Still from the video "The Mouth of Daugava" (Tanel Rander, 2018)
The Mouth of Daugava
Friedrich Ludwig von Maydell (1795 – 1846) was a Baltic-German artist, based in the region that is now known as Estonia. He produced series of graphic works that depicted the history of Germans in the eastern shores of the Baltic sea. Those works were published in albums, titled as “Fifty Images from the History of Russia’s German Baltic Provinces”. Here you are witnessing one of these albums, borrowed from the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia. More precisely, you are witnessing the work that the artist depicts as the starting event of the history of the Baltic states – “First Landing of the Bremen Merchants at the Mouth of the River Daugava. 1156” (1839).
Most of all, this work speaks about the gaze of the artist as the subject of the modern era, also as the member of the privileged class in the society based on slavery. This gaze over the history is similar to the numerous images that depict the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean islands. Maydell portrays the encounter between the Bremen merchants and the local natives as the act of trade. The image contains some details that refer to the elements known from the history of European colonialism. Please find these elements from the image and read the explanations added by me.
a) Alcohol – the establishment of the system of dependency and control, used by colonial powers.
b) Furs – natural resources and raw materials that are needed by colonizers in places inhabited by natives.
c) Mirror – the establishment of the system of representation and validation, also the production of identity, history, knowledge and subjectivity.
d) Trade beads – the establishment of the medium of exchange.
The area around the mouth of Daugava should be preserved as public space and the site should be celebrated as the historical landmark of colonial history in the Baltics.