1400 - 1940

Blackheads of Tallinn

Tallinn City Museum

The Brotherhood of Blackheads in Tallinn was an association of unmarried merchants and foreign traders living in Tallinn. It is first mentioned in written sources in 1400 AD.  The Blackheads had an obligation to defend the town and one of their important duties was to escort the visiting dignitaries. A rich collection of  religious as well as secular objects and a unique gallery of state portraits, dating from 17th to early 20th century, bare witness to the Blackheads' traditions and importance in the life of the city.

The Brotherhood
The Brotherhood most likely acquired their name from their patron saint, St Maurice. He is depicted on the emblem of the brotherhood - here it can be seen on a monument of Blackheads who fell defending the city from Muscovite forces in 1560. The monument lists all the fallen brethren and contains what are most likely their posthumous portraits.  

The tradition of presenting to the Brotherhood at the admission not only money but also silver objects, and later ship models, paintings, and furniture as well, likely dates from the Middle Ages. Usually the items contain the name and crest of the donator and the year when the gift was made.

Portrait collection
A tradition of donating to the Brotherhood full-length state portraits of European and other rulers and dignitaries emerged in the 17th century. The custom survived until the 20th century and resulted in a sizeable portrait gallery.

The painting of Gustav II Adolph, King of Sweden, is one of the earliest full-length portraits donated to the Brotherhood in 1639. It is painted by an unknown Tallinn master.

One of the grandest 17th century state portraits in the collection is this painting of Christina, Queen of Sweden. It was originally donated to the Great Guild of Tallinn and ended up in the Blackheads' collection in the 19th century. The painting is signed by artist Johannes Bannier.

The painting of William II, Prince of Orange, in his youth was bequeathed to the fraternity in 1639 by the Amsterdam merchant Floris Jut. It is painted by a local master, most likely on the basis of an engraving.

The collection also included portraits of more exotic rulers, such as this painting of the Ottoman sultan Osman II.

Documents attest that the first ship model was purchased by the Brotherhood in 1541 for two dollars.
A list of inventory compiled 250 years later names three models and all have survived to the present day. The models were displayed in a prestigious location - they hung from the ceiling in the hall of the House of Blackheads like in many other associations of German merchants around the Baltic Sea.
The model likely dates from the early 17th century, but since the hull of the ship is so old-fashioned, it might be a actually be the the model bought in 1541 that has been thoroughly rebuilt later.

This model of a large warship is plausibly at the end of the 16th century, before the year 1600. Characteristically for the period the ship has four masts, but for unknown reason it has no guns of which such a vessel could have had more than a hundred.

House of Blackheads
The Brotherhood owned one of the most representative buildings in Tallinn at Pikk Street 26. It is one of the very few Renaissance facades in the town, created by Arent Passer (c. 1560–1637), a stonemason and architect of Dutch origin.

This bell from 1472 is one of the oldest objects that belonged to the Blackheads in our collection. It was used during ceremonies in the fraternity's house.

The tradition of commissioning wooden goblets covered with genuine deer's skin dates from at least the 16th century. It may be connected to the legend that Tallinn's German name, Reval, stems friom the phrase "Reh-fall", fall of the deer.

This vessel was made for the Tallinn Brotherhood of the Blackheads by the local pewter caster Peter Reese between 1708 and 1754. The vessel with its (at least in the context of Tallinn) lavish decorations is also the largest item in the pewter collection of the City Museum.

Tallinn City Museum displays a rich collection of items that belonged to the Blackheads. In the 18th century hall on the first floor the visitors can see state portraits of Swedish and Russian rulers from the 17th to the 20th century, as well as the banner of the Brotherhoods' cavalry detachment from 1661, a drum and drum cover from 1764.

This suit of cavalryman's armour from the first half of the 16th century belonged to the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. This iron armour is painted black and parts of it are missing.

The copper drum sits on a three-legged iron base. The leather is attached to an iron band. The top edge of the base is inscribed with the text Zu die Paucken der Schwartzen Häupter. Anno 1815 (Belongs to the kettledrum of the Brotherhood of Blackheads’. Anno 1815).

The centres of the connecting brace sport the coat of arms of the Tallinn Brotherhood of Blackheads – the head of St Maurice with a red-white headband on a golden background. The chairs have been stained black and lacquered.

This chair in the English Queen Anne style, made of local birch with cabriole-legs, a high backrest and semi-soft cushioning comes from the collection of the Tallinn Brotherhood of Blackheads. The back of the baluster-shaped backrest has been painted with the crest of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads – the head of St Maurice wearing a red and white headband – and the text “Eltesten P. Duborg 1753” below it.

Tallinn City Museum
Credits: Story

Exhibit compiled by Pia Ehasalu, Ando Pajus, and Karel Zova.
Photos by Martin Vuks, Jaanus Heinla, and Tallinn City Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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