Art Patrons

The word patron derives from the Latin patronus, u0022patron,u0022 one who gives benefits to his clients. Most languages other than English still use the term mecenate, derived from the name of Gaius Maecenas, a politician, generous friend and counsellor to the Roman Emperor Augustus (who died in 14 A.D). When in Rome, he took young writers under his patronage. Ever since then, patronage is understood as the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings, popes and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors. The most frequent manifestations of patronage are commissioning specific works of art, hiring and sponsoring artists. Sometimes this term is unreasonably applied to describe other disciplines and spheres of life benefiting from patronage, such as science, culture and Church. Such application of the term developed in the 19th century and is often encountered today. However, it should be noted that the term of patronage is primarily used to describe sponsorship and patronage of art (literature, the fine arts, architecture, music or theatre).

The first patrons used to buy grace

It is difficult to identify manifestations of patronage during the early period of its development (the 14th-early 16th centuries). No data about the names of artists or details regarding the commissioning of works of art has survived. There is reason to believe that masterpieces of the Byzantine painting on the walls of the royal Wawel castle (Krakow) and Lublin chapels at the start of the 15th century were created upon Władysław II Jagiełło’s initiative. Starting with the 16th century, instances of patronage in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania can be clearly visible in literature.

Most of the first poems were created and published not upon the initiative of the authors themselves but as a result of the nobility commissioning these works of art.

For example, the poem Radivilias by the poet from Vilnius Jonas Radvanas, glorifying Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Red (died in 1584), was created on the order of the Radziwiłł, under the patronage of Jan Abromavicz at the end of the 16th century. The military merits of Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (who died in 1621) were exalted in the poem Karolomachia (1606) by Lawrence Bojer, the work commissioned by the nobleman Chodkiewicz.

Architectural masterpieces created under the influence of the Baroque patronage spirit

Manifestations of patronage in the fine arts and architecture of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania are best observed during the Baroque epoch. It is only symbolic that patronage is characteristic of the activities of Mikołai Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Orphan (died in 1616), who was the Voivode of Vilnius and initiator of Baroque architecture in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Following the example of private cities, dominating in Europe in the late 16th-early 17th centuries, he rebuilt the town of Nyasvizh, founded several monasteries and established in it the most luxurious residence in the whole of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Jesuit Corpus Christi Church, one of the first churches in Europe to reflect Baroque architectural forms, was to become the highlight of the town. Mikołai Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Orphan is known to have meticulously interfered with the construction of the church of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. There is reason to assume that it is only due to his persistence that a large dome was raised above the church, having changed its architectural style. Acting as a patron, Mikołai Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Orphan was famous for inviting high level artists, commissioning marble tombstones and sets of pictures as well as sponsoring book publishing. Considering Radziwiłł the Orphan’s exceptional educational background, his curiosity and erudition, all this should be hardly surprising.

In the first half of the 17th century, no other nobleman in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania could match Mikołai Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Orphan in providing such abundant sponsorship to art.

It is worth mentioning that at the time, the Ruler’s artistic commissions in Vilnius, related to the reconstruction of the Ruler’s Palace and the interior decoration of St. Casimir’s chapel of the Vilnius Cathedral, became quite distinguished. The latter was a significant breakthrough in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in popularising the establishment of private dome chapels in the country and a more extensive use of marble. The interior of St. Casimir’s chapel serves as an artistic example to be followed, whereas the marble blocks left after the construction were used for the creation of artistic works commissioned by other noblemen. The marble imported to Lithuania upon the Ruler’s initiative was used to build tombstones, create epitaphs and portals.

The first half of the 17th century in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was characterised by emulating and copying the Ruler’s style of patronage. Quite frequently, the most famous artistic commissions are known to have been fulfilled by the craftsmen and artisans working for the Ruler.

The noblemen take over the initiative from the ruler

The situation changed in the second half of the 17th century. Lithuania’s rulers started to commission the works of art on fewer occasions, esteemed foreign painters and architects were also invited less frequently, and eventually their artistic activities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were reduced to the minimum. Both in Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania the initiative to sponsor and promote arts was taken over by the nobility. They started to independently invite talented artists, commissioning from them innovative pieces of artwork. Among the most prominent examples is the Pažaislis Camaldolese Monastery and St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Vilnius. In the latter, stucco moulding was used for the first time to decorate the church. The church contains over 2,000 astonishing stucco mouldings representing miscellaneous religious and mythological scenes, portraying both individual figures and groups of sculptures. The patron of the church construction, Michał Kazimierz Pac spared no resources. He was personally involved in selecting and inviting the architects and was actively engaged in the process of construction. In his will, the nobleman gave instructions that the pictures for the altars were to be used according to the plan approved by him. Even more numerous manifestations of patronage as such can be found in Pažaislis. The patron of the monastery, Krzysztof Zygmunt Pac, interfered with the individual components and details during the process of construction, adjusted altar designs and even chose the colours of stucco moulding himself. The church is innovative not only in its architectural solutions (concave main facade, rare hexagenal plan) but also in its interior decoration (in it, abundant amount of marble is used for the first time, stucco moulding is combined with wall paintings). All the artwork was conducted by high-level Italian artists, some of them kept working for their customer for a decade or even longer.

Prosperity of the manor culture: manifestation of love of art rather than love of the artists…

In the 17th, and particularly in the 18th centuries, a tradition was observed by some manor owners to have musical chapels, hire and provide accommodation and subsistence for professional musicians. Musical pieces were commissioned by the noblemen. Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Michał Kazimierz Oginski (1728–1800) was not only fond of playing various musical instruments and creating music but also made arrangements for an opera and a big orchestra to be set up in his mano in Slonim. The manors in Podlasie Biala, Nyasvizh and Slutsk, owned by LDK standard-bearer Hieronim Florian Radziwiłł (1715–1760) were known to host architects, painters, sculptors, to boast art collections, a ballet school and a theatrical troupe. Musicians and solo singers from Vienna were invited to perform with the musical chapel based in one of the manors. It has to be noted, however, that the manor owner, known for a passionate love of art, did not have an agreeable disposition.

Not having received any reward and fearing physical punishment, artists used to flee from him…

Mindaugas Paknys