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2018-02-07 Back to list

The Monumental Animals of Kaunas (Photos!)

Those sculptures, scattered around Kaunas, could barely prompt any political battles as many monuments do, yet still require our attention since they need to be... tamed.

When the Kaunas Biennial 2017 – which focused on the purpose and future of monuments – was over, the city of Kaunas nevertheless welcomed two new statues and agreed on having a gigantic Vytis [the figure in the Lithuanian coat of arms] erected later in 2018. Leaving the monumental debates aside, we’ve decided to take a peek at different sculptures. Those sculptures, scattered around Kaunas, could barely prompt any political battles yet still require our attention since they need to be... tamed.

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The Biržai folk

It's no secret that the pair of lions guarding the war museum came to Kaunas during the Interwar years from Biržai, where both lions used to protect the Tiškevičiai manor. A few generations of Kaunasians took photos with these lions, which were originally born in St Petersburg in the 1850s, and the Astravas manor keeps the concrete copies of them.

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The highlanders

Sculptor Vincas Grybas is one of the most famous students of the Kaunas Art School that was established in Žaliakalnis, 1922. It was him who made a bunch of owls from concrete mixed with Nemunas sand. These owls became symbols of the school, the hill and the city too, leaving the fence of the current J. Vienožinskis school for a short period of time in 2017 so that they could be renovated for the first time. By the way, February 16th will see a historic drama “Pelėdų kalnas” [“Owls hill”] directed by Audrius Juzėnas who’s also behind “Vilnius Ghetto” and “The Excursionist”.

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Guardians of sleep

Interestingly, sculptor Vytautas Narutis (born 1957) created "Katinas" [“Cat”] in Klaipeda, 1983, before ever working on “Šunys” [“Dogs”], a functional work of art that landed in the Kaunas Town Hall square in 1987. The legend says that these canine guardians were protecting the sleep of emperor Napoleon who stayed in the Old Town.

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The stallion of Vytis 

This sculpture in the garden of the veterinary academy (as if it was meant to be here) is entwined in a detective story. Originally, the stallion was first seen on the highway of Radvilėnai in 1939; the author of it is Jurgis Rutkauskas (1907-1998), a soldier and warrant officer of the Jonušas Radvila regiment, student of artist Juozas Zikaras. The sculpture was named “The stallion of Vytis” by the commander of the regiment, and a few decades later Viktoras Šarkūnas (1926-2015) – professor at the veterinary academy – saw whatever was left from the art piece in Žaliakalnis. The rest is history…

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The light-grey veteran

The Lithuanian zoo has a lifelong tradition to host griffon vultures – these birds have been living in Kaunas for the whole existence of the institution founded by Tadas Ivanauskas, so for almost 85 years. They were among the first animals to greet the visitors during the opening on July 1st in 1938. The monument for this rare visitor to Lithuania – the largest predatory bird here – was presented to the public in 1998, when the zoo was celebrating its 65th birthday. Its author is Juozas Šlivinskas who’s also created many great monuments for Lithuanian aviators and freedom fighters.

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The final work that started everything

Sculptor Dalia Matulaitė's final work while finishing the art institute in 1969 was titled "Stumbras" ["Bison" or "Aurochs"]. Interestingly, the sculpture was brought to Ąžuolynas only a decade later, so this Kaunasian beast is not even forty (well, an aurochs is also in the historic coat of arms of Kaunas)! D. Matulaitė continued to seek inspiration in heraldry, history and legends. 2013 saw a monument she created for Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, the King of Poland, and his wife, queen Jadvyga de Anjou being presented in Budapest.

All photos by Lukas Mykolaitis.

The original article by Gunars Bakšejevs and Lukas Mykolaitis was published in the January 2018 issue of Kaunas Full of Culture magazine.  

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