Puithoonete ornament / Ornament of wooden buildings


  • Janīna Kursīte




In this translation of a chapter from monograph “Latvian’s Home” (“Latvieša māja”, 2014), the author provides an insight into the decorations of wooden houses in Latvia, including incisions and ornamental wall decorations and she also differentiates architectural details like the so-called ‘sun posts’ and decorated boards on sides of a triangular opening in the hip under the roof. At the beginning of the paper the author refers to the fact that the ancient geometrical ornament has been more typical of Latvians, which has been preserved also during the time when East-European nations gradually took over the ornaments depicting plants and animals. The author approaches ornamentation as one complete entity and draws attention to the perceived visual rhythm in ornamentation. The individual signs of the ornament are combined either in pairs (statically) or in odd numbers (dynamically). The more modern ornamentation is made up of geometrical ornament with plant ornaments. The author gives an overview of more widely-used signs – slanting crosses, triangles, octagons, and the chalk marking 20+K+B+m+14 widespread in Catholic regions, etc.

Kursīte discusses one peculiar decorative element of the houses – the so-called ‘sun posts’, which in big rooms are just very practical (e.g. in houses of prayer), but which might have also carried some cosmic symbolism.

In buildings (mainly dwelling houses and storehouses), the doors and window jambs, wider battens/boards, and the wooden window shutters were decorated. Ornamental decorations were also used on the top of the boards decorating the triangular opening in the hip under the roof, which were carved like a bird’s or a horse’s head, or shaped like a horn, sometimes even under the collar beams. The decorations were directed outwards so they would be visible. The other kind of ornament (mostly single signs) was cut on house tenons/mitre (i.e. inside). This was not visible, but the ornament had to protect the foundation of the house and the building from hazards coming from the outside (evil ghosts, evil people, natural elements, etc.).

In conclusion it may be said that from a magical and a decorative point of view, ornamentation played an important role in the wooden architecture of Latvia.

In the short preface the themes highlighted by Kursīte are compared with the wooden architecture of Estonia; it is stated that there are similarities but one has to work hard to find them.


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Research Article