Dance of Death

The new display for the 15th century painting from the workshop of the Lübeck master Bernt Notke at the Niguliste Museum of the Art Museum of Estonia

Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Client: Eesti Kunstimuuseum SA (Art Museum of Estonia Foundation)
Commission: 2017
Completed: 2018
Size: 200 m2

Niguliste church was one of the most important sacred buildings in mediaeval Tallinn and is one of Tallinn’s largest sights today. The interior of the cathedral, which has been rebuilt many times since the beginning of the 14th century, was largely destroyed during bombings in the Second World War. In 1984, the church was restored as a museum. One of the most important artworks at Niguliste Museum is the masterpiece Dance of Death by Berndt Notke from the end of the 15th century, which can be seen in St Anthony’s chapel.

The display for the Dance of Death was previously updated almost 30 years ago, when the requirements and means of the museum were quite different to what they are today. There were many worrying issues: the green protective glass made up of seven separate pieces, the complicated methods for cleaning the painting and the glass, the tone and intensity of the lighting for the painting, the reflections and the visibility and content of the introductory text.

KOKO combined all the solutions into one minimalist frame. Museum grade glass (7.5 × 2.5 m) with a low reflective factor was produced specifically for the painting. This then moves with the aid of motors behind a metal shield that has the introductory text about the painting engraved into its surface, making it easy to clean both the painting and the glass itself.

The dark metal frame with the engraved text is cantilevered from the wall, which also allows the visitor to see gravestones which were previously hidden behind the display supports. Integrating the lights into the new frame and behind the glass excludes any excess reflection so the painting emerges from within the darker frame. The strict minimalist form of the frame makes it unmistakably distinguishable from the historical architecture and environment of the chapel.