Johann Christoph Glaubitz and the phenomenon of Vilnius Baroque School

Vilnius is often referred to as the city of Baroque. It is a well recognized fact that the Baroque churches are dominants of the city. The Baroque churches decorated with two slender towers, stand out conspicuously against the city landscape. It is these high-rising, slender towers that are identified as the most characteristic feature of Vilnius Baroque school. This is the historiographic name of the Late Baroque architectural style, which developed in the second quarter of the 18th century. Its origins are related to the artistic environment of Vilnius, whereas the buildings attributable to this architectural style were erected over the entire territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, from Samogitia down to Mstislavl and Polotsk. In historiography, the exquisite slender towers are identified as signs marking the boundaries of the old Lithuanian state, the Eastern Catholicism and even the Central Europe.

“Billowing” architectural landscape of Vilnius

However, this prominent accent of the city panorama, characteristic of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, is not the only necessary element of this particular Baroque strain. As early as in pre-war period the researchers investigating the phenomenon of Vilnius Baroque highlighted the fact that after having liberated oneself from the overall impression and conducted analysis of the buildings in question, one can discern in them an abundance of different elements, such as towerless facades, which are very characteristic only of “Vilnius Baroque” strain. In all probability, the properties attributable to Vilnius Baroque strain should be sought in the compositions and decoration motifs, specifically found only in the Vilnius school. Among them are finely dispersed decorative pediments, profiled, broken or bent cornices, rhythmical repetition of pilasters (the most prominent example of which is the Vilnius Basilian Monastery Gate)|, adornment with iron openwork carvings, interior decoration with artificial multicoloured marble and stucco (e.g., the interior of Vilnius St. John’s church).

The entirety of all the afore mentioned elements results in a unique and original architectural expression. Thus, Vilnius Baroque School is known as an independent strain of Baroque, prevalent in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Europe. First and foremost, this school is related to the creative work of Johann Christoph Glaubitz (about 1700–1767), an outstanding representative of this architectural style. Johann Christoph Glaubitz was a Lutheran, born in the German lands. He arrived in Vilnius in 1738 and worked here until his death.

Is Johann Christoph Glaubitz was the only architect?

Researchers have come up with many hypotheses, aimed to analyse and interpret Johann Christoph Glaubitz’s creative work.  The prominent architect has been attributed almost one half of all the constructions built in the mid-18th century. The first researcher to notice the artisan’s talent was Stanisław Lorentz, an art historian who worked in Vilnius in the pre-war period. He conducted research on some churches and palaces built by the architect in question, relying on credible sources. Based on the findings of this research, Stanisław Lorentz hypothetically attributed several more buildings to this particular author. Years later, the art historian Vladas Drema (who maintained close correspondence with Stanisław Lorentz after the war) was to become the main person to create “the myth of Johann Christoph Glaubitz.” Vladas Drėma attributed to this architect the authorship of as many as 39 architectural objects. He based such conclusions on “a very distinct and unique style of character and a touch of definite individuality.” At a later time, the significance of Johann Christoph Glaubitz was even more highlighted by the historian Alfredas Bumblauskas, who claimed that the thirty years’ period of the architect’s creative work should be regarded as “one of the most prominent phenomena of Lithuanian civilization, which has retained up to our days the status of proof that the Lithuanian culture was part of Western civilization.” Furthermore, according to Alfredas Bumblauskas, Johann Christoph Glaubitz deserves to be treated as one of the most prominent personalities in the Lithuanian history.

That being said, other researchers claim that the authorship of some of Johann Christoph Glaubitz’s creative work is debatable. In 1992, a historian of Polish architecture Wojciech Boberski delivered a presentation in Vilnius, entitled “Not only Glaubitz” During the last decade, the following creators of Vilnius Baroque have been “discovered:” Joseph Fontana, Jan Valentin Tobias de Dyderstein, Jan Wilhelm Freser and others. Joseph Fontana could have even shared with Johann Christoph Glaubitz the authorship of one architectural object, namely, the Church of Stołowicze (Harodnia province). Originally, the architect Fontana was in charge of the construction of the church; however, he quit his job not having completed his contractual obligations. The work was taken over and finished by Johann Christoph Glaubitz. Both architects ended up facing court proceedings. Due to the failure to fulfil his contractual obligations, Fontana appeared in court as defendant, whereas Glaubitz testified against him and pleaded the court to protect him against the wrath of his colleague.

 Johann Christoph Glaubitz’s creative map

Notwithstanding the poorly documented authorship of Johann Christoph Glaubitz’ creative work, his contribution to developing Vilnius Baroques school is unquestionable.

The talent, versatility and productivity he displayed as well as the relations with influential customers shaped the uniqueness of the architect’s personality. Upon arriving in Vilnius, he started to work for a Lutheran community. Shortly afterwards, he received an invitation to work for the Catholic community. Johann Christoph Glaubitz was entrusted by Jesuits and Benedictine sisters the reconstruction of their churches (St. John’s and St. Catherine’s churches). The architect also worked for the Vilnius Chapter (he is believed to have been in charge of renovating the Cathedral belfry and designing the towers of the main Cathedral façade) and the Magistrate (reconstruction of the Townhall). Johann Christoph Glaubitz also received orders by the Vilniaus Uniates (Basilian monastery) and the Orthodox community (interior of the Church of the Holy Spirit). Eventually, Glaubitz’s activities covered almost the entire territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He worked in Polotsk ( the Cathedral of St. Sophia), Mogilev (Transfiguration of Our Lord Church and Monastery),Vitebsk (St. Joseph’s Jesuit Church and College), Samogitia (renovation of the Varniai Cathedral and construction of the priest seminary as well as the residence of the Samogitian Bishop Antoni Dominik Tyszkiewicz. The work orders received were usually determined by the architect’s good relationship with the senior clergy of the Catholic, Uniate and Orthodox churches. The fact that he had earned a good name as an architect is testified by the will written by the Bishop of Vilnius Michał Jan Zenkowicz in 1761. The Bishop bequeathed him 50 000 zloty for the reconstruction of the parish church in Lida, requesting Johann Christoph Glaubitz or another good architect to undertake the work.

The talent of Johann Christoph Glaubitz was unfolding in a unique environment of Vilnius. After the Great Fire of 1737, which devastated a large part of the city, there was an urgent need to reconstruct the palaces and churches, by extending the original buildings and modifying their old shape. For example, the verticality of St. John’s church in Vilnius was complemented by the dynamics of wavy surfaces and silhouettes, resulting in a original piece of architecture. Thanks to the contribution of Johann Christoph Glaubitz and other artists working in Vilnius, the artistic language of Baroque started to develop in the architecture representing other confessions such as Lutherans and The Orthodox communities. According to Stanislaw Lorentz, the architecture of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of those times was of “the highest European level and at the same time was characterized by a unique and distinctive expression.”

Lina Balaišytė