Ars moriendi – the Art of Dying
The exhibition “Ars moriendi – the Art of Dying” concentrate on the memorial, funeral and sepulchral cultures of the medieval and Early Modern periods, focusing on the reflection of these topics in the Estonian ecclesiastical art of the periods.
The exhibition include and explain the tombstones, epitaphs, coat-of-arms epitaphs and other works of ecclesiastical art displayed in the Niguliste Museum. Artefacts of cultural history from the collections of Estonian museums and churches cast light on funeral traditions and customs. These objects and works of art, which mostly originate from town churches, primarily represent the funeral and memorial customs of the upper and wealthy middle class.
The exhibition focuses primarily on the visual representation of the culture of death, funerals and commemorating the dead during the medieval and Early Modern periods, conveyed by works of art donated to churches and funeral regalia. Commissioning altar retables, church silver and other works of art and donating them to churches often indicated a wish to ensure the donor a better destination in the afterlife. It also served to commemorate a person and to encourage mourners to pray for the soul of the deceased. The most characteristic works of Lutheran sepulchral art are epitaphs and coat-of-arms epitaphs, primarily created to honour God, decorate churches and commemorate the deceased. Tombstones, marking burial sites, are the most direct expressions of the visual tradition of the centuries-long commemorative and funeral culture.
The historical framework of the exhibition starts in the Middle Ages and ends with the 18th century, embracing visual material both from the Catholic and the Lutheran eras. The end of the 18th century marked a significant turn in the local sepulchral and commemorative culture. The decree of Catherine II from 1772 forbade church burials and declared that new cemeteries were to be established well away from dwellings. In ecclesiastical space, this meant an end to the visual elements related to funerals and mourning, as new works of commemorative and sepulchral art were only occasionally set up in churches.
Curator: Merike Kurisoo
Exhibition design: Liina Siib