The most noticeable aspect of the twelve buildings that line the southern side of Rynok Square can be found above the portal of Rynok 14, where a small sculpture of a winged lion holds a book with the date 1600. This is the Lion of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the Republic of Venice’s Coat of Arms. The building on which the sculpture stands is still known today as the “Venetian House” because it was once the residence of Antonio Massari, a Venetian ambassador to Lviv. The winged lion is symbolic of the Italian influence on the architecture of the city. Italian master craftsmen came to the city throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, fashioning much of Rynok Square and the surrounding walled city’s architectural style. Though many of the buildings on the Square still retain the names of such wealthy ambassadors and merchants as Massari, Roberto Baldinelli and Urbano Ubaldini, the Italian architects who designed so many of these structures are barely known, if at all. The names of these architects are forgotten today, but together they created far Eastern Europe’s greatest Renaissance cityscape. This legacy recreated Lviv, linking it with one of western Europe’s greatest artistic cultures.
The Lion of St. Mark sculpture above the portal to the Venetian House at 14 Rynok Square (Credit: Aeou)
Masters of the Architectural Universe
In almost every respect western Ukraine and Italy are different from one another. They may be on the same continent, but politically, economically and culturally they have little in common. This has not always been true, as can be seen by the Renaissance architecture prominent in Rynok Square and the surrounding streets of the Old Town. The fact that the Renaissance made it this far abroad, to a city on the fringes of Europe shows the power of this artistic and cultural movement. For Italian masters who made their way here, travel would have been unimaginably arduous by modern standards. At the very least, it would have taken several weeks to make the trip to Lviv. What made the Italians want to work in this far off land? The answers were popularity and opportunity. The movement that brought Italian architecture and culture to the farther reaches of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth began in earnest when Bona Sforza, a member of the powerful ruling family of the Duchy of Milan, married King Sigismund I the Old in 1518. Italian and Italian-Swiss architects were soon invited to recreate, rebuild or fortify towns throughout the Commonwealth.
For Lviv this Italian connection happened at a fortuitous moment. In 1527 the city was largely ruined by a cataclysmic fire. With its Gothic architecture reduced to ashes, Lviv would have to be rebuilt. Fortunately, plenty of Italians were willing to offer their services. In return they were given citizenship. One of the first Renaissance style buildings constructed by an Italian master architect, Peter of Lugano, was the Dormition Church. Completed in 1559, it was unfortunately destroyed by a fire 12 years later. This turned out to be a minor setback as Italian architects went about constructing new townhouses, sacral edifices and redesigning fortifications. In 1589, the same year that the house at 14 Rynok was being completed, the Italian military engineer Bernardo Mornado consulted with the city on improvements to its existing fortifications, including the bastion systems. By this time, the Italians were firmly ensconced in the city’s professional life. They set up guilds and trade associations which protected their rights. Much of their work came from projects commissioned by wealthy private citizens, especially in Rynok Square.
Renaissance Men – Italian Masters Recreate the Cityscape
The two most important Italian architects in Lviv’s reconstruction were Peter Barbon and Paulo Romano. Barbon was the elder in this relationship with Romano acting as his younger colleague. Barbon’s greatest work, the Korniakt Tower, has been called the best Renaissance tower in all of the Polish lands. Romano led the construction of the adjacent Dormition Church, where he integrated Renaissance elements with traditional Ukrainian Orthodox sacral architecture. Romano also designed the Church of St. Andrew (Bernadine Church) and went on to do consulting work on the city’s fortifications. Both men excelled in creating Renaissance style private residences, several of which are among the most famous buildings in Rynok Square today. These include the Korniakt Palace at Rynok 6 designed by Barbon and a second house for Antonio Massari designed by Romano at Rynok 24.
Another palace worthy of mention can be found just a few doors down from the Venetian House. This is the former Gutteter Palace at Rynok 18. Many of the palace’s Renaissance elements were lost in an 18th century reconstruction, but before then it displayed such magnificence that the Polish King waived it from the usual hospitality tax. This in spite of the fact, that Gutteter was one of several German burghers who could easily afford it. Such wealthy merchants and tradesmen in Lviv provided the patronage that made such works architecturally possible. The upshot was a Rynok Square, totally recreated in a Renaissance fashion that still predominates today.
A European & World Heritage
According to the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, 33 of the 44 buildings in Rynok Square are done all or partly in Renaissance style (9 of 12 on the square’s southern side). This compared with 12 of 44 with Baroque stylistic elements and 5 of 44 featuring Neo-Classical traits. All of this adds up to the fact that Rynok Square is today the eastern most example of Italian Renaissance residential architecture in Europe. Little wonder that Lviv’s Old Town has attained UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The work of Italian Renaissance Masters, whether unknown or largely forgotten lives on in the most unlikely of places, western Ukraine.