The Influence of Kazimierz Leon Sapieha on Carved Sculpture: The Cracow and Local Masters (Summary)

Александр Ярошевич (PDF)

One of the most impressive examples of old Belarusian sculpture is the high altar of the Church of St John the Baptist in Vowpa. The coat of arms engraved on its base represents the commissioner of the work, the Deputy Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), Kazimierz Leon Sapieha (1609–1656), the son of the Chancellor of the GDL, Lew Sapieha (1557–1633). It is no coincidence that St Casimir, the patron of the benefactor, is depicted next to St John the Baptist on the altar. The entire Sapieha family highly venerated St Casimir.

According to the biography of Kazimierz Leon Sapieha, the altar of the Vowpa church was most likely built between 1633 and 1643. The reliquary for the side altar was created in 1634. The altar was moved to its present location between 1773 and 1776. In the 1630s, the painters’ workshop that built the high altar probably also created the Baroque altar of Our Lady of the Rosary in the side chapel.

The decorative details of the high altar show the influence of the German carving school. Its most important centres in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were Gdansk and Cracow. There are several examples of the Sapieha family’s contacts with Cracow artists. In 1646, Kazimierz Leon Sapieha commissioned the portal of the Dzyatlava Church from Cracow craftsmen. The epitaph of Krzysztof Sapieha (decd. 1631), the brother of Kazimierz Leon Sapieha, was designed by Costante Tencalla and carved by Sebastian Sala. The small sculptures on the axes of the side columns of the church’s altar in Vowpa are similar to a later work by Tencalla, the column of Sigismund Vasa in Warsaw.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, the Sapieha family built more churches than any other noble family in the GDL. Lew Sapieha took over the construction of churches in Ruzhany (1617), Chareya (1604), the Bernardine monastery in Vilnius (1594) and the Carmelite monastery in Byalynichy (1624). Kazimierz Leon Sapieha completed the churches benefited by his father and also established new ones. He sponsored the construction of residences of the Jesuits in Brest and Novogrudok, the Carmelites in Byalynichy, the Canons of the Lateran in Slonim, and benefited the Carthusian monastery in Byaroza and the Bernardine monastery in Druya. In addition, Sapieha established Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Polychrome church altars in a combination of black and gold/silver and wooden figures appear only in the churches built by Kazimierz Leon Sapieha in Vowpa, Dzyatlava, Byaroza, Chareya and Tsimkavichy. In addition to the churches benefited by the Sapieha family, there were also black-painted altars in Barysaw, Sokolino(?), Zhuprany, Mir and Budslaw.

The Carthusian Church of Byaroza, benefited by Kazimierz Leon Sapieha, was completed during the Russo-Polish War. Then, during the turmoil, many foreign craftsmen left the GDL, and local craftsmen replaced them. Sculptures from the Byaroza church are typologically similar to the two sculptures in the church of Zietela, also built by Kazimierz Leon Sapieha in 1646. The simplified and static forms of the Byaroza sculptures in the church show that the masters working in Vowpa did not create them. They were created by local craftsmen.

Keywords: Belarus, Catholic churches, Orthodox churches, altars, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Grand Duchy of Lithuania