Results of the Reasearch Conducted in 2014 on the Interior Finishing of the Rotunda in the University of Tartu's Old Anatomical Theatre


  • Kristiina Tiideberg
  • Hilkka Hiiop
  • Tiina Vint
  • Kristina Aas
  • Grete Nilp
  • Kaisa-Piia Pedajas
  • Helen Volber



Johann Wilhelm Krause, Karl August Senff, University of Tartu’s Old Anatomical Theatre, Interior Finishing Research, Furniture


The main objective of the research was to determine if the neoclassical grisaille paintings by K. A. Senff in the rotunda of the Old Anatomical Theatre still existed and to what extent. At the same time, a study of the historical furniture was also conducted.

As a result it can be confirmed that the paintings on the walls or ceilings have not survived and the assumption that they were covered with lime plaster at some point in time has been disproved. The greater part of the room is covered with secondary plaster, which is confirmed by the polychromic plaster fragment that was finished earlier and found in the upper part of the wall, partially covered by the current coved ceiling. The previous research also assumed that the current plaster coat was secondary. And the fact that the current ceiling with the mirrored vault is secondary was also confirmed.

Based on the original plaster fragment that was found, it can be assumed that the original finishing did not include the niches in the upper part of the walls, where it has been assumed that the paintings were located. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to ascertain where the paintings were located and how they were executed. Whether the rotunda’s interior was initially finished in a dark, almost black, shade, or was this true only of the upper part of the room; how the paintings in grey tones related to this and how extensive they were unfortunately remain a secret hidden in the obscurity of history. Questions are also raised by the fact that Krause’s notes are the only primary sources to provide information about the paintings. One would expect to find other indications of such large-scale and exceptional work (Senff is not known to have created any other monumental paintings) in the archival materials (for instance, in Senff’s own materials).

It is still unclear why the initial plaster coat was totally removed and a new coat applied, especially if we consider that it was covered with paintings. Although these large-scale renovations can be associated with the period between 1856 and 1860 (architect K. Rathaus), when the rotunda’s interior was rebuilt and the entire anatomical theatre was expanded, questions are raised by the fact that the current secondary plaster coat has an unexpectedly small number of finishing coats for such long period of time.

Since, the only surviving plaster fragment that presumably dates back to the Krause era is an extremely valuable historical document and forms the basis for future research, it should be exhibited in the room when the interior renovation is completed.

As a result of the research conducted on the finishing coats of the historical furniture, it turned out that the oldest piece of furniture in the current interior is probably the rostrum. However whether or not it dates back to the time when the rotunda was built is still an open question. In the future, its original polychromy should be revealed and exhibited when the planned interior finishing is completed.

Based on the current research, the benches, demonstration table and central section of the wall cabinet can be associated with the reconstruction of the anatomical theatre in the second half of the 1850s. The benches and rostrum have been altered thereafter as needed.

The floor is the only surviving part of the rotunda’s interior finishing that can definitely be dated back to the Krause era and it should be preserved during the renovation and thereafter exhibited


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Author Biographies

Kristiina Tiideberg

(b. 1985), a curator at the University of Tartu Museum

Hilkka Hiiop

(b. 1974), a conservation specialist in Art Museum of Estonia; the assistant professor and coordinator of the artefact conservation branch at the Estonian Academy of Art, Department of Conservation

Tiina Vint

(b. 1975), a conservation specialist at the University of Tartu Museum.






Sources and documentation

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