Evidence of the Reformation and Confessionalization Period in Livonian Art


  • Ojārs Spāritis




Renaissance, Reformation, Early Protestant Iconography, Tomb Stone, Sculpture, Iconoclasm


The article deals with the problems of the history of early Protestant art in Livonia (contemporary Latvia) during the 16th and first half of 17th centuries. The short survey on historical background of the approaching Reformation includes the political and economic contradictions among  German (Teutonic) Order, the Archbishop of Riga, the Protestant clergy, the local nobility and the citizenry. The change in the people’s world outlook succeeded the new expressive approach in the traditional iconology of tombstones, reliefs and stone sculpture that emerged simultaneously, or immediately after, the iconoclasm in Livonia (1521- 1523). The Livonian War and battles against Tsar Ivan, the Terrible of Russia weakened the military resistance of the former mosaic of feudal states. The territory of Livonia was occupied by the Swedish and Polish armies, which did not hesitate to institute the political division of the country under the slogan of confessional polarisation. Part of contemporary Estonia became a Swedish province, but part of contemporary Latvia was subordinated to the King of Poland. Under Polish rule, the processes of confessionalization were instituted and, for about 40 years, the Nordic part of contemporary Latvia, which was called Livland, experienced the politics of an aggressive Counter-Reformation. This resulted in the appearance of a new iconography, new topics and genres. Indirect inspiration from Italian art can be perceived in the memorial monuments of the nobility and new genres – wall graves and wall epitaphs – appeared. The confessional and political instability  provoked
a kind of stagnation in the birth of new forms of art inspired by early
Protestant ideology, but it also stimulated an increase in the secret language
of symbols, iconographic variations and metaphoric expression.


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Author Biography

Ojārs Spāritis

Ojārs Spārītis (PhD) is a Latvian art historian interested mainly in the period of Renaissance in Baltic countries and the Reformation and is a professor at the Latvian Academy of Arts and President of the Latvian Academy of Sciences. Has published more than 500 articles on architecture and art history, theory, iconography, and emblematics in 17 monographic publications. Participated in more than 100 conferences in Latvia and abroad; lectured at the Universities of Stockholm, Jyvaskyla, Bergen, Florence, Torun, Glasgow, Greifswald, Tuebingen, and Illinois (USA). Curator of the Leipzig-Fair Denkmal, and member of the editorial boards of several scientific magazines in Latvia, Estonia, and Georgia.