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Russian Residents of Riga in paintings of Johann Christoph Brotze (1742-1823)

Johann Christoph Brotze was born in Görlitz, studied theology and philosophy at the Universities of Leipzig and Wittenberg and was also skilled in technical drawing. Brotze moved to Riga in 1768, worked as a private tutor and in 1769 became a teacher at the Riga Imperial Lyceum and later its director. Brotze maintained relations with the Lyceum for 46 years. Over and above his success in teaching practice, Johann Christoph Brotze had two interests he took seriously. One was the history of Riga, Livonia, Courland, Estland and the Polish Inflanty (Latgalia). In order to interpret historical evidence he attempted to collate a broad range of historical facts, of particular interest to him were the details of economic development, the administrative structures and the personalities of political figures. Brotze, being a Czech by birth, felt more at liberty to interpret and appraise these historical events. An example of this is provided by his repeated positive judgements of the so-called Russian period in the history of the Ostsee District. A biography and profile painting of the Riga Governor-General (1782 – 1790), A. A. Bekleshev, who made great contributions to the development of Riga is kept in the archives of Brotze to this day. Brotze’s second fascination was drawing, a natural complement to his historical studies. Johann Christoph kept for posterity drawings of the unique structures of his time; churches, castles, parks, estates, residences of Riga, Livonia, Courland and Estland, a good number of which have survived to the beginning of the 21st Century. Many of his drawings depicted people of different ethnic groups, who had settled in Riga in the 1770’s – 1790’s, and in particular their dress. The artist has bequeathed a collection of sketches, copied with amazing accuracy, of coats of arms, coins, town plans, ancient engravings and new technologies of his time. Brotze worked with Indian ink, water-colour or with a quill on water-colour tinted paper. Johann Christoph’s commentaries on his drawings over the decades have turned his touching, if at times incomplete, works into unique historical documents. His drawings and their descriptions have been collected in J. C. Brotze’s principal work, Sammlung vershiedener Liefländisher Monumente …(‘Collection of various monuments of Livland’), consisting of 10 volumes bound in leather (3,246 pages, with a page size of 33 x 21 cm). His legacy is preserved in the Latvian Academic Library in Riga. J. C. Brotze was buried in the Lutheran St. Jacob Cemetery in Riga.

Prepared by S.Kovalchuk