1300 – 1400: The Grand Duke writes to the Pope
* ITALY was involved in and with Vilnius already from its very first days as a capital city. Even the name “Vilnius” was used for the first time when Grand Duke Gediminas in 1323 wrote to Pope John XXII asking for support in Christianizing the duchy.
* Gediminas also invited merchants, craftsmen, bankers, farmers, and soldiers to come to the new capital, guaranteeing all freedom of beliefs and good working conditions. Vilnius became international, though not with much of German or Scandinavian influence, as one could expect, rather influenced by Rome – greatly different from the other two Baltic capitals.
* Early examples of Italian influence within architecture, where at
least some fragments of heavy, massive walls and other elements, typical
for the early Gothic period, still do exist in some Vilnius churches,
among them the Cathedral, the Church
of Assumption (Traku 9) and the Church of Resurrection (Didzioji
* And, there is one church you really should visit if you would like to smell the 700 years of Italian influence on Lithuanian history. That is the St. Nicholas Church in Sv. Mykolo Street 4. This tiny little church was originally erected around 1320, and remains the oldest Gothic building in town despite several changes over the centuries. A beauty!
1400 – 1500: Prince Casimir, the Patron Saint
* Young Prince Casimir (1458 – 1483) was supposed to be a Grand Duke, and also to ascend the throne of Hungary, but chose a spiritual life instead. He died of tuberculosis already at an age of 25, and his remains in the Vilnius Cathedral won quickly fame for miracles, so already in 1521, Casimir was elevated to sainthood, and canonized by Pope Leo X. He is considered the patron saint of Lithuania and Poland, and the cult of St. Casimir left a deep mark in the history and art of Lithuania. And, of course, one of Casimir’s main teachers was Italian, the humanist Callimachus Buonacorsi, who described Casimir as a “holy youth”, and also wrote; “He should either never have been born or should have abided with us forever”.
* This was also the century when, according to the Polish historian Jan Dlugos, the legends about Lithuanian’s similarities with the ancient Romans arose – also that the name Lithuania derived from “l’Italia.”
* By the end of the 14th Century, the fusion of Italian and Northern European art had lead to the development of an International Gothic Style (the original Gothic style originated already around 1150, at the fall of the Roman Empire). Leading architects and artists traveled all over Europe, and also Lithuania got its part of this new Gothic wave by the end of the 15th Century, today first of all symbolized by the probably most famous structure in Vilnius, the Church of St. Anne – a masterpiece nearly unsurpassed in the world - and the connected Church of St. Francis and St. Bernadine – built by Bernadine monks who arrived in Vilnius by the middle of the century.
1500 – 1600: A European, Renaissance Capital
* Throughout the Renaissance, when Italy was a trading center and a melting pot for the world’s greatest civilizations, also Vilnius became a Renaissance center, competing with Florence and Milan. This became a fact when King Sigismund the Old (1506-48) married Bono Sforza (from Milan) and returned to live in Vilnius in 1518. They created an Italian community within the court and, under the influence of the Queen, Italian culture became the preoccupation of the city’s elite; macheroni, skryliai, and even the confection marcipanus became staples among the cogniscenti; and life at court became a series of cultural events, with rich noblemen competing for extravagance.
* In 1532, the Vilnius Cathedral Orchestra was already performing, with the Queen singing alto.
* The education of King Sigismund August (1520-72) was the responsibility of a Sicilian, Jonas Silvijus Amatas, between 1529 and 1537. This King founded Lithuania’s first library in 1547, and sent scholars and traders across Europe to assemble volumes of practical and historical value. King Sigismund August took an Italian lover, Diana di Kordona. Dates are not available, but it is recorded that even at the age of 40, she had maintained her beauty and charm.
* King Sigismund August rebuilt the Lower Castle and furnished it in a very luxurious style. It was turned into a center of Renaissance culture, boasting an excellent library, a theatre, a choir, a picture gallery, and a collection of tapestries. The castle, as well as other venues of the city, was open for masquerades and competitions, scholarly disputes and feasts. In Vilnius, the ruler kept horse-stables with two thousand horses and even something like a zoo – five bears, a lion and ten camels.
* In 1562, Georges Blandrata, a physician from the University at Bologna, was installed as antitrinitoriu teoretiku (roughly, master of theoretical information at the court).
* Also in 1562, Lithuania got its first and firm link to Western Europe and Italy, when the post-route Vilnius-Krakow-Vienna-Venice opened.
* In 1569, the bishop established Vilnius College and School Theatre. A year later, its first performance was a comedy, “Hercule”, by Italian S. Tucci.
* Also in 1569, the first four Jesuits arrived, and in 1570 founded the Jesuit College of Vilnius. It became Vilnius University in 1579, by decrees of Pope Gregory XIII and King Stepanas Bartorias.
* In 1571, an Italian goldsmith, Petra Petina, was accepted as a designer of coins and medals by the Royal Mint, and his coins and medals produced during the reign of Stpanas Bartorias are considered the most significant of ancient Lithuanian coins.
* In 1584, Simonas Simonijus, a physician from Padua, conducted the first autopsy and two years later, in 1586, published the first medical text in Lithuania.
* On October 29, 1579, Pope Gregory XII issued a bull acknowledging the Vilnius University, which soon became the major intellectual center of Lithuania. It is regarded as one of the oldest and most respectable universities in Eastern and Central Europe, including its extensive collection of Latin literature. The University includes twelve courtyards, whereof the Great Courtyard is the most valuable in the historical and artistic respect. It reminds an Italian Renaissance square, though it combines elements of three styles – Renaissance Mannerism, Baroque and Classicism.
VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL CLUB:
Fragments of Italian influence in/on Lithuania since 1323
It is a myth that Rome and Vilnius both were established by wolves.
But it is no myth that the Italians have put an indelible mark on this
country, and when Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, in 1323 decided
to put down roots in what is now Vilnius, a Franciscan monastery was
already in place – at the foot of Castle Hill (where the Cathedral today
is located). Since then, for hundreds of years, the spirit of Rome has
played a main role in the development of Vilnius and to a certain degree
also of Lithuania.
1600 – 1700: The Vilnius Silhouette turns Baroque
* In the 17th Century, Vilnius turned more and more baroque, in fact becoming the largest Baroque city north of the Alps, as well as the one farthest to the east.
* During this period, excellent monuments of Baroque were built, such as the church of St. Casimir (1604-18) – designed along the line of the famous Il Gesu Church in Rome, and St. Theresa Church (1633-50) – where the façade was designed by Constantino Tencalla in accordance with the models of Roman architecture. Other outstanding monuments of the Baroque period are the churches of St. Ignatius and All Saints.
* And do not forget to visit the Chapel of St. Casimir in the Cathedral - one of the most artistic Baroque Mausoleums in all of Europe!
* The most exquisite Baroque monument in Vilnius, however, is the unique Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (1668-1704). Its interior décor, consisting of 2000 stucco statues, is unique in Europe. The Italian sculptors Pietro Perti, Giovanni Maria Gallia and others did the decoration works during a period of 33 years. The church was renovated in 1801-04 by Giovanni Beretti and Nicolas Piano, both from Milan.
* Around 1600, Giovanni Battista became conductor of a castle orchestra and author of many masses and motets still played.
* Along the way, scholars were going south for education, and fashions, fabrics, and music from Italy were shaping the culture of Lithuania.
* It is also really worthwhile going to KAUNAS to see one of the most prominent examples of Baroque architecture in Lithuania. Go to the peninsula of the Kauno Marios Water Reservoir (direction Vilnius). The Pazaislis Church and Monastery was started built in 1667, by Italian Camalduli monks, who were invited to Kaunas by the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kristupas Pacas. The most striking part of the ensemble is a hexagonal dome, and two protruding towers, looking like helmets. Several generations of Lithuanian and Italian masters worked at this impressive complex until it was completed by the middle of the 18th century, but the first, and main master, was the Italian architect Lodovico Fredo.
The exceptional relationship between Italy and Lithuania, which existed for the period of 1300 – 1800, will never come back, but will always remain as a remarkable memory, and leave its unique hallmarks in and on Lithuania forever…
VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL CLUB
To commemorate the "Italian" VIC meeting in the University of Vilnius
April 22, 2004
1700 – 1800: Sculptures on the Cathedral
* Classicism was introduced to Lithuania from Rome, where some of the most famous Lithuanian artists, architects and other performers of the fine arts were studying during this century. The famous painter Pranciskus Smuglevicius studied for example at the St. Lucas Academy for a number of years, and the architect Laurynas Gucevicius was in Rome for studies during the period of 1776-1777.
* The first appearance of Neo-Classicism came also from Rome, when the architect Carlo Spampani in 1773 came here to design the portal in the White Hall of the Vilnius University’s Observatory of Astronomy.
* In 1784, the bishop of Vilnius, I. Masalski, invited the famous Italian sculptor, Thomas Righi, to come here for the creation of sculptures on the Cathedral. His creations can also today be seen on the western fa?ade, in six niches where he gave life to the four evangelists, with Moses and Abraham on each of the sides.
* The Vilnius Cathedral Treasury does also contain several objects with Italian origin, worth a separate study! The treasures were so carefully hidden behind brickwork in one of the Cathedral’s niches just before the World War II, that they were discovered again only in 1985.
* Attention should also be paid to the gorgeously carved High Altar of the St. Francis and St. Bernardine Church, created by the Italian Master Danielo Giotto, by the end of the 18th century.
* Also gardens and parks were made according to Italian style. The most famous was probably the Gostauto Garden, which today mostly is covered by the Presidency Park. The original garden was made following the example of Northern Italian parks, and was said to have been one of the most beautiful, being laid out geometrically with straight radial paths, round square and regularly shaped lawns characteristic of the Baroque age.
* Try also to find time for a weekend trip close to the southern border of Latvia (near Bauska) to visit the Rundale Palace (1735-68), supposed to be the most beautiful Baroque palace in the Baltic States, created by the author of the St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace, the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
* In 1795, Lithuania lost its sovereignty, and became a northern province of the Russian Empire. With this, also the extraordinary and long-lasting contact with Italy vanished… The golden period was over.
1800 – 1900: The “Silent Century”
* The direct Italian influence on and in Lithuania disappeared more or less in the 19th Century. But also the Russian Empire had its influence from neo-styles inherited from Italy, and some examples of these styles can be found also in Lithuania.
* One example of direct influence from Italian masters, also in this century, is the renovation works on the St. Peter and St. Paul Church during the years 1801-04 (ref. 17th Century, Baroque).
* And, do by no means miss the chance to visit Traku Voké to see the magnificent estate of Count Tiskevicius, built in 1876 - 80 by the Italian architect L. Marconi.
1900 – 2004: Pizza, Technology, Fashion, and…?
* 200 years have passed since the golden period of the Italian-Lithuanian relationship ended. Today, the relationship is being re-built, and Italy is once again well represented in Vilnius, with Embassy, Cultural Center and a Chamber of Commerce.
* And, as in the rest of the modern world, the streets of the Lithuanian cities have the latest years been “invaded” by Italian pizzerias, fashion boutiques, and furniture stores.
* Italian restaurants (food is not made by calculation)…
“When Manfredo Molteni arrived in Vilnius last February, he spent the first five months hard at work in the kitchen. I had to change the mentality of the kitchen staff. Italian food is not made by calculation… Antonio is a visionary here in Vilnius…, says Molteni, who himself has background as a Chef of some of the highest class restaurants in Italy”. (Vilnius in Your Pocket).
* Italian car-makes (it must be a passion)…
The history behind the Italian automobile is an illustrious one. With the ownership of an Italian car you can experience what stands for an Italian way of life… Italian cuisine, Italian wines, Italian painters, Italian car-designers: The romance and passion in this most idealized country have contributed to a way of life, and has produced people known for their creativity and design. They seem to have been commissioned with a special purpose in the community of men, and have consistently produced what is considered a higher standard of goods, ideas, and fast machines…