Lithuanian Folk Art. Germany, Munich, 1948. P. 54-61

The chapels and crosses shelter small deities, the "ciieviikai" and "rupintojeliai". The Holy Virgins and the Christs, as well as the good popular Saints, take up their quarters under trees, appear in the "cages",Lithuanian Folk Art. Germany, Munich, 1948. P. 54-61 hung in trees, conceal themselves in the "cabins". It is perhaps in this imagery in wood that the Lithuanian peasant has done his utmost. A religious art, though not an art of the church, this sculpture spread in spite of the periodical campaigns of the clergy. One inconoclastical crusade follows another, but the work of the ''God makers", the "dievdirbis", does not cease. As late as in 1752 the bishop Tiskevicius of Zemaitija preached against this statuary. No doubt he invoked the same reasons as St. Bernhard in his fight against the monsters of the Romanesque churches, excessive freedom of expression and rudeness of features. Such figures were denied benediction and their admission to sanctuaries was forbidden with only two exceptions, a crucifixion and a Christ. All the others populate the fields, the woods and the roads.
Such conflicts have had a profound repercussion on the formation of this art. Driven out of the church popular sculpture cast off the fetters of convention and developed itself freely. The subjects most frequently treated were borrowed from the Gospels and the Apocrypha, as well as from the legend of the Saints. The chief subject taken over from the Gospel was the cycle of the Passion: Pieta, the Virgin of the Seven Sorrows, Christ in a sitting posture or bearing the cross, the Crucifixion. The Pi'eta remained faithful to its canonical image, as in Western sculpture the Holy Virgin was
represented with the body of her Son on her knees. The figure of the Savior is sometimes quite small in comparison with that of his mother, - he always has remained a child. The Virgin of the Seven Sorrows shows an immense heart pierced by seven flaming swords The sitting Christ is represented as awaiting
The Apocrypha furnished scenes from the education of the Virgin and St. Joseph rocking the Holy Infant. Among the Saints St. George killing the Dragon takes first place, being the patron Saint of the Lithuanian peasant. Then follows St. Isidore, patron Saint of the agricultural laborer with the angel a
the plough. The iconography is in general correct. St. Catherine holds the wheel, St. Agatha the bread, St. John Nepomuk a crucifix and a branch. St. Rochus the pilgrim, followed by his dog, covers his crushed leg, St. Francis receives the stygmata. Nevertheless, certain details sound a particular note, the image of Pieta is often blended with that of the Virgin of the Seven Sorrows and an aureole of stars surrounds the Mother of God, while two angels bearing chandeliers stand on each side. Sometimes she is represented with the crown of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania on her head. The sitting Christ, generally represented alone in Western sculpture, is here attended by two hieratic worshipping figures.
According to Zemaitic legend this is not a scene of the Passion, but represents Christ returned to earth after his resurrection. He is resting by the wayside and weeping over the misery of mankind. The Christ of Nazareth has a thick growth of hair, - a reminiscence of a much venerated statue brought from Italy to Vilnius in 1700, - on which the hair was believed to have grown by a miracle. St. Rochus and St. Isidore, having arrived from abroad, wear bowler hats. St. Francis sometimes has a large spoon stuck in his belt. The bread of St. Agatha protects against fire. In case of fire, consecrated bread is carried around the house. St. George is often represented wearing a helmet. It would be easy to multiply these examples.
It was not however these picturesque details which filled the representatives of the church with indignation, but much rather the form, the movement and the treatment of the subject. Certain figures remind us of the images of Greece of Homer. A rudely shaped trunk has a simple sphere for a head. On other faces a smile of Kozee is frozen. The canon is often irregular, heads either too big or too
small, hands sometimes enormous and sometimes atrophied, postures convulsed. It is here in these deformed bodies that the artist gives the measure of his power of expression. Certain heads, e. g. that of the sitting Christ submerged in the mass of his hair, his cheeks stained by gigantic drops of blood, or that of the crucified Christ displaying His large hands, His mouth like an open wound. His eyes scarcely visible produce a dramatically violent impression. The features of such heads differ widely. Sometimes the heads are supported by long, thin necks, sometimes they are fixed immediately on the trunk with eyes wide open or closed and the mouths distorted in grimace, they arc supernatural and yet true. Other figures stiffen in inaccessible gravity like that flat and pale Virgin holding her dead son with the gestures of an automaton. These figures however belong to two races: at the side of a tormented and
monstrous mankind, we see a pastoral and peaceful mankind. There the Saints are peasants, round - cheeked with salient cheekbones and big astonished eyes. This is a homely world. The Pieta is no longer an insensible idol, but a peasant woman who is bending over her son. She is surrounded snot by angels, but by winged choirboys. Often she looks like a timid shepherdess hidden behind a fan formed of swords. Such statues are full of good nature and joviality and they are perhaps still more pathetic than the supernatural beings with their exaggerated features. The episodes there are not scenes of family life, an atmosphere of mystery still persists. The little angel, who, with courageous hands, seizes the handle of the plough, resembles a troll in a fairytale. The tale is often told with an epic simplicity and love of detail does not affect the great lines. Quizzical observations assume a new meaning. A miracle performed by a Saint dressed like a village curate, seems to be all the more marvelous. Provided with symbolic attributes such as bread, tools- etc. these peasants with the resigned features of the wise and the humble ones, are given the wings of angels and enter into legend.
Such are the principal aspects of this sculpture. At the same time deities and toys, reality and fable, but seldom indifferent, these little statuettes carved in wood affect or terrify us. The reason of the hostility of the clergy in the era of Classicism and afterwards, when countryside churches favored mass production of statues is easily comprehensible. 
The composition and execution of these statues are very varied. We find there all the stages of an evolution, which extends from archaism to sophisticated refinement. Forms preserved in the rites of craftsmanship, though wide apart in time, meet again on the same object and are applied in the
same workshop. Rigorous geometry, monumental distribution of the masses and the ccolorful play of agitated surfaces contradict and complete each other.
Hard and vigorous blows hew these statues. Synthetic lines simplify the features and sometimes deform them. Details are accentuated by graphic incisions, the polychromy of pure and vivacious colors emphasizes the outlines and plans. A deep sense of architecture is everywhere manifested. Certain extended bodies stiffen into pillars. The legs of a sitting Pieta form a pedestal for the body of Christ. These statues are great in spite of their reduced scale. The wood in them is ino longer a senseless material, it helps to animate the features represented. Within the statues the tree trunk is still alive. The priest's vestments resemble a suit made of the bark of a tree. St. George's dragon seems to twist and
turn like a tortuous root. These are indeed sylvan deities hewn from a log of wood. Rigidity sometimes disappears to give place to a more flexible treatment. The graphics of the outlines are softened. The masses flow freely in a ripple of lights and shades, a breeze passes over the folded clothing and the outlines sometimes assume an affected grace. In his eagerness to make use of anything he can, the sculptor seeks to exhaust all possibilities and takes his inspiration from every quarter. In his art
we find traces of the Western Middle Ages, of the Baroque and even of the rustic toys of the present time. Lost in a world far removed from the highways of history, the village sculptor is often in arrear and sometimes-successive epochs and fashions reach him simultaneously. Styles which would exclude^each other elsewhere meet here. These different contributions arriving simultaneously enrich his choice. But, though a recipient for different techniques and various styles, the sculptor still remains true to himself. He transposes and adapts without betraying his true personality. 
The influence of toys is particulary noticeable in groups the units of which are placed side by side like tin soldiers without any common action to link them together. They are displaced or interchanged, although they are incapable of motion. Such groups of articulated dolls are nevertheless touching in their candor. This series comprises a number of animals; St. George's horse is often a fine pied wooden mount. The two oxen fixed to a board and placed before a plough look like gingerbread beasts. Led by
an angel they become God's own beasts. The magic objects of the little ones serve for the worship of the adults.
Among the Western styles, which have exercised the strongest and most lasting influence in this field, the baroque elements and classic art should be mentioned in the first place. Following the Counter Reformation the Jesuits triumphed over all the numerous currents of art in Lithuania. The great European currents penetrated everywhere. Five large religious colleges were established between 1565 and 1575, the largest at Vilnius in 1579. There the latest doctrines were taught and tastes refined. A new age of civilization began, cathedrals and palaces were built and foreign masters called upon to co-operate. Collections were brought together by the nobility and in the churches. Certain miracle performing statues are still venerated. But the influence of this sculpture is limited chiefly to the
propagation of a certain number of iconographic types and plastic themes.
The carver in wood is not insensible to this statuary, but his work, although inspired by it, lacks its magnificence. The faces are heavier, the gestures are awkward, the proportions become impersonal. The agitated folds and mystic rays have perhaps been assimilated best. But even amid all these luxuriant undulations certain traits seem to be reminiscent of the flamboyant style. There seems to be no doubt that medieval art has exercised the stronger influence. This becomes evident in the very choice of the themes, such as the Passion, the Pieta, the Holy Virgin of the Seven Sorrows, afflicted Christ and in the preference shown for scenes of the childhood of Christ or of the education of St. Mary, in the success of some Saints, such as St. Rochus, the protector against the plague. The cycle
of 15th and 16th century subjects is reconstituted. In it we find also the figure of the Devil, with his bat wings, his horns and crooked claws, the demon of Zemaitija hails from the hell of the Middle Ages which classic art did not retain.
This is a strange survival of a vast ancient repertoire. Nothing interfered with its development. In the churches of the towns hardly any traces of it are at present to be found, but the chapels nailed to the trees or built at the roadside are full of such images. They preserve it as a kind of relic of the first Christians in this country. The witnesses of their baptism have never abandoned the Lithuanians.
We know that the religion of the West was introduced at the exact time when this sculpture flourished. The conversion of certain chieftains, such as Mindaugas in 1251 and Gediminas in 1320, did not affect the beliefs of the people. Only in the 15th century the penetration of Christendom became deeper and broader. At first it had to adapt itself to local traditions, to allow it to be mixed with local legends, later transforming and renewing the ancient faith. No doubt the wooden Gothic Saints were heartily welcomed in this country of trees. The popular pathos which developed in the last years of the Middle Ages, with its sense for melodrama and its love of anecdotes which go right to the heart of the peasant, has certainly also largely contributed to further the new propagation of these ancient forms.
These have left a profound impression on the sculpture of this country.
Even the statues copied from the classic baroque monuments often show a touch of it. Medieval man survived in our makers of images. But this is not only the man of the 15th century, a more archaic and unknown Middle Age also survives in him. The oversized deities and the statues bearing
clumsy heads are sometimes more akin to the characters of the 12th century, than to those of the great Gothic altar pieces. They show identical deformations and there movements are the same, angular and rigid. There too the supernatural world of fairytales reigns. Elongated shapes frozen
in a trunk, remind one the statue pillar of Chartres. As they do in architectural ornamentation, vertical folds form real streaks. Certain crucifixes show the same violence as the Christ of Perpignan. If a Romanesque sculptor had had to represent a group of the Pieta, he would have done it in the same manner as shown by a group in which' a stiff St. Mary holds the body of her child with arms and legs rigid, broken into a rectangle and supported by the massive pedestal formed by the Virgin's knees. The
Virgins of Auvergne reappear in certain sitting Virgins. But these insensible idols are but distant relatives of Sainte Poy of Conques, sometimes adorned with necklaces, and they have no historical connection with her. There has been no transmission, but an accidental coincidence of conception.
When carving a Gothic saint from his log, the dievdirbis to a certain extent unveils his past. The energetic tool of the peasant rips off the bark formed in the course of years and lays bare the primitive form. Square images issue from opulent statues. The outlines are simplified and schematized. In the suffering features of Christ are expressed the ferocious features of a more ancient god. Movements again become jerky, the bodies stiffen, become shorter or longer and again attain the coarseness and power of bygone days. The rudeness of the means, the necessity of solid construction, the innate taste for geometric forms, coupled with a craving for the strange and the supernatural, bring about the same deformations as we find in the statuary of the 12th century, certain aspects of which also show popular traits. The hermit of the Nemunas river dreams the same dreams as the makers of images and the monks who once decorated the small Romanesque churches. It is this fraternity of forms and of
technique, which has made it possible to reconstruct an ancient and unknown world. Strange contradictions thus characterize the principal aspects of this sculpture. It is somewhat indifferent with regard to the great Western currents which have left fine traces in this country. It bears deep marks of an epoch of which we possess but few monuments. And finally it shows certain striking affinities with an art, which had never been known in these, regions. But, most of all, it belongs to the forest. Its statuettes still show the structure and retain the fragrance of newly hewn wood. Even in our days
the dievukai have not changed. It is this faithfulness towards the world into which they were born which alone can explain their permanence.

Old lithuanian sculpture, crosses and shrine