Past Exhibitions

The enchanting art of stone cutting. Morgenstern 250

11.06.2020 26.03.2021

Photo: Casts of Gems. Philipp Daniel Lippert's Daktyliothek. The collections of  University of Tartu Art Museum kogu KMM GE 14/1

This exhibition introduces an old and forgotten art—engraving, or glyptics. The first stone-engraved cylindrical seals were made in the Middle East around the year 3500 BC. Improvements on it, flat ring seals, were used in Mesopotamia and Assyria, and from there they spread to Crete and other islands of the Aegean Sea, Greece and later—Italy. These gemstones have been valued through centuries for their valuable material and attractive images, but started to receive more attention again during the Modern Age, when they were researched and systemised, and when new gemstones were began to be made, including many falsifications of antique ones.  

The exhibition is dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Johann Karl Simon Morgenstern, professor of rhetoric, classical philology, aesthetics, literary and art history, who acquired over 17,000 casts of gems for the art museum to illustrate lectures.

The event is cancelled. Art Wednesday on November 18th at 17:15
: lecture of Erinn M.Cox "My Heart Around Your Neck: Intimacy in Contemporary Jewellery"

Exhibition team

Curated by: Jaanika Anderson

Designed by: Mari Kurismaa

Graphic solution authored by: Mari Kaljuste

The exhibition is supported by

University of Tartu Museum and project “Artists in Collections” present:

Artist Taavi Suisalu in collaboration with physicist Siim Pikker


At the University of Tartu Art Museum, 27.01–27.03.2020


The project “Artist and Researcher in Collections” is a further development of “Artists in Collections”, an exhibition series that took place in 2018 and was one of the highlights of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Republic of Estonia. The University of Tartu Museum (UTM) wanted to invite an artist to research its collection with the aim of creating an exhibition in the university’s art museum, but with an important twist of adding to this dialogue also a scientist from the University of Tartu. The project managers of “Artists in Collections”, Maarin Ektermann and Mary-Ann Talvistu, selected the artist Taavi Suisalu who works with technology, sound and performance.

In autumn 2019, Suisalu visited many of the museum’s collections and found the starting point of the exhibition. On the one hand, this was based on the museum’s collection of 19th century measuring instruments, and, on the other hand, by the galleries of the University of Tartu Art Museum (UTAM) where the exhibition was to take place and where the walls are covered by Pompeii-style murals. After preliminary research, Suisalu decided to travel to Italy to collect additional data and material for the exhibition. He constructed a portable seismometer that he could use to listen and register the subterranean vibrations of the Vesuvius volcano.

Instead of the tragic story associated with the town of Pompeii, Suisalu was more interested in the processes that are currently carried out in the ruins using new technologies. In addition to scanning, the town is re-created in both digital and physical form in an attempt to display the former reality. A tiny granule of the soil of Pompeii travelled with Suisalu to the laboratory of the University of Tartu Institute of Physics where the physicist Siim Pikker became involved. Using an electronic microscope, a 3D-model was created of the granule and thus the microscopic particle gained a perceptible volume. This “unusual object that influences reality”, as the artist himself has called it, also makes us ask questions about the ruins of Pompeii: When does the reality become a model? At what point more has been restored than was originally present? How does this affect our experience?

By using his art to analyse the effect that a physical location that has been mediated by contemporary technology has on the sensibilities of people, Suisalu wants to create models or instruments that make the world visible and understandable for us. New technologies create new ways of acquiring data so that we constantly feel that we are getting closer. But to what?

Taavi Suisalu uses technology, sound and performance to create art that transforms the periphery into uncanny encounters. His oeuvre is based on the relationship that the contemporary society has with technology and the effect that this has on the behaviour, perception and cognition of social beings. In his works, Suisalu brings together cultural phenomena with contemporary cultural practices and traditional mentality.

Besides Estonia, Suisalu has exhibited and participated in performances in Germany, England, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Poland and the Baltic States. His 2014 MA thesis “Project of Non-existent Villages” received the Young Estonian Artist Prize at the graduate works exhibition of the Estonian Academy of Arts. His work “Distant Self-Portrait” was awarded the 2nd prize at the Riga Photography Biennial. In 2018, he was one of the artists selected to participate in the European Media Art Platform.

Siim Pikker, PhD, is a young physicist who defended his dissertation in 2014. His main interest is the optics of very tiny objects and micro and nano structures. Since 2005, he has also been actively popularising science. In his everyday work, he often employs the scanning electron microscope (Tescan Vega 2) that was also used to create the 3D-model of the particle for the present exhibition. Pikker was infected with an interest in photography in primary school and continues to “photograph” scientific images that he hasn’t thus far exhibited. Collaboration with Taavi Suisalu is his first public artistic project.

“Artists in Collections” was one of the highlights of the artistic programme that was used to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. It brought together contemporary artists and (small) museums all over Estonia to emphasise our cultural heritage and to offer new ways of interpreting it and creating associations with the present day. The documentation of the ten exhibitions that took place and the discussions around them have been collected in a catalogue that offers an overview of the project. The present collaboration with the University of Tartu Museum is the first step in continuing and developing the format. The project has been managed by art historians and educators Maarin Ektermann and Mary-Ann Talvistu. The graphic designer of the project is Viktor Gurov.

Project managers: Maarin Ektermann, Mary-Ann Talvistu

Graphic designer: Viktor Gurov

Translator: Peeter Talvistu

Exhibition team: Jaanika Anderson, Karoliina Kalda, Taavi Suisalu, Siim Pikker, Piret Tamm, Maris Tuuling, Tiina Vint

Thanks: Stefano Carlino and Anna Tramelli from the Vesuvius Observatory, Heidi Soosalu, Mihkel Säre, Villem Säre, Mirko Pavleski, Priit Pajusalu, Marko Nõmmik, Tanel Nõmmik, Agu Vilu, University of Tartu Institute of Physics

We thank for the support

The University of Tartu Main Building in Art

22 April–6 December 2019

Alexander Stromberg. The University of Tartu Main Building. Coloured woodcut, 1930. Collections of the University of Tartu Library

This year marks the centenary of Estonia’s national university. To celebrate this, the University of Tartu Art Museum hosts an exhibition that focuses on one of the symbols of the university and education in Estonia - the University of Tartu main building.

Of all the buildings in Tartu, the University’s main building is certainly one that is most frequently depicted in art. It can be seen in city views, genre paintings as well as a national symbol on other works of art. The art museum, located right in the heart of the main building, is the most appropriate site to demonstrate how this building has been depicted in various times.

The exhibition will showcase paintings, etchings and drawings dating from the early 19th century to modern times, thereby providing a unique overview of Baltic German and Estonian art with a focus on a single building. Not a single time period has been left out when making the selection, and works in various styles have been placed side by side. This way, the story of the University’s main building also reflects Estonia’s culture and history.

Exhibition team

Curators: Kristiina Tiideberg and Ingrid Sahk

Designer: Peeter Laurits

Language editor: Sirje Toomla

Translation into English: Mari-Liis Belials and Kristin Lillemäe

Exhibition supervisor: Tanel Nõmmik

The works of art on display originate from the Estonian History Museum, Art Museum of Estonia, Estonian National Museum, the National Archive, Tartu Art Museum, Tartu City Museum, University of Tartu Museum, University of Tartu Library, and private collections.

Fragments of Pompeii

21 November 2018–29 March 2019

The Pompeii-style wall paintings of the University of Tartu Art Museum were completed in November 1868. The murals that will turn 150 this year are unique in both Estonia and Europe. The exhibition introduces the story of the paintings as well at the heritage of Pompeii in general.

The murals are based on the prints displayed at the exhibition, which originate from the collection of the University of Tartu Art Museum. The display also provides an overview of ancient graffiti and allows viewers to get acquainted with the casts of artistic treasures that were buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius but which have been excavated by today. Ivan Aivazovsky’s painting View on Mount Vesuvius before the Eruption that belongs to the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia provides a beautiful vision of Pompeii, and the piece is displayed in South Estonia for the first time.

Curators: Jaanika Anderson, Ingrid Sahk

Designers: Madis Liplap, Maarja Roosi

The exhibition is supported by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

Patrons of the arts in Narva. Art collection of the Lavretsovs

27 October 2017- 19 May 2018

The exhibition Patrons of Narva. The art collection of the Lavretsovs was displayed for the first time in the Mikkel Museum, Art Museum of Estonia, in 2016. The Lavretsovs' heritage forms an important part of the Narva Museum's foreign art collection and is also one of the largest collections of Russian art in Estonia. The Art Museum of Estonia introduces the exhibition as follows:

The Lavretsovs' collection is truly exceptional in Estonia. It was left by the art patron Sergey Lavretsov (1825–1906) to the city of Narva, together with his house at 104 Rüütli Street and funds for the upkeep of the Sergey Lavretsov Museum. The collection of Sergey and Glafira Lavretsov includes works of figurative art, as well as applied art, cultural-historical and ethnographic items, and mineralogical and zoological materials. The collection of paintings was, and still is, the central and most significant part of the inheritance. The Lavretsovs acquired art during their innumerable travels through Russia and Western Europe: they bought works at exhibitions in St. Petersburg, at the studios of artists (e.g. Ivan Aivazovsky) and from art dealers. Supporting Estonian artists through purchases or scholarships was also important to them. Lavretsovs supported both established artists, who had acquired an academic education in St. Petersburg (Peeter Heller, Nikolay Semyonov, Nikolay Lund and Eduard Verber), as well as young artists who were either beginning their studies or finding their paths in the world of art (Peet Aren, August Jansen, Ado Vabbe, et al.). (Source: Art Museum of Estonia)

Photograph: Carl Gottlieb Venig. Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. 19th century. Narva Museum


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…