Eloquence of the Décor of Holy Cards from 1840 to 1914 (Summary)

Skirmantė Smilingytė-Žeimienė (PDF)

From 1840 to 1914, holy cards and their décor were important carriers of Christian traditions and symbolism. The article explores the meanings of the elements and symbols used in the décor of holy cards, focuses on the evolution of these devotional images and discusses their production from the main publication centres. In addition, the article discusses the heritage of holy cards in Lithuania and their décor from the ‘Album of Vilnius’ published by Jan Kazimierz Wilczyński.

From 1840 to 1914, these holy cards were a promise from the increasingly strong Catholicism and, in a way, a ticket to the afterlife. The primary purpose of their pretty visual rendering was to surprise, attract and engage. Here, the key role was played by highly abundant and rich décor that served as an ornament and carried a charge of narrative and symbolism. Décor, the diversity of which was always driven by the competition between publishers, was a merge of imagination, eclecticism and mastery. The paper ‘lace’ was inspired by openwork paper or parchment cuttings produced by nuns in the Baroque era. Its new manufacturing process involved mechanic technologies that merged the pre-existing embossing and perforation techniques. With chromolithography becoming increasingly available, the appearance of the holy cards became simpler, but they still retained many décor elements. Flowers, flower bouquets and arabesques were the key constituents of holy cards manufactured by virtually any technique.

The devotional cards were influenced by Light Romanticism; however, the divide between romance and sentimentality or triviality was blurry. From the 1840s, the holy cards became the illustrative phenomenon of mass culture and the example of a mass-manufactured product.

Keywords: symbols, Christian traditions, Jan Kazimierz Wilczyński, Album of Vilnius, Light Romanticism