• Hilkka Hiiop
  • Anneli Randla



Hermen Rode´s Altar Retabel, Polychrome Wooden Sculpture, Technical Art History, Conservation, Documentation


The retable of the high altar of St Nicholas’ Church in Tallinn was made between 1478 and 1481 in Hermen Rode’s workshop in Lübeck. It is one of the most magnifcent and best preserved late medieval northern German altarpieces in Europe and one of the greatest masterpieces in the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia. From 1975 to 1992, the retable was restored by the Research Institute of Restoration, but the work was not completed. In 2013, the works were continued and the project “Rode Altarpiece in Close-Up” was launched. The conservation work coincides with a major research project in technical art history, with the aim of positioning the retable within the oeuvre of Hermen Rode’s workshop, as well as within the wider framework of late medieval German art and culture. The wider goal of the project is to map, test and develop the capacity and resources in Estonia for scientifc (instrumental) investigation of art works through the combination of technical and more conventional art historical research. The kick-of event of the project was a five-day intensive workshop on topics related to wooden polychrome objects. The need to organise the intensive workshop stemmed from the intended continuation of the conservation work on the high altar retable of St Nicholas’, and from the necessity of discussing contemporary conservation principles among wider academic and professional audiences. The course was led by Dr Arnulf von Ulmann, the former director of the Institute of Art Techniques and Conservation of the German National Museum. Dr von Ulmann’s lectures were dedicated to the diferent aspects of polychrome wooden object conservation from the manufacturing and decorating to the decay and preservation of the art works. The practical workshops were dedicated to the study of the high altar retable of St Nicholas’. The discussions of these sessions concentrated on the question of how past conservation decisions infuence present and future decisions ethically, aesthetically and methodologically.


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Author Biographies

Hilkka Hiiop

Hilkka Hiiop (PhD) is head of the Conservation Department in the Art Museum of Estonia as well as being responsible for the contemporary art conservation in Kumu Art Museum. She is also assistant professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts, Department of Conservation. Her PhD thesis (2012) treated the conservation management of contemporary art. She has worked as a conservator of mural paintings in Rome 2003–2009, supervised a number of conservation and technical investigation projects in Estonia, curated exhibitions on topics of conservation and technical art history. Her current research, conservation and exhibition project is titled “Rode Altarpiece in Close-Up”.

Anneli Randla

Anneli Randla earned her PhD in art history at the University of Cambridge in 1999. She has worked for the National Heritage Board of Estonia for ten years. Since 2008 Randla has been an associate professor in the Department of Conservation at the Estonian Academy of Arts and currently she serves as the dean of the Faculty of Art and Culture at the academy. Her main research interests are: medieval ecclesiastical architecture, medieval murals, technical studies of art and the history of conservation.




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