King Sigismund Vasa’s Commissions in Vilnius Lower Castle (Summary)

Birutė Rūta Vitkauskienė (PDF)

The article presents new archive sources related to the building and the decoration of the baroque Chapel of St Casimir adjacent to Vilnius Cathedral (Capella Regia). The new materials reveal the problem related to the author and the project of the Chapel and the payments for the foreign architects who worked in Vilnius. The new Chapel of St Casimir was dedicated to the victory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth against Moscow. Thus, the occasion for realising this monument did not arise until after 1619. The process of founding the Chapel was examined in light of the sources concerned with the reconstruction of the Royal Palace between 1610 and 1631. The King conceived of the possibility of connecting his private apartments, built in the western wing of the Palace, finished around 1627, as seen from the document transcribed in the Metrica of Lithuania, to the eastern side of the Cathedral, thus creating a direct passage between the King’s rooms and the Chapel of St Casimir. Thus, his project was very similar to the arrangement in the Escorial Palace built by Philip II in Spain in 1586. Newly discovered correspondence between the Treasurer of Lithuania, Stefan Pac, and the Supervisor of Vilnius Castle, Petrus Nonhart, between 1623 and 1631, presents new facts about the building of the Chapel of St Casimir. The most important person in this process was the Italian architect Costante Tencalla, who arrived in Vilnius with his brother, stonecutter Giacomo, on 25 December 1623. Costante Tencalla received the highest pay for his services. He was responsible for furnishing the new Royal apartments with marble fireplaces, measuring imported Belgian marble and Gotland sandstone blocks destined for the Chapel and realising the entire project. He was also the head of the four or five stone cutters teams, which cut and carved sandstone and marble. Costante Tencalla’s brother Giacomo worked in Vilnius between 1643 and 1644 when he completed the gallery between the Royal Palace and the Chapel of St Casimir. The lists compiled for Sigismund III Vasa by the Treasurer, Stefan Pac, around 1630–1631 show that the King used to receive detailed information about the building. He wanted to go to Vilnius but was prevented by the plague. Sigismund III Vasa died in Warsaw on 30 April 1632 and never saw the realisation of his magnificent idea.

The Chapel of St Casimir is akin to another private oratoria in the royal palaces of Europe. The description of the chapel’s altar in 1636 shows that it corresponded to the type of reliquary altars in the Reichenkapelle in Munich, Husum and Frederiksborg. The Augsburg silversmiths executed the silver figures for the altar of the chapel. Some of them survived in Czestochowa. It is possible to raise the hypothesis about the execution of the ebony altar project by the royal architect Giovanni Battista Gisleni. However, the Chapel of St Casimir altar was not a simple reliquary altar. The silver reliquary-sarcophagus above its altar indicated that the Chapel of St Casimir was built as a confession, the grave or sepulchre of a prince of the Jagiellonian dynasty, St Casimir the Confessor. Thus, it places the chapel on a higher rank of ecclesiastical buildings, so the monument plan is central and topped with a dome. The interior of the chapel, as we see from the description by an Italian monk, was opulent. The novel architectural features and silver-plated decoration of the Chapel of St Casimir had profoundly impacted other baroque buildings in Lithuania.

Keywords: Chapel of St Casimir, Vilnius Cathedral, the Royal Palace, Costante and Giacomo Tencalla, Stefan Pac