Studies of wooden churches in Finland: Josef Strzygowski and Lars Petterson


In this article the question of how studies of wooden churches in Finland were influenced by Strzygowski, one of the most important European art historians of his day, is also of interest from the perspective of Finnish art history. Discussion and growing interest in the old wooden church building tradition is traced in particular in the work of Lars Pettersson (1918–1993), who began his career in art-historical research in the late 1930s. Throughout his career, Pettersson studied historic wooden churches and chapels in both Finland and Russian Karelia. With reference to a few selected examples concerning the cross-plan churches of Petäjävesi and Ruovesi, my article focuses on how Pettersson’s studies reveal an alternating dialectic of acceptance of and opposition to Strzygowski’s views and ideas.

A comparison of their methods reveals a number of similar trains of thought. This cannot be just a coincidence, since Pettersson was already familiar with several studies by Josef Strzygowski when he was writing his master’s thesis. Pettersson’s work as a researcher was naturally influenced by many other factors, such as working for several years for the State Archaeological Commission and the role of the Swedish architect and Professor Erik Lundberg as his doctoral supervisor. It is nonetheless necessary to consider Strzygowski’s and Pettersson’s shared methods of art-historical research which their contemporaries regarded as important.

The article is written in English


In October and November 1923, a series of three articles on 18th-century wooden churches in Finland appeared in the Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper published in Helsinki.[1] They were written in a deeply admiring tone regarding this aspect of the Finnish architectural heritage. The churches of Keuruu and Petäjävesi, mentioned in the articles, had hardly aroused any major nationwide interest before these enthusiastic articles by Professor Josef Strzygowski (1862–1941). The interest of the readers was no doubt also spurred by the debate that followed in the wake of the newspaper articles.[2]

The present article discusses the influence of Strzygowski, one of the most important European art historians of his day, on studies of old wooden churches in Finland, an issue that is also of interest from the overall perspective of Finnish art history. The work of art historian Lars Pettersson (1918–1993), who began his career in the late 1930s, especially reflected his growing interest in the old wooden church building tradition and related discussion. Throughout his career, Pettersson studied historic wooden churches and chapels in Finland and Russian Karelia. With reference to a few selected examples concerning the cross-plan churches of Petäjävesi and Ruovesi, my article focuses on how Pettersson’s work displays an alternating dialectic of acceptance and opposition regarding Strzygowski’s views and ideas.

Fig 1. Josef Strzygowski in his study at Åbo Akademi University ca. 1922. Photo: Åbo Akademis Bildsamling (Åbo Akademi Photo Collections).

Josef Strzygowski was appointed professor of art history at the University of Vienna in 1909, but he was also the first professor of art history at Åbo Akademi University in the early 1920s. He has remained a highly contradictory figure in the history of the discipline. As Lars Berggren has pointed out, the history of art history has also been written by its so-called victors.[3] In this case, the victors were those who defined what constituted the art history of the Vienna school. Their narrative left no room for Josef Strzygowski. His role, however, has been reassessed in the 21st century in both publications and international conferences on the history of the discipline.[4]

Professor Lars Berggren has thoroughly explained how, and for what reasons, Josef Strzygowski became for a few years the first professor of art history at the newly established Åbo Akademi University.[5] Strzygowski had already been appointed professor of art history at the University of Graz in 1892. In these years, he also published his major works Orient oder Rom (1901) and Kleinasien. Ein Neuland der Kunstgeschichte (1903), in which he expounded his core notion that classical art history had neglected the ancient cultures of the east and the north by focusing solely on the Mediterranean region. He wanted to emphasize prehistoric and Early Christian art in the regions of the Middle East and Iran, challenging in a sense the whole geography of contemporary art history.[6] In 1909, both Strzygowski and Max Dvorák (1894–1921) were appointed to professorships in art history at the University of Vienna after a series of heated disputes on research policy. Neither was Austrian: Strzygowski was born in Silesia in present-day Poland and Dvorák was a Czech. In his research, Mark Rampley has pointed to the sensitive political and ideological contexts of nationality and language policies in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[7] After the First World War, Austria-Hungary disappeared off the map, like other European empires. In the difficult situation in Vienna after the war, Josef Strzygowski received assistance for his family from Sweden, where his children had been sent.[8] Understandably, he also tried to find a new place to work closer to his family, which led him to apply for professorships in Tartu, Estonia and Poland, and later to accept the invitation to the professorship in Turku.[9]

It is also necessary to explicate Strzygowski’s ideas which led him into conflict with the art historians of the period. He took a critical view of the importance given to textual sources in the Vienna School of art history since the days of Rudolf von Eitelberger (1817–1885). Strzygowski’s argument was that the ‘philological approach’ of his colleagues was an obstacle to disciplinary autonomy for art history. He gave primacy to research into material objects (Sachforschung), beginning with basic physical description.[10] By 1916 Strzygowski had laid down his geographical determinants and racial foundations of Asian art. His main theme was a connection between Europe, especially Northern Europe, and Asia based on an assumed Indo-Aryan (Indo-Germanic) axis.[11] Assessments of his work today point out that he was the most radical Orientalist of his period, whose deconstruction of the myth of classicism also focused critical attention on the Eurocentric bias of the discipline. Strzygowski, however, has also been accused of anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathies, but present research has viewed these allegations in a critical light.[12]

Before addressing Finnish research on wooden churches, it is still necessary to return to the above-mentioned public debate in Helsinki’s leading Swedish-language daily newspaper.[13] The interlocutors, Josef Strzygowski and Karl Konrad Meinander (1872–1933), keeper at the National Museum of Finland, continued their exchange of opinions in a more limited forum when Meinander published his incensed  article “Finlands träbyggnadskonst och prof. Strzygowski” (Wooden architecture in Finland and Professor Strzygowski) in Finskt Museum, a scholarly and professional series in the disciplines of the museums sector.[14] Strzygowski’s reply[15] appeared two years later in the series in 1925, with Meinander only adding a brief postscript to it.[16] K. K. Meinander had worked at the National Museum since 1899, specializing in medieval altarpieces and sculptures in Finnish churches. He was a Swedish-speaker, Swedish-minded and strongly anti-Russian while Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. His professional interests lay in the study of Finnish older art, and he remained personally loyal to the National Museum all his life.[17]

Interestingly, in 1927, a few years after this emotionally heated polemic, composer and choir director Heikki Klemetti (1876–1953), also an amateur historian of highly nationalistic orientation, published his extensive study of wooden churches in Finland.[18] Klemetti presented his own widely respected views on the subject and laid the actual foundation for research in this specific field. It can be said that these discussions and published texts gave the study of older wooden churches in Finland a new and more serious basis.

Scholarly discussion on wooden churches

Strzygowski’s professorship at Åbo Akademi was renewed on a yearly basis and he taught several courses in the spring and autumn terms from 1921 until the spring of 1925, after which the appointment was no longer continued.[19] During his years in Finland, he went on long excursions to different parts of the country to study older wooden church architecture. Strzygowski wrote his first newspaper article on this subject while returning to Turku by train from a field trip to Central Finland.[20] The main points of his three newspaper articles on wooden churches can be summarized as follows: genuine interest and concern about the protection and study of the oldest wooden churches as they were being replaced by more modern and larger churches; the open question of whether the timber construction tradition had evolved independently in Finland or elsewhere in Europe or Asia, while regarding the wooden church building as the oldest phenomenon of its kind in Finland; seeking evidence of how 18th-century cruciform-plan churches in Finland had evolved as independent vernacular architecture when the Reformation shifted the focus of divine service to the sermon, and how the Bothnian block-pillar churches had paved the way for cruciform plan churches as the pillars permitted easy enlargement; the specialty of the dome not being visible outside and the lack of daylight from above in wooden churches. In later connections, he also underlined the 135-degree angles typical of the cruciform-plan churches.

Offended by Strzygowski’s criticism of the National Museum of Finland, Meinander wrote articles in reply that sought to disprove almost all of the former’s claims, especially the point that vernacular builders themselves had designed the churches that they built.[21]

Heikki Klemetti’s enthusiastically written work on Finnish church builders was based on extensive archive research and it addressed many of the points debated by Strzygowski and Meinander. Klemetti had studied both Finnish archive materials and building administration documents concerning Finland issued by the Swedish government authority known as the Superintendent’s Bureau (Överintendentsämbetet). This material was in the collections of the Swedish Board of Public Building (Byggnadsstyrelsen) and the Swedish State Archives (Riksarkivet).[22]  Based on this information, he was able for the first time to identify by name almost a hundred self-taught builders and give a more detailed picture of their role in church-building projects in the 18th century. Klemetti did not particularly focus on the structural design of churches or typical features of their plans, but published instead numerous drawings of churches and photographs of them as completed.

Klemetti’s most important achievement was to demonstrate how Finnish church builders in the second half of the 18th century found ways to bypass the regulations of the central government authorities in Sweden. A royal statute issued in 1759 decreed that the Lutheran congregations of Finland had to send their plans for new churches to Stockholm to be approved as a condition for receiving assistance from collection funds gathered throughout the Kingdom of Sweden.[23] In many cases, the plans went to the Superintendent’s Bureau where a trained architect would make improvements to them according to prevailing ideals of style. The process, however, required royal approval and the preparation of plans could take several years during which the congregations had already or almost completed their churches by the time the plans were finally returned from Sweden. Klemetti thus disproved the earlier suggestion, by Juhani Rinne, that all the Finnish wooden churches of the second half of the 18th century had been designed at the Superintendent’s Bureau in Stockholm.  In his debate with Strzygowski K. K. Meinander had relied on this view. Klemetti also commented on Strzygowski’s newspaper articles and shared his concerns, about the extremely poor condition of Petäjävesi Church for instance.[24]

In his articles, Josef Strzygowski gratefully acknowledged the considerable assistance that he had received from Dr. Carolus Lindberg (1889–1955), an architect and assistant at the Department of Architecture of the Helsinki University of Technology. Lindberg had made collections of photographs and measured drawings of the churches available to Strzygowski.[25] He had also continued the documentation of older works of architecture and the preparation of measured drawings of them, which had already been in progress at the University of Technology.[26] In 1927, he published a general work on Finnish architecture in which the evolution of wooden churches was particularly considered with reference to the Bothnian block-pillar churches and the early cruciform-plan churches.[27] In his article, Lindberg also took part in the discussion started by Strzygowski. He refuted Strzygowski’s suggestions that the shape of the cruciform-plan church was explained by the Protestant faith with its emphasis on the sermon in divine service.[28] Carolus Lindberg’s major work, however, was completed in the 1930s with the publication of Suomen kirkot, Finlands kyrkor (Churches of Finland) in separate volumes in Finnish and Swedish.[29] It presented, together with briefly listed factual information, all the churches known in Finland at the time. Although this alone was a major achievement, the appended typology of the churches according to their different plans at the end of the book in both language versions is particularly worth mentioning. Over the decades, it has been a guide to the history of church-building in Finland.

Lars Pettersson and the wooden churches of Finland

In the spring of 1939, Lars Pettersson, a young Swedish-speaking student of art history, submitted to Onni Okkonen, Professor of Art History at the University of Helsinki,  his master’s thesis of several hundred pages with the ambitiously worded  heading  Den finska träkyrkoarkitekturen: dess ursprung, utveckling och ställning i timmerbyggnadskonsten samt dess förhållande till de historiska stilarna (The architecture of wooden churches in Finland: its origins, development, position in wooden architecture and relationship with historical styles) .[30] Pettersson’s thesis referred to earlier research in aiming at a preliminary overview of the distinctive features of wooden church architecture in Finland and the origin of its features of form and style. The size of the thesis suggests that Pettersson and his supervisor intended the work to develop into a doctoral dissertation.[31] These plans, however, were halted by the dramatic events of world history in the autumn of 1939.

Fig 2. Portrait of Lars Pettersson, bronze, by Helena Pylkkänen, 1988. Department of Art History, University of Helsinki. Photo: Renja Suominen-Kokkonen.

War broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union at the end of November 1939. At the time, Pettersson was a conscript in reserve officer school and he immediately volunteered in January 1940 to fight in the so-called Winter War of 1939 –1940. The war delayed Pettersson’s university studies and he did not complete his master’s degree until May 1941.[32] When war broke out again between Finland and the Soviet Union in June 1941[33], Pettersson, too, served in the army for several years.[34] Finnish forces soon advanced into Russian Karelia beyond the former Finnish-Soviet border. The documentation and protection of the cultural heritage in the newly occupied areas and the collection of related information required experts. In the autumn of 1942, Pettersson was posted as a so-called military civil servant to document the churches and ecclesiastical objects of Finnish-occupied Russian Karelia.[35] The immense material that was documented shifted Pettersson’s interest for years from the wooden churches of Finland to study of the wooden Orthodox churches and chapels of Russian Karelia. He defended his doctoral dissertation on this topic in 1950[36], and only gradually after that did he resume his interrupted research of the late 1930s on the old wooden churches of Finland. Pettersson wrote so many studies on these Finnish churches that no overview of them can be given here. A few chosen examples, however, show how their central questions are related to Josef Strzygowski’s claims and suggestions of the 1920s concerning older wooden churches in Finland. Pettersson addressed this overall theme for the first time in his master’s thesis and its questions and hypotheses were explored in later studies.

In his master’s thesis, Pettersson discussed the points raised by Strzygowski, noting first how heatedly his observations were received in professional circles in Finland. He also mentioned that after Strzygowski returned to Austria he also discussed Finnish churches in his later works.[37] Pettersson considered Strzygowski’s methods to be based too much on aesthetic considerations, which he felt often led the conclusions in the wrong direction.[38] He pointed out, however: “Regardless of what can said against Strzygowski’s theories, we must nonetheless admit that perhaps more than anyone else he has drawn attention to the question of the origin of our wooden churches and their position within wooden architecture”.[39] The problems that Pettersson touched upon in his thesis still remained unresolved at least partly because he was unable to study first-hand sources in Finland or elsewhere. But he was already outlining his own view of the stylistic background of the Finnish churches, clearly linking them to western ideas, particularly from Sweden and distancing himself from Strzygowski’s general theory of Slavic-Asian influence.[40]

Two researchers and the churches of Petäjävesi and Ruovesi


“Aber nicht die Lage, sodern die genial Bauart ist es, die den Forscher mit Bewunderung erfüllt, so dass er sagen muss, wenn das, was ich hier vor mir sehe, finländisch ist, dann wird Finland [sic] noch einmal einen sehr hervorragenden Platz in der Kunstgeschichte bekommen müssen.”[41]

The cruciform wooden church of Petäjävesi, which made such a deep impression on Strzygowski, is in Central Finland, north of Lake Päijänne. [42] It also interested Heikki Klemetti, who identified folk builder Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen (died 1769) as having designed and built the church together with his assistants in 1763–1765.[43]  Strzygowski gave the wooden churches of Finland an important role especially in his discussion of vaulting together with corner-joined blockwork construction. Josef Strzygowski’s method of comparative art history, with its admiration of the natural sciences, consisted of an objective description of monuments in the manner of an inventory, a survey of materials and conditions, and a study of all relevant historical sources. It also included analyses of the characteristic features of form and style of the monuments studied and their further analysis with the aid of visual sources. The principles of comparative art research also called for discussion of similarities and explanations for them.[44] The wooden “cross-vault churches” (Kreutzkuppelkirchen), as he called them, with Petäjävesi as a simple example, formed for Strzygowski an interesting group in Finland, since the dome of the vault was not visible on the outside.[45] The vaulted wooden churches of Finland had another quite common special feature that interested him, vaulting without fenestration.[46] The interior of the cruciform church of Petäjävesi has exceptionally impressive wooden vaults, with steep-sided barrel vaulting of rounded angular shape over the transepts. At the junction of the transepts there is a high ceiling dome on pendentives ending in an octagonal top part.[47]

Petäjävesi Church was abandoned in 1879, when the parish erected a new church designed by architect August Boman and constructed by folk builder Jaakko Kuorikoski.[48] In 1949, the State Archaeological Commission gave Lars Pettersson the task of investigating the old church and preparing a plan for its renovation.[49] He thus acquired at an early stage a thorough idea of the constructional details of the church. Pettersson openly acknowledged Josef Strzygowski’s role in having Petäjävesi Church recognized in Finland as a masterpiece of wooden architecture.[50] He disagreed, however, already in his master’s thesis with Strzygowski’s proposed evolution of the cruciform-plan churches. Strzygowski had suggested that the need to enlarge the block-pillar churches of Ostrobothnia led in an autochthonous way, as it were, to cruciform-plan churches in Finland.[51] Pettersson, in turn, underlined that the absence of the block pillars made it necessary to seek new and structurally more solid solutions, one of which was the cruciform plan.[52] In his later research, Pettersson returned to the constructional details of Petäjävesi Church and though he felt that Heikki Klemetti had for the most part correctly interpreted the preparatory documents of the original church project, he arrived at different results in some matters.[53] They concerned the preserved floor plan of the church, which he maintained could not have been by Jaakko Klemetinpoika Leppänen, but had possibly been drawn by the local vicar.[54] Pettersson found this matter to be interesting, because the floor plan did not correspond to Leppänen’s estimate of costs.

Pettersson’s research method was surprisingly similar to the comparative art research that Strzygowski called for. He, too, proceeded from an objective inventory of the actual monument and its material. In this case, it involved a thorough constructional survey of the whole church, one course of logs at a time. The results showed that the church was actually built according to Leppänen’s estimate, following the dimensions of the lumber given in it. But Pettersson also wanted to gain a better understanding of how Leppänen, the first folk builder known by name in the North Päijänne region, had chosen such demanding and spatially surprising solutions as those of the ceiling and vaults at Petäjävesi. He attributed Finnish influences in this case to folk builder Arvi Junkkarinen (1716 –1777), among whose works Korpilahti Church and especially the cruciform church of Kärkölä (1754) were familiar to Leppänen. The arrangement of the interior and the vaults of Kärkölä Church closely resembled the design of Petäjävesi Church.[55] On other hand, like Strzygowski, Pettersson also sought broader channels of influence, albeit specifically in Sweden to which Finland belonged. He claimed that the churches built in Stockholm in the 17th century that followed the concepts of Renaissance and Baroque centralized plans were at least indirect background influences for the Finnish cruciform plan churches.[56]


By the 1920s, Strzygowski had compiled an immense corpus of information on wooden construction on different continents and in different countries from Armenia and India to the British Isles and the Nordic countries. In this context, Finland offered a key to some problems that had preoccupied him.[57] One of them concerned the possibility of following in a more unbroken manner than elsewhere the evolution of wooden cruciform plan churches.[58] When considering the possible further versions of dome structures above a square plan, Strzygowski presented the octagonal wooden church examples from Finland, Kylmäkoski in Akaa and Västanfjärd on the island of Kemiö. With their joints at angles of 135 degrees, he regarded them as more interesting than rectangular corner-joined constructions.[59] In Strzygowski’s studies, the final stage of development of this special  jointing type in the cruciform churches is represented by two buildings of similar form, the Church of Velké Karlovice in Moravia and the 24-cornered Church of Queen Sofia Magdalena in Ruovesi, Finland.[60] The spatial arrangement of these churches was based on the chamfered shape of the outside and inside corners, creating a special structure of 24 corners. At least at Ruovesi, where the wooden church had been built in 1777–1778 by folk builder Matti Åkerblom (1740–1819),[61] this polygonal interior space has barrel vaults over the transepts and an octagonal ceiling dome with a level top part, but no higher fenestration.

Josef Strzygowski’s method of comparative art history also informed his interest in Ruovesi Church with its cruciform plan. He maintained that the shared form of a Moravian church and a church on the Kokemäenjoki River in West Finland is not explained solely by influences of Baroque style. He summarized this point as follows: “I am convinced that those blockwork forms were not found as late as the eighteenth century, but that they were already known in what we called the Dark Ages of European art, the pre-Romanesque period.”[62] He was relying here on his own hypotheses of the important heritage of early medieval wooden architecture, the most important structural features of which have survived for centuries in different parts of Europe and in which the development of forms was due to geographic and material-technical features in different regions.[63]

Lars Pettersson, who came from Ruovesi himself, was highly familiar with the churches of the surrounding regions. Concerning the formal evolution of the 24-cornered cruciform church of Ruovesi, Pettersson’s interpretation was that Strzygowski did not, at least in any emphasized way, claim that the ground plans of the Finnish church and the Moravian one derived directly from the pre-Romanesque period. On the other hand, he, too, felt that the 135-degree corner joint could be regarded as a relict of that period.[64] Following Strzygowski, he arrived at the following interpretation:

“Strzygowski does not strictly deny the influence of the Baroque on the churches of Velké Karlovice and Ruovesi, nor does he posit a direct influence from one church to the other. The similarities would mainly be due to the 135-degree corner characteristic of the corner joints… The overall shape of the church of Velké Karlovice could derive from the pre-Romanesque period and would thus be reflected in the masonry Kochenquadrats. The type represented by Ruovesi Church in Finland is the final form of a series that can be followed in gradual stages.”[65]

Pettersson maintained that Strzygowski included Ruovesi Church in his studies only as additional and comparative material. He did not, however, suggest that the cruciform church type with chamfered outer and inner corners came about in a completely independent way in Finland. Here too, Pettersson refuted Strzygowski’s claim that the cruciform-plan churches had emerged of their own accord from the need to enlarge the block-pillar churches, or alternatively in response to the emphasis on the sermon in Lutheran divine services. Pettersson associated the evolution of the type with the 17th-century centralized-plan churches of Sweden with their chamfered corners and the architecture of burial chapels of the period in Stockholm. Their influence first appeared in Ostrobothnia in Finland, where folk builder Matti Honka constructed a cruciform wooden church with chamfered corners at Alaveteli (1752–1754). Pettersson regarded the 24-cornered churches as reflecting the preferences of the builders and the local decision-makers’ notions of impressive architecture and tended towards a more nuanced view of how this church type had developed. He maintained that the 24-cornered churches were a short-lived bold ground plan experiment that produced a few examples in the region of Ostrobothnia where the population had rapidly increased.[66]

Pettersson had already understood in his graduate thesis the value of Strzygowski’s views for the study of architectural history in Finland, despite occasionally heated opposition to them. He discussed Strzygowski’s views later more extensively in other contexts than the churches of Petäjävesi and Ruovesi, particularly focusing on the 17th-century block-pillar churches of Ostrobothnia, which had also interested Strzygowski. Before his death, Pettersson published in 1987 his magnum opus Templum Saloense. Pohjalaisen tukipilarikirkon arvoitus (English summary: An Early Ostrobothnian Block-Pillar Church and its Background) [67] Space here does not, however, permit a discussion of the specific problematic of these churches.


For these leading researchers of old churches, the political events of Europe in the 20th century influenced their professional choices and to varying degrees lent a specific tone to them and even influenced interpretations. Without the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Josef Strzygowski would hardly have become a professor of art history in a university in Finland in the early 1920s.   The importance of his brief period of teaching should perhaps not be underlined too much, but we must nonetheless note that he influenced the orientation of the discipline at Åbo Akademi, and this influence continued in the teaching and research carried out by his pupil Lars-Ivar Ringbom.[68]

Lars Pettersson experienced the effects of international politics both personally and through his areas of research. His service in the Winter War and the Continuation War both changed his attitudes regarding Finland’s eastern neighbor and the theme of his planned post-graduate research. After the Second World War and during the Cold War, he did not, however, feel that he could continue his work on the Orthodox churches and chapels of Karelia.[69]

Nonetheless, Lars Pettersson’s life’s work as a researcher of wooden churches and chapels in Finland and Russian Karelia is one of the most significant of its kind in Finnish art history. It is also of interest because of a number of features shared by him and Strzygowski, along with the similarities of their research material. They were both particularly interested in the courses of development of wooden architecture in Europe and the origins of the building types that appeared within them.

A comparison of their methods reveals a number of other similar trains of thought. This cannot be just a coincidence, for Pettersson was already familiar with several of Josef Strzygowski’s studies when he was writing his master’s thesis.[70] Pettersson’s research was naturally influenced by many other factors, such as several years of work for the State Archaeological Commission and the role of architect and professor Erik Lundberg as his doctoral supervisor.[71] It is nonetheless necessary to consider his and Strzygowski’s  shared methods of art-historical research which their contemporaries regarded as important.

An important feature of Strzygowski’s comparative method was detailed inventoried information on the building studied, preferably gathered on-site, and the equally detailed presentation of the results with the aid of measured drawings or drawn reconstructions. In addition, the relevant historical source material had to be thoroughly studied. Both scholars also considered reasons for changes in the formal evolution of buildings. Nor were they averse to presenting bold hypotheses as their results, although Pettersson did not always come to the same conclusions as Strzygowski in matters such as central areas from which influences were to have radiated.

Pettersson was, however, particularly careful when speaking of the artistic expression of different peoples, even to the degree that in his dissertation he declined to discuss possible connections between the archaic stylistic features of Karelian churches and the Orthodox Old Believers of the region. Here we can assume a clear distancing from Strzygowski’s ideas about the natural laws of artistic expression rooted in the soil and blood (Blut und Boden) of nations.[72]

Even though Josef Strzygowski’s role is known, it has not been discussed more extensively in Finland, except for the cited article by Lars Berggren. It should therefore be finally pointed out that the attribution to Lars Pettersson of the recognition and discussion of the special nature of the Ostrobothnian block-pillar technique in Finnish art history[73] completely ignores the role of Josef Strzygowski. Strzygowski discussed this architectural innovation, which he regarded as ingenious, in so many published texts that it could not have remained unnoticed by the younger Finnish art historian who was interested in the same topics.


PhD Renja Suominen-Kokkonen is Adjunct Professor in Art History at the Universities of Helsinki and Turku. Currently she functions as Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Helsinki.


[1] Josef Strzygowski, “De gamla träkyrkorna i Keuru och Petäjävesi. Finland måste en gång erhålla en plats i konsthistorien”. Hufvudstadsbladet (Hbl) 14.10.1923; Josef Strzygowski, “Finlands västkust i träbyggnadskonsten”. Hbl 3.11.1923; Josef Strzygowski, “Våra träkyrkors konstvärde”. Hbl 11.11. 1923. All these articles were later published in German in Josef Strzygowski, Das Erwachen der Nordforschung in der Kunstgeschichte. Acta Academiae Aboensis. Åbo: Åbo Akademi 1923.

[2] K.K. Meinander, “Vår äldre träarkitektur”. Hbl 4.11.1923.

[3] Lars Berggren, “Josef Strzygowski – en främmande fågel i Finland”, in The Shaping of Art History in Finland, ed. by Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia, Konsthistoriska studier 36. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2007, 94.

[4] See Von Biala nach Wien. Josef Strzygowski un die Kunstwissenschaften. Akten der internationalen wissenschaftlichen Konferenzen zum 150. Geburtstag von Josef Strzygowski 2012. Herausgeben von Piotr Otto Scholz & Magdalena Anna Dlugosz. Bibliotheca nubica et aethiopica 11. Wien: European University Press Verlaggesellschaft m.b. H, 2015.

[5] Berggren 2007, 84-98.

[6] Berggren 2007, 85; Matthew Rampley, The Vienna School of Art History. Empire and the Politics of Scholarship, 1847–1918. University Park: The Pennsylvanian State University Press, 2013, 172.

[7] Berggren 2007, 84; Rampley 2013, 54.

[8] Berggren 2007, 88. Some of the children were placed in the home of Strzygowski’s pupil Jonny Roosval and some in homes in Uppsala with the aid of Archbishop Nathan Söderblom.

[9] In 1922, Strzygowski was appointed the first professor of art history at the University of Tartu, but he did not accept the post. His appointment to the position of director of the Department of Art History at the University of Warsaw was seriously considered in the early 1920s. See Krista Kodres, “Freedom from theory? An attempt to analyse Sten Karling’s views on (Estonian) art history”. Journal of Art Historiography, Nr. 3, December 2010, 4. (, accessed 5.5.2016)

See also Marek Krejčí, “Strzygowski’s research on Slavic art”, in Von Biala nach Wien 2015, 142.

[10] Rampley 2013, 27.

[11] Julia Orell, “Early East Asian art history in Vienna and its trajectories: Josef Strzygowski, Karl With, Alfred Salmony”. Journal of Art Historiography, Nr. 13, December 2015, 13. ( accessed 5.5.2016.

It should be noted that Strzygowski did not use the term “Aryan” in any fixed manner, but generally with reference to Persians. See also Margaret Olin, “German Orientalism”. Journal of Art Historiography, Nr. 5, December 2011, 3. ( accessed 5.5.2016.

[12] See Piotr O. Scholz, “Warum ist eine Konferenz über Josef Strzygowski notwendig geworden?”, in Von Biala nach Wien 2015, 1-21; Suzanne Marchand, “Appreciating the Art of Others: Josef Strzygowski and the Austrian Origins of Non-Western Art History”, in Von Biala nach Wien 2015, 257-285; Also Matthew Rampley and Jeanne- Marie Musto have underlined that it would be misleading to describe the differences of the other Vienna School researchers with Strzygowski as simple opposition between progressive and conservative cultural attitudes, as there were frequently overlapping judgements concerning all of them, see Rampley 2013, 163-164; Jean-Marie Musto, “Presenting Finnish Art History in an international context: The case of J. J. Tikkanen”. Journal of Art Historiography, Nr. 3, December 2010, 5-6. ( accessed 5.5.2016).

[13] Strzygowski’s articles were on what he considered to be problematic special features of wooden churches. After his first newspaper article on the churches of Keuruu and Petäjävesi, he wrote about the structural features of the Bothnian block-pillar churches in particular. The churches, some of which he apparently visited, were: Tornio, Sodankylä (no visit), Temmes, Hailuoto, Saloinen, Raippaluoto, Kristiinankaupunki, Alastaro and Vöyri.  Strzygowski’s third newspaper article was on the lack of light from upper fenestration in Finnish wooden churches with vaulting. In this connection he mentions the Old Church of Helsinki and Helsinki Cathedral by C. L. Engel, and the churches of Lohtaja, Haapavesi, Rantsila, Alavieska, Rantasalmi, Hartola, Maaninka, Valkeala, Lappeenranta, Rautu, Valkjärvi, Nurmijärvi, Tyrväntö, Kalvola, Suoniemi, Multia, Ruovesi and Kiikka, and as an exception Pielisjärvi Church by Engel which had upper fenestration providing light from above.

[14] K.K. Meinander, “Finlands träbyggnadskonst och prof. Strzykowski”. Finskt Museum, Vol. XXX. Helsingfors: Finska Fornminnesföreningen, 1923, 33-52.

[15] Josef Strzygowski, “Den nordiska konstforskningen under humanismens ok”. Finskt Museum, Vol. XXXII. Helsingfors: Finska Fornminnesföreningen, 1925, 1-9.

[16] K.K. Meinander, “Svar till professor Strzygowski”. Finskt Museum, Vol. XXXII. Helsingfors: Finska Fornminnesföreningen, 1925, 9-10.

[17] Meinander’s dissertation Medeltida altarskåp och träsniderier i Finlands kyrkor was published in 1908. See Sixten Ringbom, Art History in Finland before 1920. The History of Learning and Science in Finland 1828–1918. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica 1986, 83-86; see also Edgren, Torsten, Carl Fredrik Meinander. Arkeolog med perspektiv. Museiverkets publikationer 1. Helsinki: Museovirasto, 2013, 12-14; it should be remembered that K. K. Meinander’s wife was the sister of Eugen Schauman, who assassinated Russian Governor-General N. I. Bobrikov in 1904.

[18] Heikki Klemetti, Suomalaisia kirkonrakentajia 1600- ja 1700-luvulla. Porvoo: Werner Söderström osakeyhtiö, 1927.

[19] Berggren 2007, 93-95.

[20] Strzygowski, Hbl 11.11. 1923.

[21] Meinander based this claim on Juhani Rinne’s article “Regeringens vård om Finlands allmänna byggnader före 1809”. Finskt Museum, Vol. XIX. Helsingfors: Finska Fornminnesföreningen, 1912, 61-70. Rinne suggested, on the grounds of partly insufficient archival studies, that all the churches in Finland built during the second half of the 18th century were designed by professional architects of the Superintendent’s Bureau of Sweden.

[22] Klemetti 1927, 5.

[23] Klemetti 1927, 99-102.

[24] Klemetti 1927, 167; Strzygowski had already noted that the belfry of Petäjävesi Church was used as a hay barn. Lars Pettersson has told the present author that the belfry was still a hay barn when he visited the church in the 1930s.

[25] Strzygowski Hbl 14.10.1923 and Hbl 11.11.1923; Carolus Lindberg was appointed Professor of Finnish and Scandinavian Architecture and Ornament at the Helsinki University of Technology. Strzygowski most likely contacted Lindberg through the National Museum of Finland.  On Carolus Lindberg ‘s work in architecture, (accessed 20.2.2016).

[26] Carolus Lindberg, Finlands kyrkor. Helsingfors: Förlag bildkonst, 1935, 6.

[27] Carolus Lindberg, “Rakennustaide”. In L. Wennervirta, Suomen taide esihistoriallisesta ajasta meidän päiviimme. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava, 1927, 141-247.

[28] Lindberg 1927, 173; Strzygowski Hbl 14.10.1923 and Hbl 3.11.1923; Strzygowski 1925, 8.

[29] Carolus Lindberg, Suomen kirkot. Maamme kirkkorakennuksia käsittelevä tietoteos. Helsinki: Kuvataide, 1934.

[30] The unpublished master’s thesis is available on microfilm at the Helsinki University Library.

[31] Pettersson himself observed later that he was given the theme of his master’s thesis partly because Professor Okkonen was preparing a major work on the history of art in Finland. He also pointed out that the doctoral dissertation of wooden churches that Okkonen had hoped to see was prevented by the war, during and after which his own interest shifted to the wooden architecture of Russian Karelia. See Lars Pettersson, Templum Saloense. Pohjalaisen tukipilarikirkon arvoitusAn Early Ostrobothnian Block-Pillar Church and its Background. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja 90. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 1987, 9-10.

[32] Ote intendentti Lars Petterssonin ansioluettelosta. Taidehistorian professuuri 1949. Kanslerin Akti 262/1949. Helsingin yliopiston kanslerin arkisto.  (Excerpt from Keeper Lars Pettersson’s curriculum vitae upon applying in 1949 for the professorship in Art History at the University of Helsinki).

[33] The Finnish-Soviet Winter War ended in March 1940. The second, so-called Continuation War, against the Soviets lasted from June 1941 to an armistice concluded in September 1944. Finland still fought a third war, against the Germans in Finnish Lapland, from September 1944 until April 1945.

[34] Ote intendentti Lars Petterssonin ansioluettelosta. Taidehistorian professuuri 1949. Kanslerin Akti 262/1949. Helsingin yliopiston kanslerin arkisto.  (Excerpt from Keeper Lars Pettersson’s curriculum vitae upon applying in 1949 for the professorship in Art History at the University of Helsinki).

[35] See Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, “Suomalainen taidehistorioitsija Itä-Karjalassa 1942–1944”. In Rajantakaista Karjalaa, ed. Ildikó Lehtinen. Helsinki: Kulttuurien museo, 2008, 125-132.

[36] Lars Pettersson’s doctoral dissertation included a separately published extensive presentation of the research material: Lars Pettersson, Äänisniemen kirkollinen puuarkkitehtuuri. Aineiston esittely. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja L. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 1950; Lars Pettersson, Die kirchliche Holzbaukunst auf der Halbinsel Zaonež’e in Russisch-Karelien. Herkunft und Werden. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja LI. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 1950.

[37] Pettersson 1939, 4; Der Norden in der bildenden Kunst Westeuropas. Heidnisches und christliches um das Jahr 1000. Heausgeben von Josef Strzygowski. Beiträge zur vergleichenden Kunstforschung herausgeben vom I. Kunsthistorischen Insitut der Universität Wien, Band IV. Wien: Krystall-verlag, 1926; Josef Strzygowski, Early Church Art in Northern Europe. With Special Reference to Timber Construction and Decoration. New York: Hackert Art Books 1980 (orig. 1928); Josef Strzygowski, Die Altslavische Kunst. Ein Versuch ihres Nachweises. Arbeiten des I. Kunsthistorischen Instituts der Universität Wien, Band XL. Augsburg: Dr. Benno Filser Verlag G.M.B.H, 1929.

[38] Pettersson’s text does not reveal what he means by ’aesthetic considerations’, but it can be assumed that he avoided expressing any marked opinions of Strzygowski’s strong and very tenuously argued claims of Aryan influences or Meinander’s statement, which had already been partly disproved at the time.  Pettersson 1939, 6.

[39] Original: “Vad som än kan invändas emot Strzygowskis teorier, måste man likväl erkänna att han kanske mer än någon annan riktat uppmärksamheten på spörsmålet om våra timmerkyrkors ursprung och ställning i träbyggnadskonsten”, Pettersson 1939, 6.

[40] Pettersson 1939, 151, 166-170; it should be remembered that Strzygowski’s theories also aroused controversy in other countries, see e.g. Petra Hečková, “Czech Art Historian Vojtĕch (Adalbert) Birnbaum – an ideological opponent of Josef Strzygowski”. In Von Biala nach Wien 2015, 189-205.

[41] Strzygowski 1923, 28; see also Hbl 14.10.1923.

[42] In 1994, the 18th-century church of Petäjävesi was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as an example of Nordic wooden church architecture and the long traditions of timber construction. See (katsottu 20.2.2016).

[43] Klemetti 1927, 170-175; see also Lars Pettersson, “Petäjäveden vanha kirkko”. Keski-Suomi 18. Keski-Suomen museon julkaisuja. Jyväskylä: Keski-Suomen museo, 1986, 46-113.

[44] Heinrich Dilly, “Schule machen durch eine Schule gehen, aus der Schule plaudern usw. Alltagskategorien der Kunst- und Wissenschaftsforschung”. In Von Biala nach Wien 2015, 36; ks. myös Strzygowski (1928) 1986, 3.

[45] Strzygowski 1929, 245.

[46] Strzygowski Hbl 11.11.1923; Strzygowski 1929, 162.

[47] A more detailed structural and style analysis of Petäjävesi Church has also appeared in English, see Lars Pettersson, “National and international features of the old wooden church architecture in Finland”. Kansainvälinen ja kansallinen Suomen arkkitehtuurissa – The International and the National in Finnish Architecture. abacus, Museum of Finnish Architecture Yearbook 1979. Hesinki: Suomen Rakennustaiteen museo, 1979, 11-55.

[48] On the churches at Petäjävesi, see (accessed 20.2.2016).

[49] Pettersson 1986, 46.

[50] Lars Pettersson, “Ristikirkot”. In ARS – Suomen taide 3. Helsinki: Otava, 1989, 295.

[51] Strzygowski 1929, 131, cites as an example the 17th-century block-pillar church of Vöyri, which was enlarged into a cruciform church in 1777.

[52] Pettersson 1939, 153-159.

[53] Pettersson 1989, 295.

[54] Pettersson 1986, 57; Pettersson 1989, 296.

[55] Pettersson 1986, 75-78.

[56] Ibid, 79-85.

[57] On Strzygowski’s writings, see “Abkürzungverzeichnis der zitierten Werke von Josef Strzygowski”. In: Von Biala nach Wien. Josef Strzygowski un die Kunstwissenschaften 2015, 684-694.

[58] Strzygowski 1929, 250.

[59] Strzygowski (1928) 1986, 69.

[60] Strzygowski (1928) 1986, 69-71; Strzygowski 1929, 249.

[61] Klemetti 1927, 146-148; see Lars Pettersson, Kaksikymmentäneljäkulmaisen ristikirkon syntyongelmia. On Finnish Cruciformed Timber-Churches with Twenty-Four Corners. Problems Concerning their Origin. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja 79. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 1978.

[62] Strzygowski (1928) 1986, 71.

[63] Ibid, 46-60.

[64] Strzygowski (1928) 1980, 71; Strzygowski 1929, 149, 236, 249; Pettersson 1978, 10.

[65] Original: “Strzygowski ei jyrkästi kiellä barokin vaikutusta Velké Karlovicen ja Ruoveden kohdalla eikä edellytä suoranaista yhteyttä toisesta kirkosta toiseen. Samankaltaisuudet johtuisivat ensisijassa lamasalvokselle ominaisesta 135 asteen nurkasta…Velké Karlovicen yleismuoto voisi periytyä esiromaaniselta kaudelta ja kuvastuisi siten ehkä kivisissä Kochenquadrateissa. Suomen Ruoveden edustama tyyppi on asteittain seurattavissa olevan sarjan päätemuoto.” Pettersson 1978, 10.

[66] Pettersson 1978, 127, 135.

[67] Lars Pettersson, Templum Saloense. Pohjalaisen tukipilarikirkon arvoitus – An Early Ostrobothnian Block-Pillar Church and its Background. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen Aikakauskirja 90. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 1987.

[68] Ringbom 1986, 90; Ossian Lindberg, “Lars-Ivar Ringbom och teckningen som forskningsmetod”. The Shaping of Art History in Finland, edited by Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 36. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2007, 99-109; Marja Väätäinen, “ From Ringbom to Ringbom. The art of art history of Lars-Ivar Ringbom and Sixten Ringbom: A mythmaker and a mythbreaker in Åbo, Finland”. Journal of Art Historiography, Nr. 7, December 2012 ( accessed 14.5.2016.

[69] Lars Pettersson’s war-time diaries “Pro Carelia et Ingria. Sotapäiväkirja 1941. Hyökkäysvaihe” and “Itä-Karjalan komennus 1942–1944. Työpäiväkirja”. Private archive; Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, “Changing Ideals in Art History: Onni Okkonen and Lars Pettersson”. The Shaping of Art History in Finland, edited by Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 36. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2007, 110-125.

[70] These include the following works by Strzygowski: Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa. Wien, 1918; “Den nordiska konstforskning under humanismens ok”. Finskt Museum XXXII, 1925; Der Norden in der bildenden Kunst Westeuropas. Heidnisches und Christlisches um das Jahr 1000. Wien: 1926; Die Altslavische Kunst. Ein Versuch ihres nachweises. Augsburg, 1929; The Early Church Art in Northern Europe with Special Reference to Timber Construction and Decoration. London, 1928.

[71] On the relationship between Erik Lundberg and Pettersson, see Renja Suominen-Kokkonen, “Routes from Ravenna to Russian Karelia. Erik Lundberg and Lars Pettersson”. The Challenges of Biographical Research in Art History Today, edited by Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 46. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2013, 121-133.

[72] Pettersson, however, wrote articles on the icons of the Old Believers in Karelia, e.g. “Uikujoen luostarin ikonimaalaustaiteesta”. Ortodoksisten nuorten liitto ry:n julkaisuja 1. Helsinki: Ortodoksisten nuorten liitto, 1945, 10-22; Strzygowski wrote as follows: “Denn sie [die Kirchen in Finnland] bieten das Ideal einer durch Jahrhunderte, wenn nicht Jahrtausende gewordenen Bauweise, die alle Möglichkeiten des Holzbaues durchdacht und in klarer Ueberlegung gerade das ausgesucht zeigt, was Lage, Boden und Blut Finlands angemessen ist und dem Zwecke der Kirche entspricht”. Strzygowski 1923, 26; see also Hbl 14.10.1923; Although the notion of Blut und Boden has been markedly contaminated by Nazi ideology, it should be noted that it involves an earlier way of thinking that became quite well known internationally through Oswald Spengler’s book Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918, 1922), e.g. pages 161, 222, 210 and 244. ( accessed 15.5.2016).

[73] Henrik Lilius, “Lars Pettersson”. Suomen Museo. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 1993, 5-7.




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