Illustrative Religious Graphics in Vilnius in the Mid-Eighteenth Century (Summary)

Ewa Łomnicka-Żakowska (PDF)

In the first decades of the eighteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth saw a rapid increase in illustrative graphics as book publishing intensified. The topics of printed publications in the first half of the eighteenth century varied. Political, historical, religious and panegyric literature, calendars and guides to everyday life were published. The growing number of publications and the diversity of their topics stimulated the need for illustrations.

Local engravers created illustrations for the printings. They rarely had graphic art workshops and mostly worked in monasteries, colleges and universities. Engravings were commissioned by monasteries, colleges and universities and sometimes rulers, high-ranking clergy and secular people. The engravers worked in various cities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Krakow, Warsaw, Poznan, Lublin, Zamosc, Lviv and Vilnius.

In the eighteenth century, religious themes depicting images of saints, their lives and martyrdom scenes dominated the works of local engravers in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Allegorical and symbolic motifs often complemented the compositions. Churches and monasteries, fragments of urban architecture or landscapes were also engraved on the backgrounds. Architectural motifs often accompanied religious compositions. Rococo ornamentation dominated the compositions. Many religious illustrations of the eighteenth century were richly supplemented with various motifs and provided the impression of a horror vacui.

The article presents the works of several Vilnius engravers of the first half of the eighteenth century, namely, ‘St John of Nepomuk’, ‘Bl. Joseph Calasanz’, ‘St Justin’, ‘St Peter de Regalado’, ‘The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ and ‘St Casimir’ by Franciszek Wacław Balcewicz, several versions of ‘The Miraculous Image of Lord Jesus from Chashniki’, ‘St Anthony of Padua and St John of Nepomuk’, ‘Composition with images of St Augustine and St Ignatius of Loyola’ and ‘Our Lady of Różanystok’ by Jan Onufry Piotrowski and ‘St Ignatius of Loyola’ and ‘Our Lady of Mercy’ by Mikołaj Czapliński. The engravings of ‘The Mother of God of Trakai’ and ‘St Victor the Martyr’ are attributed to Mikołaj Czapliński.

A comparison of the works of Vilnius engravers with illustrations created in other cities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth shows that Vilnius engravers are characterised by a storyline and abundant and varied ornamental decorations. Many engravings in Vilnius of the eighteenth century are primitive in form but detailed in drawing. The abundance of meaningful and decorative motifs in engravings is striking in its own way.

Keywords: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, engravers, images of saints, Franciszek Wacław Balcewicz, Jan Onufry Piotrowski, Mikołaj Czapliński