Faces of Grief and Hope in the Works of Vincentas Smakauskas

Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis



Vincentas Smakauskas, Kanutas Ruseckas, 19th century Lithuanian art, civil resistance


Hopes to restore the independent state remained very much pres- ent throughout the whole 19th century and motivated the ideas of the civil resistance in both Poland and Lithuania. The struggles for independence erupted through the uprisings of 1794, 1830–31, and 1863. While these attempts at armed resistance did not lead to the liberation of neither Lithua- nia nor Poland, they demonstrated the undying willingness to regain freedom. With the increasing repressive crackdown by the tzarist government, the role of artists only grew. Paintings and poems became weapons in the fight against the tzarist policy of Russification.

The paper focuses on the works that the painter Vincentas Smakauskas (1797–1876) created after the suppressed uprising of 1831. The paper proposes a hypothesis that the paintings created during this dramatic period of Lithuanian history encoded secret symbolical meanings that represented the ideas of civil resistance. The research was inspired by the repeating scenes of grief and was carried out as an analysis of the traumatic experiences in society after the suppression of the uprising of 1831, when the tzarist government started repressing cultural and religious life. The methodological combination of iconological research and psychoanalysis resulted in the premise about the compensatory functions of creativity for both artists and their social environment.

While searching for the reasons of similarity between the two paintings by Smakauskas—“Steponas Batoras Establishes the Vilnius Academy” and “A Group of People Surrounding a Woman in Her Death Bed”—the research poses a question: what is the real object of loss? The paper proposes a hypothesis that the object of loss can be deduced from the interrelation between these two paintings. While the former depicts the act of establishment of Vilnius University, which is a socially uplifting event, the latter shows the loss of this symbol. It is likely that, due to the complicated political situation and censorship, Smakauskas was forced to hide this idea by depicting the anonymous woman in her death bead. Perhaps, his contem- poraries, who still recalled his first painting proudly displayed in the hall of Vilnius University, were expected to recognise the anonymous dying woman as an allegory for the closed Vilnius University, which was also known as Alma Mater Vilnensis. This hypothesis still lacks in sufficient proof, yet we expect to find it during the further research.

While researching Smakauskas’ work, the paper has discovered the exceptional role the artists played in the social life of the 19th century Lithuania. Being the citizens without a state, they acted as public intellectuals and politicians of resistance.



How to Cite

Ragėnaitė, V. (2020). Faces of Grief and Hope in the Works of Vincentas Smakauskas: Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (96), 187–208. Retrieved from https://aaav.vda.lt/journal/article/view/51