Past Exhibitions

Dissecting a painting. Portrait of G. F. Parrot

05.07.-03.09.2017, open 10-18, closed on Mondays, in the Old Anatomical Theatre, Lossi 38.

This exhibition in the Old Anatomical Theatre will, for the first time, display the portrait of the famous rector and professor of the University of Tartu, Georg Friedrich Parrot. The location of the portrait, painted by Franz Gerhard von Kügelgen, was unknown until 2016 when it was found by complete chance in the USA.

Other paintings by Kügelgen belonging to the University of Tartu, such as portraits of Goethe, Herder and Wieland, will also be exhibited.  The exhibition looks at the portraits’s provenance, as well as the conservation process, and the research project launched in 2017 which aims to compare pigments and other technical details of the painting.

This exhibiton celebrates the 250th anniversary of Georg Friedrich Parrot.



University of Tartu Art Museum, from 1 July to 30 September 2017

In 2016, the University of Tartu Museum and Rector’s Office started a joint project, the purpose of which was to supplement the portrait gallery of rectors who had held their position after Estonia regained its independence. The Museum owned portraits of Professors Jüri Kärner and Peeter Tulviste by Jüri Arrak but no formal portraits had been painted of their successors in office.

During the project, portraits of Professor Peeter Tulviste (1945–2017; Rector 1993–1998); Professor Jaak Aaviksoo (born 1954; Rector 1998–2006); Professor Alar Karis (born 1958; Rector 2007–2012) and Professor Volli Kalm (born 1953; Rector since 2012) were commissioned.

It was clear from the start that the person portrayed should make the final decision about selecting the artist but the shortlist of artists was prepared by an expert committee of researchers specialising in art, and representatives of the museum. After a long discussion, four original and talented artists were selected: Elo-Mai Mikelsaar (born 1989), Tõnis Saadoja (born 1980), Rauno Thomas Moss (born 1977) and Laurentsius (Lauri Sillak, born 1969).

Elo-Mai Mikelsaar, who defended her Master’s degree in painting in 2016 at the University of Tartu, no longer had the opportunity to meet Rector Peeter Tulviste in person when she painted the portrait, but Professor Tulviste’s family selected a photograph that provided the inspiration for the painting. While academic portraits usually have a neutral background, in Professor Tulviste’s case the artists decided to keep the backdrop that clearly references one of the great passions of the person portrayed—books. In the original photograph, Professor Tulviste was holding a large volume, which did not have a significant connection with the set of symbols in the painting. Mikelsaar said it seemed the most natural to her to paint him with a cantus book, a students’ book of songs from the first half of the previous century.

The author of Rector Jaak Aaviksoo’s portrait, Tõnis Saadoja, has received many prestigious art awards and acknowledgements (e.g., Konrad Mägi award in 2015; Kristjan Raud prize in 2013). The artist, who attended the Estonian Academy of Arts, has garnered a lot of attention in cultural circles with painting the ceiling of the Theatre NO99 and is primarily known for his photorealistic style. Just so, in painting the portrait of Professor Aaviksoo, he has, first and foremost, paid attention to the exact depiction of the portrayed person’s physical and characteristic traits.

The author of Rector Alar Karis’s portrait, Rauno Thomas Moss, has a long history with the University of Tartu, as he has been instructing the students of the Chair of Painting for years. He has had a part in raising several generations of new artists but in addition to teaching Moss has also dedicated time to painting. His works have caught the eye of museums and private collectors as well as been praised by art critics. Moss’s works are diverse, enveloping different subjects and styles of painting. In portraying Professor Karis, he consciously chose an academic standpoint and Karis is depicted on a background of classicist tones.

In the field of portraiture, Laurentsius (Lauri Sillak) is known for his strictly academic style of painting—a characteristic that stands out as bold and controversial in the modern art world. The artist has constructed Rector Volli Kalm’s portrait on the relations between light and shadow, brightness and darkness, which allows the viewer to interpret the character of the portrayed person and the office he holds.

Kadri Asmer

Referent at the University of Tartu Department of Art History, coordinator of the project of Rectors’ portraits.


Varudi-Vanaküla Treasure Trove

From March 1st to May 31st 2017

Curated by Mauri Kiudsoo (Tallinn University Archaeological Research Collection)

At this exhibition, we will display one of the largest and most exciting treasure troves found in Estonia recently. It consists mainly of Roman coins.

Treasure troves usually get a lot of attention when they are uncovered. However, it is not widely discussed what researchers do with the findings before the items are displayed or sent to a repository. This exhibition will explore the various aspects of working with a treasure trove and explain what a conservator does with the coins. We will also discuss whether finding a treasure trove is a lucky chance or a conscious effort, who owns it and whether the findings can change history.

March was the first month of the year according to the first calendar of ancient Rome. This is why the University of Tartu Art Museum will focus on introducing new discoveries and findings about ancient cultures in Estonia in March.


Otto Friedrich von Richter’s (1791–1816) trips and collection

May 26, 2016 - May 13, 2017

The annual exhibition of University of Tartu Art Museum focuses on Ancient Egypt telling the story of the arrival of two unique human mummies at the museum. Europe’s  expanding interest in Egypt at the end of the 18th century is also being observed.

The Egyptian mummies, unique in the Baltic countries and Finland reached the collections of Tartu University at the beginning of the 19th century as the heritage of Otto Friedrich von Richter (1791–1816), a Baltic-German orientalist and pilgrim.

Otto Friedrich von Richter was born in 1791 as the son of district magistrate Otto Magnus Johann von Richter in the manor of Vastse-Kuuste in Tartu county.

His private teacher was the later Rector of Tartu University Gustav Ewers who aroused young Richter’s interest in antiquities. At first Richter studied classical philology and Oriental studies  in Moscow and later several places in West-Europe. In 1814 he went on an expedition to Turkey and in 1815 together with a Swede Sven Fredrik Lindman to Egypt and Nubia.

Unfortunately, Otto Friedrich von Richter fell ill on his journey and died in Smyrna (today: Izmir in Turkey). His manuscripts and collection of Egiptian artefacts were presented to Tartu University by his father to encourage young people to continue his venture. Most of Richter’s collections of antiquities are now in Voronezh, Russia, where they were  evacuated due to World War I in 1915. University of Tartu Art Museum has still Egyptian mummies and in the library of the university several manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Turkish and publications collected by Richter can be found.

One can make a mental journey in Egypt together with Richter and see his collection – mummies, manuscripts and drawings in Estonia.


The Human and Divine World of Icons

January, 28 2015 - October, 30 2015


Icons, i.e., holy pictures have an important role as carriers of the Orthodox identity, keeping the holy traditions alive and acting as the mediators between God and mankind. The aim of this exhibition is to provide an introduction of icons as an Orthodox Christian tradition and inseparable part of people’s lives.

Using vibrant colours and symbols, the rich iconography of the Eastern Church has documented its Christian religious dogmas, the divine world that people believe in and its morals. According to the Orthodox Christian tradition, an icon is a bridge between Earth and Heaven. Via this bridge people’s prayers can reach God, mediated by the saints or other guardians on the icons. Any changes or miracles that happen after this invocation for help are interpreted as divine care. Icons are tremendously important for Orthodox Christians in view of their domestic religious lives, and accompany them from birth to death.

The exhibited icon collection of the University of Tartu Art Museum mostly contains icons that were used in people’s homes in the Russian Empire from 18th to 20th century.

Curator: Külli Valk

Design: Maarja Roosi, Külli Valk

Exibition tehnician: Arvi Kuld

Editor: Anu Lepp, Scriba

Translators: Jaana Savolainen, Irina Rudik

Consultant: Andreas Kalkun




Personal exhibition of Estonian glass artist Ivo Lill 

28 November 2015 - 29 February 2016

The  “Memory Code“ series reflects fragments of patterns of Estonian folk costumes and its belt design. Since glass is three-dimensional, different memory patterns appear when you turn the piece or change the angle.  At one point, the ornament is boldly coiled, then  again so taut that it is about to break. Continue to turn it and the pattern fades entirely, only to  appear once more and fill the entire surface. 

The patterns of folk costume are like memory codes of our  people’s history, where their courageousness and misery are stored.  But only insiders can read and understand these secret “texts“. Such pictorial means of expression are like crypto-grams that are protected from the evil eye – strangers can only see the innocent decorative ornament and nothing more…