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Narva's baroque church artifacts studied and attributed

Students of the Estonian Academy of Arts worked on the objects of the ruined Narva churches.
Students of the Estonian Academy of Arts worked on the objects of the ruined Narva churches. Source: Press material

After 72 years, the Narva Museum's Baroque wooden fragments were discovered to be fragments of the St. John's Church (the former Swedish Dome Cathedral) painting frames and the Narva Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (the former St. John's Church) altar. Master names were identified.

Pictures of the former splendor of pre-war Narva evoke images of the Old Town with winding cobblestones, houses decorated with intricate stone portals and elaborate railings. The project "Narva Wooden Baroque" aims to revive and reconstruct the history from the fragments of the destroyed Old Narva that have been stored in the cellars of the Narva Museum.

Together with the Estonian Academy of Arts and the Pallas University of Applied Sciences, the Narva Museum started exploring the collection of fragments of 17th-18th century Baroque wooden sculptures and ornaments. These pieces of art with a 300-year history have not been exhibited for more than 70 years.

Last year in October the inventory of the wooden Baroque collection was carried out: the objects were described and photographed, cleaning and preventive conservation were conducted.

Students cleaning gilded ornaments. Source: Svetlana Zaitseva/Narva Museum

The project team made several discoveries. It turned out that in the collection of the wooden Baroque of the Narva Museum there are objects from two churches: the St. John's Church (the former Swedish Dome Cathedral) and the Narva Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (the former St. John's Church).

With the help of historical photographs, it was possible to find out that a large number of ornaments are parts of the frames of picturesque paintings from St. John's Church.

One photograph from 1940 depicts a pair of paintings in luxurious Baroque frames from 1738. Earlier, it was believed that the paintings along with the frames were lost during the Second World War.

Thanks to the work of art historians, we can better understand the history of Narva and the specifics of the local culture. The lectures on the topic and the video report of the first stage of the project are available for viewing on the Narva Museum's website.

This project is an important first step in a large-scale research endeavor. In 2024 the team started the second stage of the project.

"The second stage of the 'Narva Wooden Baroque' project, aimed at studying the wooden fragments in the museum's collections, took place from January 22 to 26. Under the supervision of museum conservator Maria Väinsare, students from the Estonian Academy of Arts worked on the objects from the ruined Narva churches.

70 fragments were found on the territory of the old town Narva, which was destroyed in the Second World War. Source: Svetlana Zaitseva/Narva Museum

"We now know that these are fragments of the three-meter high frescoes of the St. John's Church (the former Swedish Dome Cathedral) and the altar of the Narva Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (the former St. John's Church). Until a year ago, these works of art were thought to have been entirely lost," Anne Raud, the museum's exhibition manager and project curator, said.

"Thanks to the XRF analyzer, we were able to study polychromy, gold and silver on the ornaments of the frames. We learned that it was not an imitation, but real gold and silver. This confirms that the objects found by the researchers had an important value to both, the commissioner and the church: the people who commissioned the altar and the paintings did not skimp, inviting good craftsmen and choosing expensive materials," she said.

Thanks to the project, it was also possible to identify the names of the masters who created the monumental works of art. "Of course, it was no secret. The information about the authors was available in the archives, but we did not expect that these works had survived in Narva to this day," Raud summarizes the results.

The two objects were made by woodcarvers Anthony Eckmeyer around 1687 and Quirinus Rabe around 1737.

Until today, the only well-preserved Baroque woodcarving masterpiece in Narva was Elert Thiele's crucifix, dating from around 1660.

The results of the "Narva Wooden Baroque" project will be available soon.

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Editor: Rasmus Kuningas, Kristina kersa

Source: Narva Museum

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