Helsinki: Museum of Finland (part 2, day 1)

After visting the Barbie: The Icon exhibition we made our way through the following permanent exhibitions. Each exhibition is a chrologically history of Finland, which starts from its early prehistoric beginnings, through the Middle Ages and until its modern modern national story. Although you don’t have to see each exhibited in this order, I found doing it this way really gave us a great overview and appreciation of Finnish history. Probably the heaviest content and largest exhibition the Realm, which took us through the Middle Ages to pre-industrial Finland. But the last exhibit of Finland’s more modern history was fun and interactive. They do have audio guides and all the text panels translated in Finish, Swedish and English. If I had more time I would have loved to do a guided tour and of course see everything else we missed. If you want to know more visit my previous post on the National Museum of Finland.


The first exhibition we visted was the Prehistory of Finland. We entered the exhibition there were a couple of text panels, which gave us an good indication to what we were about to see. They stated “Finland was under kilometres of ice. 18,000 years ago it began to melt. The first people arrived to the present area of the Nordic countries after the ice retreated 10,000 years ago“. Then we arrived into a stark white room, which looked like an underground cathedral. This exhibition wasn’t very big, but it did give a good overview of how people lived and what evidence remains from the Stone Age through to the Iron Age. It wasn’t the best exhibition for a child that couldn’t read, but there were a couple of interative features.

This neck ring is the gold torc from Nousiainen, which was found in Nousianinen, south-West Filand in 1770. It is one of the finest Late Roman Iron Age artifacts discovered in Finland. It was made by a early Scandinavian goldsmith in the 3rd century CE. Its is decorated with the head of a snake or dragon. It was probably buried as an offering.

This woman of Eura was buried in Luistari and in one of the largest burial places in Finland. The burial site was discovered in 1969 and she was originaly buried in the 11th century Viking Age. She would have been about 45 years old and was betweeen 165-170cm tall. She was the mostly richly buried woman in the burial site. Her dress was adorned with round buckled knobs on the shoulders, a cloak booch, bronze chains. She also wore a decorated bronze=plated knife sheath at her waist, broad spiral bracelets, four rings and a necklace made of glass beads, 12 silver coins and 2 silver pendants. Bronze was believed to protect the bearer and promote fertility for woman.

Below are some of the finds from the Susiluola Cave in Ostobothnia, West Finland. This cave was excavated in the 1990s and if the discovereries coul dbe proven to be made by humans, it would radically change Finland prehistory. The finds from this cave may prove that Neanderthal dwelling there more than 100,000 years ago. Although some archaelogiset believe they were cauced by natural processes. The bones and metal artefacts below were found in a waterlogged cemetary in Levänluht, Southern Ostrobothia. It is unknown why they were buried in water.

The Realm

Next we visited The Realm exhibition, which is exhibits Finnish history under the church rule, Swedish secular rule and the annexiation by the Russian Empire. This covers the 13th to 19th century, so it is quite a large exhibition, which is covered over a series for spaces.

The first room we entered was the Lutheran Church Room. This space depicts many of the religious artwork were created as a result of the integration of the adminsitration and development of church and parish activities in Finland and Sweden, during the during the 17th century. During this period the ranks of clergymen grew and their levels of education rose. Under the rule of Bishop Johannes Gezelius the Elder in Turku during the late 17th cenutry, regulations on the care of the interior of churches as established. They were to be clean and contain objects that fit the dignity of the divine service. This required old wall paintings, which often insited superisistions to be to be painted over. Benches and galleries were also introduced, as well as alter rails with kneeling benches, coats of arms (artistocratic burial) votive tablets, tablets and organs. Reredos were also replaced by framed altarpieces.

This was probably my favourite space as I am quite a fan of religious artwork. These pieces were quite different to what I have previous seen in western European museums and it is also quite wondefully creepy. There were quite a few depictions of Saint George with the dragon, which I hadn’t seen before.

One of the stand out pieces was the Altarpiece from Kalanti Church. It was made by ‘Meister Francke‘ of the Dominican borthers in Hamburg Germany in the 1420s. It is told that it was found floating in the sea by the inhabitance of Kalanti in west Finland and it may have previously belonged to the Turku Cathedral.

The central sculpture tells the story of the life of the Virgin Mary. From the birth of Jesus, to Circumcision of the child Jesus in the temple, Coronation of the Virgin Mary on ther death bed, her funeral procession and the Virgin freeing Knight Theophilus from his pact with the devil. The side panels depict the legend of Saint Barbara.

The next couple of spaces depict Finish history under Swedish rule. It is believed that the Swedes carried through First Crusade into Finland at the begining of the Middle Age period in 1150s. Finland then became a permanent part of Western Europe and the emerging Swedish empire. The Catholic Church and Western Europe influenced and introduced literacy culture, churches, castles and towns. Six towns were founded, including the most important Turku (which we visited next).

The Vasa family ruled in both Sweden and Finland during the Middle Ages. In 1523 Gustavus Eriksson became King of Sweden. The male lined ended in ended in 1672 with Johan Casimir, King of Poland. The female line ended in 1689 with Queen Christina of Sweden.

There is hardly any medieval furniture that still exists from the Middle Ages. Finnish people lived in chimneyless wooden cabins, sparsely furnished, with wooden tables and fixed benches along the walls. Chests, boxes and wall cupboards were used for storage. For dining, most vessels were made of wood and people ate with their fingers or with their own spoon.

Sweden was the leading European power during the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus to the death of Charles XII, which is also known as the era of Baroque and supremacy of nobility. Joint guilds of carpenters, painters and glaziers were founded in Turku in 1633. Baroque furniture in Finland was influenced by French tastes which was filtered through Stockholm or more modest styles of the English and Dutch. Finish cabinet makers made chairs and tables in English-Dutch style; wardorobes and chests were more North-German and Dutch style. French Baroque style was more utilised for inlay and fixed upholstery. The East-India trade also brought custom rattan or wickerwork chairs and backrests. However, the most extravagent furniture was imported from Sweden.

The following space depicts the furnishings of the burgher class or bourgeoisle, who rose during the Middle Ages from the craftsmen and artistans. In 1634 the Estate of burghers was giving an offical stuatus. By the 18th century this class had gained greater economical and political power then the noble class. The wealthiest of this class were the seafarers and owners of ironworks and manufactories, and tar merchants from the north. During the 18th century the owners of ironworks built their own fashionable mansions and villages were built around their factories. Shipowners were also very affluent and had residents in town as well as manisions in the countryside.

The following spaces depict the Drawing Room of Jakkarila Manor, the Enlightenment and the Romanticism and the Home. By the late 18th century, the line between noblity, affluent burghers and clergymen began to blur. Many built manor homes in French Rococo classicism and were largely influenced by the designs in a book published by Carl Wijnblad in 1755-56. In the early 1760s, Anders Henrik Ramsay, the Governor of Savo and Kymenkartano, built a mansion on the estate of Jakkarila (Jakari) in accordance to Wijnblad’s book. During the Rococo period, there spaces were divided between private and representational. Thus, more attention was given to the interior for representative rooms, ei the gentlemen’s room or the drawing rooms. The walls and ceilings had painted wallpaper and there were also carved panels along the walls, doors, window frames. Through the Enlightenment and Romanticism period the interior styles evolved to also represent a womans hand in design.

Before coming to the last section of this exhibition, there was an installation of a old Chimneyless cabin from the village of Pajasyrjä in Jaakklima.This is a typical dwelling that Finn’s used since the early Middle Ages, but many continued to live in them until the early 19th century.

The last space represents the Russian Order, when many Finn’s served the Imperial Russian Army. Many Finn’s rose to positions of general or admiral and as a result strengthened the Russian Emperors trust with neighbouring Finland. In 1863 Emperor Alexander II visited Helsinki and its people looked forward to its visit. The had remained an autonomous duchy, unlike other parts of the Russian Empire. The Emperor did authorise a number of reforms on his empire, which were carried out in Finland by Finnish Estates. This meant that Finland became a separate state connect to Russia and thus idea of the Finnish nation was born. This was high point in Finish history, due to infrastructure of railways and muncipalities, parishes and schools were established and Finnish language was improved. However, soon after a famine would widen the gap between the rich and poor.

Story of Finland

The last exhibition we saw was the Story of Finland. This was probably my least favourite exhibit, probably because I was quite burned. The content wasn’t as interesting for me as I lacked the nostaglic memories of Finland. However, it was more interactive, which meant it was alot more fun for my kid. Probably my favourite part of this exhibition was the Sauna room, which showed an old video of Finns sauna culture and the space with the widescreen which showed photos of Finns over the past 100 years.

This exhibition set the scen of the years of unrest, whichi proceeded the golden age of Finland’s national culture from the end of the 19th century. The Finnish language enjoyed equal status with Swedish and artists, composers and painters and athletes contribute a strong international image of Finland. However, this was followed by oppression under the Governor-General Bobrikov, who saw progress and opitism as a poltical threat. Many rights and privilages that Finns had previously enjoyed were revoked and civil disobedience proved insufficent. Eugen Schauman murders Bobrikov, the Emperor losses the Russo-Japanese war and activists in Finland start importing weapons from abroad. From here the exhibition examines Finlands struggle for independence and some of the national iconic pecularities, such as the love as sauna, Moomin and heated overalls.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! We have one more day in Helesinki and then we take boat to Estonia and a roadtrip through Finland.

One thought on “Helsinki: Museum of Finland (part 2, day 1)

  1. Dear Vanessa

    I can see: you really enjoyed your trip to Finland with its nice cultural programmes. Last year I got a museum card from my wife and visited also to many different museums in South-Finland.

    Have you been to Tivoli too?

    Thanks for sharing, my friend 🙂
    All the best to you and your family and a happy Easter


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