XV century the representatives of Jogailaičiai dynasty hold thrones of four Middle Europe countries in Prague, Buda, Krakow and Vilnius, at the beginning of XVI century the culture of Renaissance entrenched in the estate of Grand Duke of Lithuania. Even three years in his youth (1499-1502) Žygimantas Old spent in his brothers estate in Buda (Hungary), which from the middle of XV century was the most famous and earliest hearth of Renaissance culture in the Middle Europe. A lot of capable masters from Italy worked in this estate, and were well known to Žygimantas Old. Later these masters were employed by Žygimantas Old himself. Yet before marriage with the princess of Milan and Bari Bona Sforca, Žygimantas Old was familiarised with the aesthetics and culture of Renaissance architecture and art, as well as had personal contacts with famous creators of this style. In 1517 a would-be author of Žygimantai chapel in Wawel Bartolomeo Berrecci visited in his residence in Vilnius.
The direct influence of Italian culture predominated in Vilnius royal estate at the times of Bona Sforca and her son Grand Duke of Lithuania Žygimantas Augustas. We can make strong assumptions how tight these links were one of the housemaids of Bona Sforca Francessa Palladia became a wife of the most famous architecture theorist Sebastiano Serli. The Grand Duchess of Lithuanian Bona Sforca was one of the most prominent Lithuanian personalities of Renaissance, her input into the culture, economics and politics of Poland, Lithuania and Italy is obvious. In her domain in Lithuania she implemented the land reform, which serve as an example to Žygimantas Augustas for Wallach reform in Lithuania. Bona Sforca supported preparation of Lithuanian Statutes. The cultural life of Vilnius especially liven in the middle of the 16th century when famous musicians, architects, sculptors, doctors and other courtiers of Bona Sforca settled in Vilnius. Some of them were prominent European persons, such as nobleman of Verona Alessandro Pesenti, musician of estate of Cardinal I Ipolit de Este. After the cardinal died in 1521, he became a courtier of Lithuanian Grand Duchess Bona Sforca. This famous organist made a huge input into the development of ecclesiastical music in Vilnius and Krakow. Thanks to Bona Sforca, in Lithuania quite early, at the beginning of 16th century, was started growing of vegetables, which were unknown to Northern East Europe countries and the names of which show their Italian origin cabbage (in Lithuanian kopūstai, in Italian kapucci), cauliflower (in Lithuanian kalafiorai, in Italian cavolo fiore), kohlrabi (in Lithuanian kaliaropė, in Italian - cavolo rapa), leek (in Lithuanian poras, in Italian - pori), parsley (in Lithuanian petražolė, in Italian - petrosello), cannabis (in Lithuanian kanapė, in Italian - cannapa), tomato (in Lithuanian pomidoras, in Italian - pomi d oro). Firstly Bona Sforca cultivated these overseas plants in her gardens, which, according to the historical documents, she had in Vilnius, in the territory of castles and in other places.
The Tuscany type of Italian renaissance influenced 16th century Vilnius architecture. One of the first Italian architects who settled in the Lithuanian capital was Giovani Cini, coming from Setignan near Sienna. Together with Bernardines Zanobi and Pylypo da Fiesolia he rebuilt Vilnius cathedral after the fire, starting from 1540 Cini completed many smaller assignments in Vilnius, participated during reconstruction and expansion of Zemutine castle. He came to Vilnius in 1547 and stayed here till 1554, or possibly, even until his death, and headed the construction crews. Generous rewards, paid to him by the king, allow us to say that he headed the construction and decoration works in Zemutine castle and might have been the author of the project. Cini worked together with Bernardinus Zanobi de Gianotis who was born in Florence (supposedly in the end of 15th century and came to Vilnius in 1517, probably from Rome). Supposedly, he created the monument of V.Gostautas (dead in 1539) in Vilnius cathedral. Filip da Fesole.
In 1579, when Vilnius Jesuit Academy was established, the control of constructions was taken over by the centre of the institution in Rome and the senior architects of the Jesuit provinces. In Lithuania such architect was Giovanni Maria Bernardoni (1541-1605) who worked here from 1583, a student of the first Jesuit Architect General Giovanni Tristano. Supposedly, he was a good designer, who extensively worked with local architects. As a rule, the Jesuit architects who worked in Lithuanian Grand Duchy were not too demanding to the churches designed by them as well as the collegiums built by the local craftsmen. These buildings were not as perfect in proportions as creations of Vinjola or della Porto in Rome. Nevertheless, there were many experienced builders and architects among the Jesuits, who were sent by the institution from the one object to another for supervision and advise to the local masters. Construction of the Vilnius University, the most significant centre of the Jesuit ideology in the Northern Europe, should have been in the Rome Architect Generals centre of attention.
The activity of Jesuits in the territory of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy is evidenced by facts that here, the composition principles of the II Ges? church were applied earlier than in other European countries. After five years from the construction of this church in Rome, the Jesuit architect Giovani Marija Bernardoni (1540 -1605) in 1589 repeated them in Nieswizh. In light of Lithuanian Grand Duchy architecture of this time they were Rome driven principles of avant-garde for organising internal spaces and solving the facade as an independent composition.
The time of the baroque, until the middle of 17th century is characterised by the historians as a period of further improvement of the Lithuanian culture, full of creativity, ambition and attraction to novelty. First half of the 17th century was very favourable for the economical prosperity of Lithuanian Grand Dutchy and its capital Vilnius. In 1618-1648, during the Thirty-Year-War the Europe faced famine and plague. Lithuanian magnates exported grain from the rich territories of Lithuanian Grand Duchy (Byelorussia and Ukraine) into the fighting European countries and attracted talented architects and craftsmen offering them good remuneration. Supposedly, architect Matteo Castello representing early baroque of Rome, Maderno circle, was working in Vilnius in the beginning of the 17th century. After coming into Vilnius he found the baroque style already existent in Zygimantas III Vasa estate. During the ruling of Vasa dynasty the sculptors, architects and other artists were further widely invited. Among them was Conatantinus Tencalla who built St.Kazimieras chapel near Vilnius cathedral. The Italian sculptor Pietro Perti created the altar of the chapel. The sidewalls of the chapel even today are decorated by frescos Opening of St.Kazimieras coffin and The miracle near St.Kazimieras coffin created by another Italian painter Michael Archangelo Palioni in 1692. . Conatantinus Tencalla also is an author to St.Teres church, one of the first baroque churches in Vilnius.
During the period of cortra-reformation the nobleman of Vilnius, who were reverting back to chatolicism built a lot. According to the example of Rome celebratory processions are held, in the streets and squares the triumphal arches and altar are build they are decorated with symbols, allegories, sentations. In time these Italian events became undistinguishable part of Vilnius society traditions.
In the second part of 17th century Lithuanian baroque architecture was influenced not only by Roman and Milan schools, but also the ones of Perti di Muja, Gali di Rovi and other dynasties. They came into Lithuania through Bohemia and Bavaria. These masters created spectacular interiors of St. Paul and Peter church and the abovementioned altar of St.Kazimieras. They also decorated Pazaislis abbey in Kaunas. This, one of the most famous monuments of baroque was created by the number of talented Italian artists. Pazaislis church was built in 1667-1674 according to Jambatisto Frediani. Some painings were made by Govanni Merli, frscos were painted by Arkangelo Paloni in 1674-1684 and were completed by J.Rosi. After 1674 the construction of the church was headed by Carl and Peter Putini.
After the liquidation of the Jesuit institution the cultural links with Italy did not end. The most famous creators of classicism style were studying in Rome: the painter Pranciškus Smuglevičius (from 1765 in St. Lucas academy) and architect Laurynas Gucevičius (in 1776 and 1777).
In 1784 the bishop of Vilnius I. Masalskis invited famous Italian sculptor Thomas Righi (1727 1802) from Rome, who was a distinguished member of St. Lucas art academy. Into the six niches of western facade of the cathedral he integrated four double-size evangelist figures and sculptures of Abraham and Moses. The fa?ade above the niches and the gable was decorated by the compositions from the Bible topics. The sculptor worked in Vilnius for more than six years. The sculptures of T.Righio are the last examples of baroque in Vilnius.
The fist appearance of the neo-classicism in Vilnius is related to Italy. Young Italian architect Karlo Spampani who was invited from Rome in 1773 created Dorian style sculptures in the western wall of the Vilnius university observatory White hall.
In 1795 after Lithuania lost its sovereignty and became a province of Russian empire, it cultural links with Italy naturally weakened.
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