The Appearance of Hans and Jaan. A 17th Century Epitaph Painting Donated by Estonian Peasants


  • Merike Kurisoo
  • Aivar Põldvee



17th century, Estonian peasants, Lutheran art, epitaphs, church art


The epitaph donated by Hans and Jaan, two peasants from Türi parish, is evidence of the acceptance of ecclesiastic values and religious devotion among the Estonian peasantry. Other examples of this tendency from the Swedish era also exist. For instance, the grand wheel crosses, typical for North Estonia, that were once located in the Türi churchyard; and a chandelier (1659) donated by a peasant in the Keila church, the size of which exceeds those gifted by manor lords. From a later period, the stained-glass coats of arms of the peasantry in the Ilumäe chapel (1729) are also an example of this heightened sense of self-awareness and its display in houses of worships.

Along with the hundreds and hundreds of works donated to churches by nobles, the epitaph painting depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds is a rare example of a painting gifted to a church by farmers, which also commemorates them. Hans and Jaan have now earned a place in Estonian (art) history: the pictures of the two simple men are the first known portraits of peasants whose names we know.


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Author Biographies

Merike Kurisoo

Merike Kurisoo is a doctoral candidate at the Tallinn University and a curator of the Art Museum of Estonia. She is also editor-in-chief of the Proceedings of the Art Museum of Estonia. Her main research areas include late medieval and early modern church art. She has curated several exhibitions and published various articles and books about church art.

Aivar Põldvee

Aivar Põldvee, PhD, is a senior researcher at Tallinn University, School of Humanities, Institute of History, Archaeology and Art History. His main research interests are history of culture, education, language and literature in early modern period. He is one of the authors of the History of Estonia III (Eesti ajalugu III, 2013).