The Virgin Mary is the most prominent and beloved woman in Christian culture. She is a lasting presence: in the past, the present and the future. She accompanies us through images, stories, thoughts, prayers and songs. A magnificent and majestic queen, a caring and loving mother, and a gentle and shy maiden: as the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary embodies both the divine and the worldly. Through the centuries, she has served as the intercessor and mediator between the earthly life and the afterlife. She is the gracious and merciful mother we all know, but whose story sometimes fades in our memory.
The exhibition The Virgin Mary: Woman, Mother, Queen tells of the life of the most prominent woman in the Christian world through medieval and Early Modern art: altarpieces, paintings, sculptures and objects. All of them historically originate from the churches of medieval Livonia (present day Estonia and Latvia) and their stories closely relate to the local history. Through this art, the significance and presence of the Virgin Mary in the local cultural memory becomes obvious. The journey through the story of the Virgin Mary proceeds through works of art that possess their own narratives and paths through time.
The exhibition includes the oldest and most valuable medieval artworks from Estonia and Latvia, including a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child (1270s) from the Kaarma church and a sculpture of the Virgin Mary in childbirth (second half of the 14th century) from Vormsi. The latter is an iconographic rarity in the context of Europe. Two sculptures from the Ruhnu church, which date back to the early 14th century and are currently in the National History Museum of Latvia, will be exhibited for the first time in Estonia. A sandstone statue of the mourning Virgin Mary (ca 1400), which is one of the most beautiful medieval sculptures in the Baltic countries, comes from the same collection.
Among the rarities is also a manuscript from the Tallinn city archives dating back to the 13th-14th centuries; it includes a drawing depicting the Virgin Mary’s family tree. Small ceramic holy figures and pictorial plates from the 15th century, which were discovered in 2018 during the archaeological excavations in Jahu St. in Tallinn, will also be exhibited for the first time. Exceptional miniature silver and gold items – medieval medallions and rings – will also be exhibited. One section of the exhibition is devoted to works from the permanent exhibition of the Niguliste Museum which manifest the story of the Virgin Mary and the customs related to her veneration.
Curator: Merike Kurisoo
Exhibition design: Liis Lindvere
Graphic design: Tuuli Aule
Educational programme and exhibition book for families: Mia Maria Rohumaa, Mae Kivilo
Translation into English by: Marju Kubre
Language editors: Klaire Kolmann (Estonian), Richard Adang (English)
Photos: Stanislav Stepaško (Art Museum of Estonia)
We thank: Hedi Kard, Liina Olmaru, Eva Eensaar-Tootsen, Kaarel Eelma, Tõnu Narro, Mati Schönberg
Collections: EELC Haapsalu St John’s, EELC Kaarma Sts Peter and Paul’s, EELC Swedish St Michael’s, EELC Tartu University St John’s Congregations, Estonian National Museum, Estonian Swedish organisation Friends of Swedish Culture, National History Museum of Latvia, Saaremaa Museum, Tallinn City Archives, Tallinn City Museum, Tallinn University Archeological Research Collection, Tallinn University Academic Library, Tartu Art Museum.
With the support of: Eesti Kultuurkapital, Overall Eesti AS