Explore Vilnius Through Art

Discover Lithuania's capital with the Lithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

A View of Vilnius from Little Pohulianka (Early 20th century) by Helena RömerLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Views of the city

The view is a specific genre, it is a landscape or a townscape seen from
a high place, from where a deep and broad scene opens out. It permits the observer to grasp the totality of a town immediately, to see its plan and the layout of the main buildings at a glance. It makes an entire city readable.

Vilnius (1938) by Leon KosmulskiLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Through it, the visual hierarchy of city's historical, religious and secular architectural features becomes comprehensible.

Vilnius (1933) by Juozapas KamarauskasLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Vilnius is situated among hills, and therefore it can take pride in numerous natural vantage points. Impressive views of the city open out from various positions: Gediminas’ Castle, the Hill of Three Crosses, Saviour Hill, Tauras Hill, the hills of Antakalnis, and other high points. Artists took advantage of these possibilities in the 19th and 20th centuries, and used various techniques to create images as if they were seen by a bird. 

Vilnius (1965) by Vincas KisarauskasLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

The New Town (1968) by Leonas KatinasLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

View of Vilnius from Gediminas Hill (2011) by Aloyzas StasiulevičiusLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Gediminas' Tower in Vilnius (1917) by Eugeniusz KazimirowskiLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

The Heart of the City

At the centre of Vilnius stands the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, with the Upper and Lower Castle and the cathedral. The Upper Castle, which was built in the 14th century on Gediminas Hill was former residence of the rulers of the grand duchy, has not survived. However, one of its towers has, and images of Gediminas’ Tower have been popular in art since the 19th century, becoming an iconic symbol of Vilnius as the capital of the state.

An Old House on Tilto Street (Early 20th century) by Mstislav DobuzhinskyLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

The Lower Castle, built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style at the foot of the hill, is a witness to the country’s political and cultural heyday. The luxurious residences of Queen Barbora and the Radvilas used to stand nearby. These residences have not survived, and the demolition of the Lower Castle at the beginning of the 19th century symbolised the loss of the country’s statehood. This is how the ruins of the castle were interpreted in art. 

Gediminas Hill from Tilto Street (1955) by Juozas KėdainisLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Vilnius I (1974) by Birutė StančikaitėLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Next to the Lower Castle stood the Cathedral of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus. It was rebuilt in the Classical style by Laurynas Gucevičius in the late 18th century, and since then it has become a chrestomatic representation of Catholic Vilnius in art.  

A Side Street in Vilnius (1921) by Bronisław JamonttLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Arteries of the City

The essence of every city is movement: the movement of people, ideas, information, finance and goods, and streets are the arteries along which the life of the city moves and pulsates.

The oldest and most prominent artery in Vilnius consists of two streets, Pilies and Didžioji, connecting the two main seats of power, the palace of the grand dukes and the town hall, or the state government and the city government.

This artery has changed little since the Middle Ages, and so it has always attracted artists.

A Corner of Vilnius (1917) by J. FaszowiczLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

But an even greater fascination was aroused by the side streets, which were called lanes (in Polish zaułek). These quiet corners were not considered important, and were not portrayed in art, until they became fashionable at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Stiklių Street (1935) by Bronislaw JamonttLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

The narrow and sinuous lanes of the Old Town, such as Bernardinų, Šv Mykolo, Skapo and Literatų, sometimes with arches, became defining views of Vilnius. Views of them from the same places have appeared in many works of art. The lanes are empty of people, and time has stopped for ever.

Skapo Street in Vilnius (1930s) by Jan Gintowt–DziewałtowskiLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Subačiaus Street by the Missionaries’ Church in Vilnius (1912) by Józef BałzukiewiczLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

A String of Baroque Churches

The Baroque style spread in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with the Counter Reformation in the 17th and 18th centuries, and Baroque architecture in particular made Vilnius famous. A huge fire in 1737 destroyed a large part of the city centre, and only the suburbs remained intact. Palaces and churches that had been devastated by the fire were rebuilt, and new architectural forms appeared on their old Gothic foundations. 

The Missionaries’ Monastery in Vilnius (1931) by Jan Gintowt–DziewałtowskiLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

The city became adorned with more twin-tower churches, lavishly decorated with pediments, pilasters and reliefs, and their graceful silhouettes protruded over the skyline. Researchers call this architecture the Late Baroque School of Vilnius, and associate it with Johann Christoph Glaubitz (ca. 1700–1767), an architect of German origin. He applied the Baroque style not only to Catholic churches (Sts Johns’, St Catherine’s), but also when he was working for other confessions, such as the Uniates (the gates to the Basilian monastery), and the Orthodox Church (the interior of the Church of the Holy Spirit).

The Fair in Vilnius by the Church of St Peter and St Paul (Late 19th century) by Wincenty SlendzińskiLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Vilnius’ Baroque churches, with their highly individual architecture, impressed artists in the 19th and 20th centuries, and became an important subject in their work.

The Bernardine Ensemble (1943) by Viktoras VizgirdaLithuanian Art Centre TARTLE

Credits: Story

Text author Laima Laučkaitė

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps