Sculpture Collection of the Department of Art History

Hanne Selkokari, Ph.D

Alphabetical index of the sculptures
Pictorial index of the Antiquity sculptures
Pictorial index of the Renaissance sculptures


On 20 May 1873, a sculpture exhibition was opened in the Imperial Alexander University ’s recently completed Arppeanum building, which at that time housed laboratory and museum facilities. This exhibition introduced the Finnish general public to the University’s new collection of classical plaster sculptures. Before the acquisition of this collection, three plaster copies of the sculptures of Laocoon, Apollo and Artemis had already been obtained by the University with funds raised by its students in the 1840s. In 1876, a catalogue of classical plaster sculptures compiled by Professor C. G. Estlander was published. In this catalogue, Professor Estlander described the original sculptures and gave information on where their copies could be purchased and on the costs of such purchases. The University’s collection of plaster sculptures is an important part of its history and of the history of Finnish art exhibitions and museum collections, for it delineates the early stages of Finnish instruction in art history and classical archaeology, and remains to this day the only museum collection in Finland that contains sculptures from the classical period and Italian Renaissance.

In 1869, Professor Estlander began to build up systematically a collection of sculptures. He felt that in order to understand art, aesthetics and history, one had to establish a personal contact with art from around the world. The collection was modelled after similar collections maintained by a number of European universities. Once the Senate of the University of Helsinki had allocated funding for the project and agreement had been reached on where the sculptures would be displayed, the process of purchasing the sculptures was begun by examining the sales catalogues of museums and workshops that produced plaster casts. The first purchases were made in France in 1871 with the help of Mr. Adolf von Becker who, at that time, was a teacher at the then Art Room of the Department of Art History. Back in Finland, the sculptures were put into final form by the sculptor Carl Eneas Sjöstrand.

The objective was that the plaster collection would incorporate works that were deemed characteristic of classical sculpture. These works were to include apt examples of classical art and copies of well-preserved sculptures. All trends, schools and masterpieces, reproductions of well-known monuments, divinities and prominent historical persons, and portraits of emperors and philosophers were to be included in the collection. The collection is focused on, in particular, the classical period of Greek sculpture and on Hellenistic sculpture.

The purchases made in the 1870s were followed by a lull. The next acquisitions were made in the late 1880s by Dr. J. J. Tikkanen. Professor Estlander travelled to Italy in 1883 and bought the first copies of Renaissance sculptures in Florence. In the late 1880s, Dr. Tikkanen lived for several years in central and southern Europe . He entered into a lively correspondence with Professor Estlander and made, on the basis of this correspondence, purchases in Berlin and Florence. The collection of Renaissance plaster sculptures was built on trust in Dr. Tikkanen’s expertise. The objective was to obtain a representative and versatile collection that could be used when giving instruction in art history.

The final collection now contains 75 copies of sculptures from the classical period, 52 copies from the Renaissance period, and three early Christian and two Asian copies. The Asian sculpture copies and three Renaissance sculpture heads were donated in 1890 by the sculptor Walter Runeberg. The latest acquisition is a copy of the elk’s head sculpture found in Huittinen, Finland. This sculpture copy was acquired in 1912 and is the only Finnish work included in the collection. The most recent donations have been made by Professor Christoffer H. Ericsson, who in 1984 donated to the Department of Art History a votive relief he had bought at the Copenhagen ‘Glyptotek’ and in 2001 donated to the Department an archaic kouros sculpture head and plaster copies of the Athena Lemnia.

Lack of space forced the University to transfer its museum collections and plaster sculptures away from the Arppeanum. The plaster sculptures were relocated in 1937 to the northern gateway of the University’s Main Building , where they remained unscathed during the bombing raid of the so-called Continuation War between Russia and Finland and during the following fire that ravaged the Main Building in 1944. The collection was later transferred to the facilities of the Department of Art History and to the Main Building vestibule. The more recent donations have been placed in the Sirenia library of the Department of Art History. Part of the University’s sculpture collection has been placed in storage due to lack of space. For this reason, copies of the sculptures carved to the pediment of the Parthenon in Athens are not on display. This situation may, however, change in the near future when the University opens a new museum in the Arppeanum.

C. G. Estlander

Adolf von Becker

Elk's head from Huittinen



Asian scupture heads


J. J. Tikkanen

Johanna Vakkari, Ph.D., and Hanne Selkokari, Ph.D

Dr. Johan Jacob Tikkanen (1857–1930), docent of art history and aesthetics, was on his second lengthy journey in Europe in 1885–1888 when he began to correspond with his teacher, Dr. C. G. Estlander, professor of aesthetics and modern literature. What remains of this correspondence are the letters of Dr. Tikkanen, which provide much information on the selection, purchase and transportation of the Renaissance works of art that were acquired for the University’s sculpture collection.

The acquisition of Renaissance works of art is first mentioned by Dr. Tikkanen in a letter written in early January 1888, and the acquisition process continued until he returned to Finland from Berlin in September-October of the same year. The decision on the purchase of the Renaissance plaster sculptures was probably made at the end of 1887, and Professor Estlander had apparently enquired whether Dr. Tikkanen, who was in Italy at the time, could take on responsibility for the purchases. Dr. Tikkanen accepted the task with enthusiasm, for the collection was supposed to be used in the instruction of art history, and Dr. Tikkanen was already making plans for his future lectures on Italian Renaissance art. He had become friends with a number of German art historians and obtained from them good advice on where to purchase suitable copies and how to transport them to Finland as inexpensively as possible. Dr. Tikkanen’s correspondence with Professor Estlander reveals that initial plans for the collection were based on a purely theoretical premise. The key question was which works of art would provide the most comprehensive impression of Renaissance sculpture. As the process progressed, however, it became apparent that a significant number of the works on the wish list were not available as copies, and the planning had to be restarted almost from scratch, that is, from finding out which works where available. This situation seems to have contributed to the fact that responsibility for the selection of works gradually fell on Dr. Tikkanen, whereas at the beginning, it had been Professor Estlander who had drawn up the overall plan, which was subsequently commented on by Dr. Tikkanen. Such a reversal of roles was natural, as Dr. Tikkanen was able to verify the quality of plaster casts made in different workshops, to examine the relationship between price and quality, and to engage in discussions directly with suppliers. To be sure, all selections had to be submitted for approval to Professor Estlander. Workshops manufacturing plaster copies published catalogues of works included in their production, and Dr. Tikkanen sent such catalogues to Professor Estlander for viewing. Limited funds were available for the purchase of the sculptures, but the resources were sufficient for acquiring a representative collection. The situation did require careful calculations, and many discussions took place concerning the price of the works and the costs of their transportation and packing. All in all, Dr. Tikkanen worked hard for almost a year to acquire the Renaissance collection.

It became apparent at an early stage that the most suitable solution would be to purchase the plaster casts in both Florence and Berlin . Most of the Florentine plaster sculptures were purchased in a shop called Lelli, which had been recommended to Dr. Tikkanen by Mr. Hugo von Tschudi who was an expert on Renaissance sculpture and took part in the administration of several museums in Berlin. The prices at Lelli were steep, but the quality of the works was excellent, for they were based on casts taken directly from the originals. The most expensive work in the entire collection, il Pensioroso by Michelangelo, was purchased at Lelli. This work is a portrait of Mr. Lorenzo de Medici from the Medici chapel of the San Lorenzo church. Other places of purchase in Florence included the shops Francini and Ginori. Professor Estlander admired, in particular, the works of the della Robbias and had bought three majolica reproductions of works by Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia already in 1883 when travelling in Italy. He wished to purchase another work by Andrea della Robbia; this was a large relief, decorated with garlands, depicting Madonna and the child. After a long search, Dr. Tikkanen was able to find this work at Ginori. The works purchased in Florence, comprising ten reliefs, six busts, two free-standing sculptures, one miniature sculpture and 17 medals, were first transported to Leghorn, from where they were shipped via Copenhagen to Helsinki.

At the final stage of his journey, Dr. Tikkanen stayed for several weeks in Berlin with his family. To his disappointment, he came to realise that unlike the companies in Florence, Berlin-based companies supplying plaster casts did not store their works; instead, these works were manufactured to order. Consequently, the sculpture collection arrived in Helsinki much later than was initially expected. However, Dr. Tikkanen comforted himself with the idea that a few months’ delay would not mean much when it came to a collection that was to last forever.

Although Dr. Tikkanen’s commission concerned Renaissance art, he strove at the same time to fill in some gaps that remained in the University’s collection of classical sculptures. He suggested that the University purchase in Berlin a copy of the Hermes and Dionysus sculpture, some copies of sculptures carved into a temple pediment at Olympia, and reliefs from the Pergamon altar. The Germans had been the first to begin to excavate systematically at Olympia in 1875, and Professor Estlander and Dr. Tikkanen were aware of these excavations and their findings. Unfortunately, only the first of the classical purchases suggested by Dr. Tikkanen materialised. Other acquisitions made in Berlin include diptychs and a pyx representing the late classical period. The number of Renaissance sculptures and reliefs suggested for purchase by Dr. Tikkanen is almost the same as that of the purchases made in Florence, that is, eighteen. These works include seven reliefs, three busts, seven free-standing sculptures and one miniature sculpture. The most notable purchases included copies of the funeral monumentof Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia, the choir loft reliefs at the Duomo in Florence by Luca della Robbia, and the David sculptures by Donatello and Verrocchio.

The selections focused on early Renaissance sculpture, especially on the work of the innovators Ghiberti and Donatello. The large number of busts is partly explained by the lower prices and partly by the fact that Dr. Tikkanen consciously wished to gather a representative sample of busts, for he considered them a central motif in early Renaissance sculpture. The scarcity of allocations meant that only a small number of 16th century works could be purchased, as was noted by Dr. Tikkanen himself. The focus on early Renaissance is, however, understandable, for its significance for the instruction of the history of sculpture is greater than that of the high Renaissance.

The art-historical orientation of Professor Estlander and Dr. Tikkanen, the availability of works and the funds allocated for the purchases all played a role in the selection of Renaissance works for the sculpture collection of the University of Helsinki. The plaster collection formed part of the teaching material, which expanded and diversified over the following decades. Similar sculpture collections were acquired by numerous other European universities in the 19th century. These collections had both educational and status value. The acquisition of the sculpture collection is a concrete example of the discipline of art history striving to obtain the same status in Finland that it had already asserted at universities in other countries, especially in Germany. Old guidebooks to Helsinki mention the sculpture collection located in the Arppeanum as an important attraction in the Finnish capital.


Source: Estlander’s letters to Tikkanen, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland


J. J. Tikkanen



Estlander's catalogue