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The Basilisk of Vilnius

Concrete, glass fiber, steel

The sculpture develops the theme of a mythical creature – the basilisk. This topic was interesting because it is one of the few legends related to the city of Vilnius. Perhaps not as popular as the legend of the Iron Wolf, but no less intriguing. 

The Basilisk myth has been around since the reign of Sigismund Augustus. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was described by Adam Ignaci Naramowski, and a little later by Teodor Narbutt, who linked it to a specific place – the intersection of Bokšto and Subačiaus Streets, near the Vilnius Bastea. Although the myth of the basilisk has been mentioned several times in the literature (in Ričardas Gavelis’s Vilnius Poker or Kristina Sabaliauskaitė’s novel Silva Rerum), it is an almost undeveloped theme in the works of artists of visual art.

I think that in today’s post-pandemic context of the war in Ukraine and everyone’s internal struggle against the invisible “monsters”, this topic is still relevant. What motivates the “birth” of mythical monsters? What kind of monsters are we facing today? Legends depict the basilisk as a creature of the underworld with the body of a lizard and the head of a rooster, which could kill with its gaze. One can easily see parallels with Greek mythology – the myth of Medusa Gorgon. Basilisk, like the Gorgon, can be defeated with a mirror. Obviously, this is a metaphor for an unclean conscience. How do these metaphors look today?

I was intrigued by the fact that in legends the basilisk has the head of a bird. Here I noticed a link to the masks (resembling bird heads) worn by doctors during the plague pandemics. In the face of the recent pandemic, could the head of a mythical monster be a kind of symbol of healing?

It was the head of this mythological creature or rather its skull, that I decided to depict in my work. As if the monster had already been defeated and all that was left was its memory, a ghostly fossil. But you never know when a basilisk might return. His head, standing on thin legs, is a dreamlike, surreal vision suggesting that the legend is still alive, and one can never be sure in what form it will be reborn the next day (in the form of a new pandemic, a nuclear catastrophe, a war, a meteor, a political turmoil, or a general insanity).

Photos: Stasys Mačiulskas, personal archive

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