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2007 | 6 | 137-166

Article title

REFLECTION OF SOCIAL PRESTIGE IDEA IN RIGA EARLY ART NOUVEAU ARCHITECTURAL DÉCOR (Sociala prestiza ideju atspogulojums Rigas agra jugensdtila arhitekturas dekora)


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As a result of economic boom, Riga had become a metropolis in the second half of the 19th century, featuring industrialisation accompanied by wide-scale construction of multi-storeyed stone buildings, widening of respectable areas, urbanisation and workers' districts appearing in suburbs. Huge social inequality and strong contrasts characterise Riga as a typical Western city of the period, still at least two aspects were specific to Riga: firstly, being part of the Russian Empire and a zone of special interest as one of the few cities with a developed industry; secondly, the complicated national issue resulting from German minority's traditional privileges. In this situation early Art Nouveau décor acquired a very pronounced dimension of social prestige, becoming not just a self-advertisement of the rapidly growing bourgeoisie but also a symbol of an imagined aristocracy and the proprietor's prestige: at the beginning of the period the richest sculptural décor is found on buildings in Old Riga and the so-called Boulevard District where comparatively rich decorative sculpture was created since the 2nd half of the 19th century as well as in the former suburban districts that were gradually added to the respectable area after city's building regulations were modified. The visually most attractive embodiment of the ideas of social prestige in building décor appear in widely-spread cartouches and shields with the proprietors' monograms as well as with symbolic representation of professional attributes or elements derived from heraldry or emblematics. These elements, taken over from the 19th century, were endowed with a new meaning at the turn of the 20th century. Popularity of the ideas of social prestige created preconditions for persistent neo-style solutions of façades: Art Nouveau with its asymmetry, biomorphic décor and self-sufficient aesthetics of linear rhythms was ill-adapted to the traditional idea of respectability. So late-19th-century and early-20th-century façades feature a certain dualism; typical Art Nouveau motifs coexist with attempts to glorify ancient cultures, reflections of interests in theosophy, freemasonry etc.


  • Silvija Grosa, Latvian Academy of Art, Kalpaka bulvaris 13, Riga LV-1867, Latvia


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