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.Virgin m Mary. (Skuodas district.) Photo vy Jonas Danauskas
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 villages and other places related to some remarkable events.
A height of Samogitians pillars with a chapel reached 2-4 meters. There were various constructions of chapels: opened from one or four sides, one - or two-storied, with perpendicular or sloping walls, their roofs were double - or four - pitch, of bent structure, cross like 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 meter and sometimes more. The higher statues (170-200 cm) are found in altars of the churches.
All statuettes are colored. Polychrome 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.


Old lithuanian sculpture, crosses and shrine