Johann Caspar Lavater in Estland. Über seinen Einfluss, einige Portraits und einige Gedanken über die Portraitkunst


  • Tiina-Mall Kreem University of Tartu



Enlightenment-era portraiture, physiognomy, Baltic, German, Swiss cultural contacts


The article focuses on Johann Caspar Lavater (1741–1801), the Enlightenment-era thinker, pastor and writer, art collector and physiognomist, whose work and activities affected thinking from Zurich to America and Russia, including the Baltic countries. Of Lavater’s Estonian acquaintances, Johann Burchard VII, the Tallinn Town Council pharmacist, is the one that primarily emerges from the article. The famous Swiss maintained a correspondence with the latter for over ten years, and in 1792, gifted him a miniature portrait of himself (now in the Estonian History Museum).

In addition to the miniature portrait after Johann Heinrich Lips (?), there were two graphic portraits of Lavater in Estonia that were associated with Georg Friedrich Schmoll (Tallinn City Museum, University of Tartu Library) as well as a masterful oil portrait by August Friedrich Olenhainz (Art Museum of Estonia’s Kadriorg Art Museum). The article examines all of these against the background of Lavater’s successful book of the day “Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe” (“Physiognomic Fragments for Furthering the Knowledge and Love of Man”, 1775–1778) and in regard to Lavater’s discussions about people and the art of portraiture.

An attempt is made thereby to see Enlightenment-era portrait art through the eyes of Enlightenment-era people – Lavater and his audience. While the author of the article is convinced of the impact of Lavater’s physiognomic research on the portraiture of the day (on the artists, clients, viewers) and also more indirectly on the history of art, she emphasis that, for Lavater, portrait art was primarily a tool for his physiognomic research and even if Lavater’s teachings lost their popularity after his death and were relegated to the periphery of science, Lavater should not be excluded from the history of art and culture in the Baltic countries.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Tiina-Mall Kreem, University of Tartu

Dr. Tiina-Mall Kreem (b. 1971) has worked as the Curator of the Estonian and Foreign Sculpture Collection at the Art Museum of Estonia since 1993. In addition to the history of sculpture, her main fields of research include 19th century sacral architecture and art, as well as Estonian historical pictures from the 19th to 21st century.