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The stone architecture of Lithuania of XIII – XVIII centuries

At the end of XIV – first half XV century Lithuanian churches were influenced by castle architecture and the Gothic churches of the Franciscan order and East Prussia. They are distinguished by thick walls faced with brick. Widely spaced small Windows emphasized the wide sides of the walls. These planes due to the decorative red brick, drawing the brickwork, grey seams of lime, and sometimes the ornament of black clinker. “Typical of the Gothic verticality was emphasized by buttresses, high gable roofs, dissected by shallow niches, pediments, semi-circular or Lancet Windows and doors”. (34, 195)

In the second half of XV – first half XVI century churches, respecting the old composite base, acquire new features. The walls become higher, and therefore less tangible for their heaviness. The buttresses more emphatic in drawing, not so much perform a constructive function, how much the role of a decorative element. The openings of Windows and doors increase and get a new design of shaped bricks. Cross, star or mesh arches span the interior space of the premises. (73, 95) is a Characteristic feature of Lithuanian plan of Gothic churches – a rectangular hall with a long choruses that end with a triangular apse.

The Gothic churches had one or three naves. Single-nave churches, small and casaseca without the tower, had a massive form and internal space width than height. First known Lithuanian stone buildings – the Church of Mindaugas in the castle of Grodno (mid XIII century). Its plan and spatial solution it is close to the Romanesque St George’s chapel in Riga (beginning of XIII century).

A sample of the Lithuanian Church of the XIV century can serve the Church of St. Nicholas in Vilnius. He had rough forms. The small Windows and the entrance was crowned with a semicircular arch. The top of the Church was decorated with the scalloped Gables. In the XVI century the Church was converted into a three-nave. The oldest surviving Church in Lithuania. Built before the adoption in Lithuania of Catholicism, possibly to foreigners. Small, crazy, with massive walls, almost square in plan, three-nave, hall-type, with short triangular apse and with diagonal buttresses at angles. Different characteristic features of the Gothic style with some elements of Romanesque (semi-circular arches). The main facade is symmetrical. The portal is modestly decorated with two rows of profiled bricks. The plane of the pediment is decorated with three groups of different heights niches that its rhythm and play of light and shade enliven the elevation plane. In the walls of the apse are narrow niches. The appearance of the Church is harsh, but its interior seems spacious and solemn. Two pairs of graceful octagonal pillars with faces made of moulded bricks, supports reticular ribbed vaults inside. The choir from the nave is separated by a keeled arch. Simple and clear compositional structure of the Church influenced the design of later Gothic churches in Lithuania. (68, 206)

The most famous among single-nave churches – St. Anne’s Church in Vilnius (1500-1580) embodies the best achievements of temple architecture of Lithuania in the Gothic epoch. It has long high Central portion and two towers framing the Western façade, making the last value remarkably increases. Its middle part draws whimsical linear and black and white game, which occurs due to the Lancet arches and differently shaped bricks. The main motive of the composition are differently shaped rectangles, connecting them wedge-shaped arch and a semicircular built-in. The facade is crowned with pinnacles. The composition of the Western façade is characterized by a clarity of proportions. The main motive of the lateral facades – Lancet Windows and buttresses – an echo of the vertical elements of the main facade. (30, 13) Thanks to the perfection and grace of composition, the Church of St. Anne is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture in the Baltic States.

At the same time with the nave in Lithuania were constructed three-aisled hall churches. The size of the main part and the ratio of the choir were different. The example can be reconstructed in 1419-1430, Vilnius Cathedral. The interior is divided into three naves by octagonal pillars (filename). Two front towers corresponded to the lateral naves. (32, 158) In the XVI century, the interior of the mentioned Church of St. Nicholas in Vilnius, too, was divided by four pillars into three naves, and the wooden ceiling replaced by vaulting with mesh ribbed pattern.

The largest Gothic Church in Lithuania is the Bernardine Church in Vilnius (1500-1516). It was intended not only for religious but also defensive purposes, as evidenced by the loopholes in the upper part of the facades, towers on the sides of the main, Western façade, and a large tower. Eight slender, softly contoured pillars divide the interior space of the Church into three naves, directing the eyes to the arches, emphasising the vertical rhythm of the interior. In the side naves have preserved the ribbed patterns and cellular arches. (64, 126) the decoration of the arches, the game of their patterns characteristic of late Gothic Lithuanian. The interior impresses with its height (19 meters), the arch separates the Central nave from the choir, the Gothic octagonal columns supporting the arches. The interior is decorated with Gothic openwork iron doors, pulpit with sculptures, Baroque altars, here are the memorial monuments of the early seventeenth century (the tomb of Prince S. radziwiłł, the year 1618, sculptor V. van der Block; the tomb of General P. Veselovsky, 1635 year). (14, 380)

Mentioned a large octagonal tower in the Bernardine Church is one of the most beautiful towers in Lithuania. Compared to the octagonal tower of the Vytautas Church in Kaunas (1400) and other towers a lot easier. Decorative expressiveness arises here due to the natural properties of shaped bricks.

After the establishment of the Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-1377) separate Orthodox metropolis in Vilnius was erected several churches. The oldest is the Church of the Theotokos (from 1415 – Cathedral) was built in 1346 for the colony of Orthodox locals and visiting Russian merchants. The outlines of the Foundation and later descriptions can be seen that in plan it was nearly square and had a dome (the influence of old Russian architecture). After 1520 it received a high gable roof. During the wars of the XVII century the Church was destroyed, and in the XIX century in its place built a temple entirely of other forms. (9, 83)

The old spatial plan and decision preserved, though lost the original form, the Church of the Holy Trinity and the Church of St. Nicholas (built about 1514). Their shape was close to the Gothic churches. But a triple semicircular apse showed the influence of ancient architecture. Grand Duke Stephen Bathory (1576-1586) was banned in Vilnius and in other Lithuanian cities and towns to build new or repair old Orthodox churches. Old Russian Byzantine Church, therefore, fell into disrepair, and new ones built in most in the nineteenth century, architectural are invaluable.

Castles and religious buildings have played a major role in shaping the architectural appearance of the Lithuanian cities. Their silhouettes, they stood out among the civil buildings of the city and United them.

Other buildings of Lithuania public character have similarities with the houses. Of great interest is the building that has been preserved in Kaunas office of the local merchants – so-called “House of Perkūnas”. The facade of the two-storey building has a distinct Gothic design. It is crowned by an openwork pediment, beautiful civil architecture in Lithuania, and perhaps of the Baltic States. The compositional basis of the decorations of the building – the motif of the arch of wedge-shaped bricks (like on the facade of St. Anne’s Church in Vilnius).

From the mid-fifteenth century in Vilnius and Kaunas on the main streets and on the square stone houses are beginning to displace wood. Stone houses were single storey, double storey and sometimes three-storey, with gable roofs and high Dormer Windows. Sometimes they were decorated with pediments, shallow niches, floor friezes and shaped cornices. Windows and entrances were arched. Commercial offices and other offices inside had mesh or star-shaped ribbed vaults.

Gothic churches
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