A memento of a ceremony for the learned

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.

A framed picture with photos of many individuals glued on cardboard.

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.

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C. L. Engel’s drawing of the University of Helsinki Main Building

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.

A wash drawing of the façade, stairwell and ceremonial hall of a building, with handwritten text in Swedish and Russian.
Carl Ludvig Engel’s drawing (1828) of the University of Helsinki Main Building. The bottom left corner of the plan for the top floor shows the Senate’s chambers, which were destroyed in a bombing raid during the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union (1941–1944). The drawing has been signed not only by Engel, but also by his subordinate at the National Board of Public Building, the architect Anton Wilhelm Arppe. Photo: Helsinki University Museum

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Matilda Hjon – a strong-willed helper

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 turned rocking chair without rocker runners was used in the early part of the last century. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Jenni Jormalainen.

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Maya Vanni’s evening dress, or Sam Vanni’s painting in the craft science collection

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.

A young woman with wavy hair and carefully shaped eyebrows is wearing a collared jacket as well as a scarf that covers her neck. Black and white photo.
Photograph of Maya Vanni in her credit book for the Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki. Photo: SLSA 1274, Maya Vanni archives, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland (SLS) archives

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The Vyborg student nation flag – dangerous symbol of liberty?

On the table lies a fragile silk flag. It is the first flag of the Wiipurilainen Osakunta, the student association, or ‘nation’, representing the Vyborg region, and it is full of symbolism. So full in fact that the flag had been banned before work on it had even begun, resulting in the postponement of its completion by several years.

A light beige silk flag with various emblems embroidered in its centre. At the top is a star embroidered with golden thread and its long beams made of lines of sequins. Below the star is a purple crown ornamented with gold and silver thread. Below the crown there are two coats of arms. The one on the right has a beige and grey embroidered castle on a blue silk background. The letter W is embroidered in silver beneath the castle. The top half of the left coat of arms is pink, and the bottom half is light blue. On the light blue fabric, there is the letter W embroidered with silver thread, and on the pink fabric there are three crowns. The coats of arms are enveloped from below by two embroidered crossed branches tied at the stems in a light blue bow. The one on the right portrays an oak branch and the left one a laurel branch. On the left edge of the flag is a blue and white braided silk cord with a large tassel at the end.
The first flag of the Wiipurilainen Osakunta. Next to the Vyborg coat of arms of the time is its predecessor, the three crowns coat of arms. Above is a crown which could have been understood to symbolize the power of the Russian emperor or the King of Sweden, the former motherland of Finland. The flag was photographed in 2021. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Anni Tuominen.

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The Domus chair conquered the world

The object of the month in November is a Finnish design classic: a chair which is a familiar object to many Finns from a variety of spaces. The story of the Domus chair began during the housing shortage that followed the Second World War, although it is possible that the idea for the chair occurred to its designer, Ilmari Tapiovaara, as early as the 1930s. In any case, the bent plywood chair, originally designed for a student housing complex in Helsinki, gradually became a mass-produced international bestseller. The Helsinki University Museum has received items of Domus furniture designed by Tapiovaara as donations from the University of Helsinki’s Student Union.

A wooden chair with a curved backrest and short armrests.
An original chair from the Domus Academica building complex, now included in the collections of the Helsinki University Museum. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Maria Tukia.

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Antinous – a statue of young male beauty

A handsome young man with curly hair stands in a corridor on the fourth floor of the University of Helsinki Main Building. He is naked and leaning his weight on one of his legs. His eyes are downcast and his expression is sombre and slightly melancholy.  Is he Antinous?

A close-up of the upper body of the statue of Antinous in the University’s Main Building. Some wall ornaments and a pilaster can be seen in the background.
The statue of Antinous in the corridor of the vestibule in the University of Helsinki Main Building. Photo: Helsinki University Museum / Anna Luhtala.

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A healthy cow in a clean shed

Two brown cows in a tie stall. One is standing and the other is lying down. In front of the cows is a feed trough and below is a manure storage pit. The cows are part of a miniature used by Finnish milk hygienist and veterinarian Walter Ehrström (1890–1966). The object is approximately 30 cm long in each direction and is estimated to have been completed in 1937.

The photo shows a miniature of two cows in a tie stall, depicted from the side. The cows are facing left. The cow at the back is standing and the one in the front is lying down. Below the cows is a large, empty manure storage pit. Drawn on the miniature are the locations of supporting structures. The background is grey.
A short stall and cows with a manure storage pit behind them. Photograph: Helsinki University Museum/Timo Huvilinna.

In a tie stall, the animals are tethered within their stalls, allowing them to stand or lie down, but not turn around. In Sweden and Norway, tie stalls can no longer be built, and a similar ban has long been discussed in Finland as well. Continue reading “A healthy cow in a clean shed”

Education, nostalgia and propaganda: An analysis of milk posters

A poster on the wall of the school cafeteria advocating the benefits of milk is a familiar sight for many Finns. These commonplace posters have a long history connected to both public education and support for agriculture. The collections of the Helsinki University Museum include several milk education posters. This article explores a series of 20 paper posters dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. Last winter, we participated in training entitled Merkitysanalyysia paikallismuseoille (‘Local museums analysing the value and significances of objects’) during which we analysed 20 milk posters together with the University Museum’s collections team.

Collage of images with posters of different colors. The posters depict children and various dairy products.
Twenty of the milk propaganda posters were selected for analysis. There were several language versions of some of the posters. Photos: Collections of the Helsinki University Museum.

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