Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739–1804), librarian and professor of rhetoric and verse at the Royal Academy of Turku (the predecessor of the University of Helsinki), was a popular figure during the period of national awakening in 19th-century Finland. He is considered the father of Finnish historiography. The University of Helsinki’s Galleria Academica portrait collection contains a large number of sculptures, including a marble bust of Porthan wearing a wreath and a toga – our object of the month. The artist who created this work is Swedish-born Carl Eneas Sjöstrand (1828–1906). The sculpture is fairly heavy, coming in at 82.5 cm in height, and is accompanied by a mahogany pedestal measuring 151 cm.
After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Yrjö V. Paatero, Doctor of Dental Science, worked at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Dentistry, overseeing X-ray examinations and diagnostics. He longed to do research work, but had little time for it because his days were filled with routine tasks. At the time, dental X-rays were taken by placing a film in the patient’s mouth time and again because several X-rays had to be taken to determine the condition of the entire dentition. Paatero was keen to find a less time-consuming solution, and the seed of the idea of panoramic radiography began to germinate. However, the road to this point had been far from simple, and several stumbling blocks still remained.
This time, our object of the month is a farrier’s wooden toolbox, originally given as a present to Veterinary-Colonel Georg Öhman (1891–1957) in December 1941 – not for Christmas, but for his 50th birthday.
Tartu Ülikool saab 30. juunil 390-aastaseks. Tähtpäeva puhul on kuu eksponaadiks eestlaste esimese üliõpilasorganisatsiooni tekkel, aga juttu tuleb ka nõukogudeaegsest üliõpilasmütsist ja tudengite teklitraditsioonist laiemalt.
In honour of the 390th anniversary of the University of Tartu on 30 June 2022, our object of the month is the cap of the first Estonian student organisation. We are also presenting a student cap from the Soviet era and the Estonian cap tradition more broadly.
This spring, we will again celebrate holders of master’s and doctoral degrees in solemn conferment ceremonies organised by University of Helsinki faculties. Our University has a long history of conferment ceremonies: the first such ceremony took place at the Academy of Turku (now the University of Helsinki) as early as 1643. To celebrate the festivities this spring, our object of the month is one of the many mementoes of previous ceremonies in our collections, a picture of the participants in the conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy in 1894.
Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Anni Tuominen
Similar conferment pictures were customary from the late 19th century to the 1950s. The collections of the Helsinki University Museum include a total of eight such pictures, the oldest from 1890 and the most recent from 1957. Photos of graduands have also occasionally been compiled into an album, which has been presented as a commemorative gift to the official garland-weaver.
In October 1827, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia ordered that the Imperial Academy of Turku be transferred to Helsinki, the new capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland. The fate of the Academy was sealed by the Great Fire of Turku in September 1827. It was decided that the new buildings constructed for the university in Helsinki would form part of the emerging city centre. The German architect Carl Ludvig Engel was tasked with designing the buildings.
Engel produced four series of drawings of the University’s Main Building, one of which is included in the collections of the Helsinki University Museum. A drawing of a longitudinal section and of the south façade demonstrates how some of the plans for this magnificent building came to fruition, but others were never realised.
The object of the month in March is a white, sprung rocking chair. The chair is lightly padded with a fabric that features big, bold flowers on a light brown background. Being a museum object, the chair cannot be sat on, but it seems comfortable and ergonomic even to modern eyes. The chair was used by deaconess Matilda Hjon (1877–1967), who was a brave and persistent organiser, humanitarian and director.
The Helsinki University Museum’s craft science collection includes dozens of evening dresses, almost all of which are unique, bespoke gowns. However, one evening dress in the collection is a particular rarity: this silk dress has also served as a canvas for the noted Finnish artist Sam Vanni.
A translator in artistic circles
The dress was owned by Maya Vanni, originally Maja London (1916–2010). She was born in Turku and, after completing her matriculation examination, moved to Paris in 1935. She fit right in with the locals, studying, partying, conversing and becoming friends with artists. Her circle of friends included theatre director Vivica Bandler and artist and writer Tove Jansson.
In 2015 a painting thought to have been lost was discovered in a cellar space of the University of Helsinki: Helmi Biese’s An Old Pine. But who was the artist, and how did the painting end up in the cellar?