The Estonian Peasant in Eighteenth- Century Art Cover Image
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Eesti talupoeg 18. sajandi kunstis
The Estonian Peasant in Eighteenth- Century Art

Author(s): Ants Hein
Subject(s): Visual Arts, 18th Century, History of Art
Published by: Eesti Kunstiteadlaste Ühing
Keywords: Estonian Peasant in Eighteenth-Century Art;

Summary/Abstract: In the course of the eighteenth century, pictorial materials about Estonian peasants gradually accumulated to the extent that it is now possible to gather them together into a sizeable collection. Including all variants and modifications, this collection contains about one hundred works. It is remarkable that the authors of most of these works were foreigners, who merely passed through the area of today’s Estonia or stayed longer. The local Baltic-German elite seem to have lacked any deep interest in this topic. How exactly to regard peasants was a topic of discussion in the eighteenth century almost everywhere in Europe, including in Estonia and Livonia, where peasants were in fact serfs, thus not masters of their own fate, but owned by others. This issue was so important that it became one of the main questions in the Enlightenment movement. All across the world, peasants were seen as child-like figures who needed constant admonishing and guidance. In these two Russian provinces by the Baltic Sea, the image of peasants as culturally totally different creatures was further strengthened by their different languages, and thus the notion of a peasant also contained a clear ethnic meaning. To be born in Estonia or Livonia as an Estonian or Latvian inevitably meant being born as a peasant, as nationality was directly connected with social class. It is thus no surprise that local peasants were characterised by the usual colonial comparisons and epithets used to describe the recently discovered pagan peoples in the remotest corners of the world, despite the fact that Estonian and Livonian peasants were white and had been Christians for five centuries. The same cultural marginality, being ‘aboriginal’, determined quite a bit about how Estonian peasants were depicted in the eighteenth century. Compared with some other European regions, where certain traditions had developed in depicting peasants, painting a village man or woman was still an exception. And if a peasant was indeed occasionally depicted, it was mostly because of being exotic, ‘foreign’. It is worth pointing out that most authors of such works were foreigners, in transit through the Baltic region or staying longer. The local Baltic German elite seemed to lack any deep interest in such topics.

  • Issue Year: 28/2019
  • Issue No: 01+02
  • Page Range: 104-144
  • Page Count: 41
  • Language: Estonian