The permanent exhibition of Niguliste Museum assembles the ecclesiastical art from the medieval and early modern period from the various collections of the Art Museum of Estonia. The permanent exhibition is comprised of the oldest works of sacred art from the Niguliste, Painting and Sculpture Collections. The first works of ecclesiastical art were donated to the Art Museum of Estonia in the 1920s, but the majority of the works came to the museum after the Second World War.
The Niguliste Museum, which was opened in 1984, operates in St. Nicholas’ Church, which was restored after being damaged after the war. The bulk of the works in the Niguliste Museum originate from St. Nicholas’ Church, and have now been placed in their original locations.
The centrepiece of the Niguliste Collection is the late-medieval altarpiece and wooden sculptures that belong to the painting and sculpture collections of the Art Museum of Estonia. One of the gems of the collection is the double-winged altarpiece of the high altar of St. Nicholas’ Church, which was made in the workshop of Herman Rode, a master from Lübeck, and which arrived in Tallinn in 1481. This is one of the best-preserved and largest late-medieval cabinet altars from northern Germany. The collection also includes three Netherlandish altar retables: a Passion altar made in the workshop of the Brügge master Adriaen Isenbrandt, the altar of the Virgin Mary of Tallinn’s Brotherhood of the Black Heads, which is attributed to the Master of the St. Lucia Legend, and the cabinet altar of the Brussels’ Holy Kindred. In addition, there are cabinet altars and sculptures of saints from various Estonian churches. The best-known work in the museum is the Danse Macabre from Bernt Notke’s workshop. A 7.5-metre-long piece of the original work, completed at the end of the 15th century, has survived to the present day.
Over 130 items belong to the Niguliste collection, the majority of which dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. This collection consists primarily of ecclesiastical art from the early modern period, mostly epitaphs and coats of arms with epitaphs, and wall sconces and chandeliers from the 16th to 18th centuries. The oldest and rarest of these is a four-metre-high brass floor chandelier. This seven-armed chandelier was made in a Lübeck foundry and donated to St. Nicholas’ Church in 1519. Over a hundred gravestones and their fragments are on display in the Niguliste Museum. Most of the gravestones from the 14th to 17th centuries are from St. Nicholas’ Church.