Ajaloopilt akadeemilises kunstikogus 19. sajandi esimesel poolel


  • Tiina-Mall Kreem





Tiina-Mall Kreem, Art Museum of Estonia


The University of Tartu played a vital part in the shaping and propagation of Baltic historical consciousness and in the study and teaching of history. The university was also the first institution here to establish an art museum and an art education establishment – the school of drawing. Proceeding from these facts, this article reviews the historical images depicting real events obtained for the Art Museum of the University of Tartu from 1803–1868, examining whether and to what extent these images enable access to the historical culture (Geschichtskultur) of that epoch.

The article challenges the opinion that the collection at the university’s Art Museum was accumulated randomly in the first half of the 19th century. The author explains the fact that historical images comprise a mere 0.3% of the total collection at the museum in the following manner: at the time, the peak of popularity of historical imagery had not yet reached German linguistic space to which the University of Tartu belonged. Nonetheless, there was interest in the genre, confirmed by both the gradual supplementation of the university’s collection with historical images and the series of historical images dedicated to the Baltic Provinces of the Russian Empire, published by artist Friedrich Ludwig von Maydell in Tartu.

Analysis of the university’s collection of historical imagery, which comprises around 30 sheets, enables us to divide it into two larger groups: antique history scenes and recent history scenes. In the first group we can isolate images depicting the deaths of such historical figures as Cato the Younger, Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra and Socrates. There were two reasons for purchasing such images: the wish to collect graphic reproductions of works by famous artists like Pietro Testa, Pompeo Battoni and Guido Reni and the perceived need to influence contemporaries through history – to exert moral influence. This assertion is supported by the interest displayed in acquiring imagery of dramatic political events, such as the battles fought by the armies of Alexander the Great and Constantine the Great. The images in both groups seem to fit equally well into the classical philology and history curricula at the university in the first half of the 19th century.

The imagery depicting recent historical events consists mostly of European scenes: Napoleon and his adversaries, their treaties and battles that shook Russia and which also affected the Baltic Provinces. In other words, the events that contemporaries deemed special, defining the subsequent course of history, seminal. But the sheets in the graphics collection of the university also reveal interest in the momentous events of English and American history, including the American War of Independence. The decisions to purchase such works by the University of Tartu for its Art Museum must also have been influenced by the prominence of their authors (Benjamin West, John Trumbull et al.). It is in any case the view of the author of this article that learning about the remote past through such visualisations facilitated the emergence of the local historical imagery as Maydell and other artists began creating “snapshots” of local historical events. At the same time it should be noted that research into historical imagery in Estonia is still in its infancy and more definite results will become available in autumn 2013 at the exhibition of 19th century historical images at the Kadriorg Art Museum.



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