THE SAMOGITIAN FOLK SCULPTURES
By Skaidre Urboniene
- One of the most expressive branches of Lithuanian national art was sculpture. Statuettes
of saints were created by the rural self-taught masters called „god markers”. Those
statuettes were mostly placed into monuments of small-scale architecture: chapels, roofed,
pillars with a miniature chapels, crosses. In different regions of Lithuania those
monuments had the specific features, stylistics of sculptures was different as well.
- Majority of traditional national sculptures kept in museums are dated of the 19 th - the
first half of the 20th century. There are only several statuettes dated to the 18th
century in museums. Archival materials provide information about god-markers also mostly
from the middle of the 19 th – the first half of the 20 century. So the themes and
features of the Samogitian folk sculpture of the 19 th – the first half of the 20 th
century are generalized and discussed in the present article.
- Monuments used to be erected in farmsteads, by the wayside, at crossroads, on river
banks, in cemeteries, churchyards, streets and squares of towns and vilages and other
places related to some remarkable events.
- A height of Samogitians pillars with a chapel reached 2-4 metres. There were various
constructions of chapels: opened from one or four sides, one – or two-storeyed, with
perpendicular or sloping walls, their roofs were double – or four – pitch, of bent
structure, crosslike connected.
- Each monument of small – scale architecture was erected on certain occasions the
reasons of which varied: related with personal or family life and economic activity, with
secular or religious activity of a village community or its part, with separate events of
life of population or the whole nation especially within the crucial historical moments.
- The large part of the first group monuments marked burial places in the cemeteries. The
monuments were built on a place of tragic death as well – „that soul lost would
peacefully rest and did not frighten passers-by”. The crosses, chapels marked the dates
of weddings, births or christenings. They were erected in expectation of a baby and not
getting him or in case of its death. In their farmstead’s monuments Samogitians loved to
have statuettes of the saints named after members of the family. Monuments used to be
built asking for health or in gratitude for treatment, for protection against misfortunes
or poor harvest, or cattle-plague, in case of house-warming or departure to new place.
- The reasons of erection of monuments of village community or its part were similar:
desire of health and success in economic activity, desire to avoid misfortune, for
commemoration of the important events in the village life. The village youth often built
monuments in Whitsunday.
- The third group of monuments is related to the events of life of certain population or
the whole nation, especially within the crucial moments. The erected monument had to be
consecrated. The unconsecrated monument was marked by the bouquets of flowers, junipers,
fir-tree branches. That bouquet could be removed only after consecration.
- The small statuettes of 15-70 cm height were put inside miniature chapels or pillars
with chapel. Large size sculptures were put inside ground-built chapels. Height of such
sculptures reached 1 metre and sometimes more. The higher statues (170-200 cm) are found
in altars of the churches.
- All statuettes are coloured. Polychromy supplements the form, adds new element of
decoration, makes clear or changes the expression of faces.
- Themes related to jesus Christ and Virgin m Mary prevail in Samogitian sculpture.
Statuettes of men-saints (St. John Nepomuk, St. George, St. Roch, St. John the Baptist,
St. Isidore etc.) constitute large part of sculpture, while women-saints (St. Barbara, St.
Ann, St. Agatha etc.) considerably smaller part. Themes of saints were taken from
ecclesiastical iconography, but they were interpreted according to the god-maker’s wish.
But in spite of rather free interpretation of themes, masters tried to adhere to exact
iconographical attributes as a main factor of recognizing the certain theme.
- Monuments with statuettes of saints reflected religious conception, the world outlook,
ethical and aesthetical views of common people.