Photographic Precision of Old Baltic Capitals
01 May, 2014
Photographic Precision of Old Baltic Capitals
Positive Nostalgic Trip to 18th century Riga and Tallinn

Riga is the 2014 cultural capital of Europe and on 29 April the National Academic Library of the Tbilisi State University hosted the opening of the exhibition of the famous German-born teacher and ethnographer Johann Christoph Brotze, who lived in Latvia. The exhibition displayed pictures of Riga and Tallinn. The event is initiated by the Academic Library of Latvia, and supported by the Latvian Embassy to Georgia. “I think, this is a
really interesting exhibition that has already visited 11 other countries in Europe,” Irakli Gharibashvili, Director of the Library who opened the reception.
The Academic Library of the University of Latvia (former Bibliotheca Rigensis, founded in 1524) keeps documents that bear an interesting testimony of the fates of old books and manuscripts. The unique collection of Johann Christoph Brotze (1742-1823), teacher and regional ethnographer, is one of the most striking evidences of this valuable heritage.
Brotze was born in Görlitz, learned technical drawing, studied theology and philosophy at the universities of Leipzig and Wittenberg. In 1768, he moved to Riga and worked as a tutor. In 1769, he started to teach at Riga King’s Lyceum where he has been working for 46 years. Brotze collected historical materials and drew everything that seemed significant to him. He fixed everything with great preciseness and always added written explanations that sometimes were a few lines, but sometimes several pages long.
The Latvian Ambassador, Her Excellency Mrs. Elita Gavele mentioned that, “we, nations have to be proud of our cultural heritage.” These paintings will tell you a lot about Riga and Latvians in general.
Brotze’s drawings today are considered to be one of the main sources for researchers in terms of history, architecture and ethnography. Venta Kocere is the director of the Academic Library of the University of Latvia and the initiator of the exhibition. “I am happy to be back in Georgia again after seven years. Johann Christoph Brotze was a unique person, born in Germany but spent the major part of his life in Latvia. This year Riga is the cultural capital of Europe. So, everybody is interested to see how it looked like in the 18th century. We are proud to have such a huge exposition of Brotze, but we could only offer one part of it to you today. We thank everybody for hosting us here and hope that one day Georgians will also come to Latvia with their own exhibition.”
Brotze’s drawings are gathered in his most significant work “Sammlung verschiedner Liefländischer Monumente,” ten big volumes bound in leather (3130 pages, page size - 33x21 cm). Views of settlements in the Baltics, estate buildings, castles, public edifices, dwelling houses, churches, bridges, town and country dwellers, their clothing, belongings and depiction of work process, different technical equipment (waterline, etc.), monuments, armorial bearings, stamps and coins are depicted in these volumes. Brotze tried to gather as much evidence and facts about each town as possible: he drew the most significant buildings of the town, gave a description of its history, furnished information on its economic and administrative situation, and gave facts about its inhabitants and their occupations. Thanks to the drawings of J.C. Brotze we can visualize the demeanor of the representatives of 14 different nationalities that inhabited Riga at that time: their occupations, traditions and style.
In 1997, the Academic Library worked out a project supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia and the Open Society Institute. The damaged volumes were restored and a digital archive of the ten volumes of Brotze’s Monumente was created. In order to have free access to it, an on-line database of the Monumente was created in 2000 (http://www3.acadlib.lv/broce). In 2004, the Society Integration Foundation supported the project Depiction of the Multinational Latvia in Brotze’s Works. At the same time a picture gallery of people of different nationalities was created.
Apart from Georgia, the exhibition of Johann Christoph Brotze was presented in 11 European countries – Estonia, Poland, Finland, Austria, Germany, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary and Belarus. Any interested person to discover Latvian and Estonian capitals, the ways of people’s dressing and to get a little bit of positive nostalgia from these really exquisite pictures, is welcome to visit the Academic National Library at Aleksidze Street ¼, until 29 May.
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