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