LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2013 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 59, No.4 - Winter 2013
Editor of this issue: Mikas Vaicekauskas
Levandauskas, Vytautas, Lietuvos mūro istorija (The History of Masonry in Lithuania). Kaunas: Vytauto Didžiojo universiteto leidykla, 2012, 456 pages. English summary. Extensive bibliography. ISBN 978-9955-12-835-9
This splendidly illustrated and thoroughly researched study presents the history of masonry and construction in Lithuania from the thirteenth century to World War I. The territory covered also includes Klaipėda (previously Memel), as well as the former lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania now in Belarus. Traditional construction materials and techniques are analyzed in detail and compared with practices in Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Italy. This volume culminates a lifetime of research that Vytautas Levandauskas commenced with a doctoral dissertation some four decades ago and has continued ever since with a steady stream of scholarly publications.
This study will be welcomed by professionals and non-specialists alike. It is filled with information invaluable for professional restorers, architects, and owners of historic buildings who are conducting surveys and considering or undertaking restorations. Its numerous drawings, diagrams, and photographs will be instantly accessible to the general reader, who may have no interest whatsoever in the chemical characteristics of mortar and plaster, but is curious about the history of a particular region or town. Even those familiar with their local architectural heritage will be surprised to learn more about buildings they thought were already familiar. The author and his wife, Nijolė Taluntytė, ventured to photograph, measure, and take samples from difficult-to-reach and sometimes even hazardous places. They went into dank church basements and dusty attics not generally accessible. They climbed ruined walls and crept into long-neglected underground chambers. In derelict lofts and windswept bell-towers, they risked life and limb treading on floors and beams of dubious solidity. They documented structures that are no longer with us as well as buildings in remote places. Some of them could self-destruct any day.
After presenting the subject's historiography and archival resources in the introduction, the first chapter goes into high gear by discussing the earliest uses of lime mortar as a binding agent. The next chapter addresses the timber and masonry relationships in scaffolding, timber frameworks, and timber and half-timber structures. The winches, hoists, and cranes used for lifting and moving materials are likewise covered. The third chapter is devoted to fieldstones, imported marble, and pebble mosaics for decorating exterior walls, a technique that was a real revelation to the reviewer. Brick production technology, the properties of brick, its identifying marks, kilns, and firing methods are covered next. The fifth chapter is devoted to mortar and plaster as binding materials and as the grounds for sgrafitto work. In broad strokes the conclusion situates the previous chapters' material within the customary historical periods. The extensive bibliography of archival and secondary sources is followed by a glossary and several supplements. The first is an exhaustive examination of the chemical and physical properties of the bricks found in the buildings discussed. The tables are arranged by date, location, individual buildings, and historical periods; mortar data is then analyzed building by building. The collection of building contracts from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries conveys how the builders and patrons of those days attended to detail and quality control. The English summary provides a thorough account of the entire monograph.
Superlative illustrations set this work apart from dry and pedantic scholarly tomes. All the photographs are in color, and the buildings come alive through engaging close-ups. Purely decorative details are given as much consideration as examples of unusual construction joints protruding from thick layers of dust or roof timbers and trusses hiding at the far end of dark garrets and eaves. The study reaches its highpoint by complementing the recently taken photographs with antique construction drawings and illustrations of construction methods found in medieval manuscripts from the British Library, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and similar resources in Brussels, Bern, Vienna, Cracow, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Paris; these images are also in color and most are full-page. These rarely seen illustrations are immensely helpful in placing Lithuanian construction materials and practices into a very broad European context, in juxtaposition with Roman, Czarist, and multiple other building traditions. This handsomely produced study will long remain an indispensable documentary and visual reference.