PROBATE INVENTORIES AS SOURCES FOR THE STUDY OF THE HISTORY OF LUXURY IN ESTONIAN TOWNS IN THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD
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In the first part of the article the authors present the views of the authorities and the social elite of Estonia in the 16th-18th c. on the issue of luxury. Similarly to many countries of Central and Western Europe, Estonia had sumptuary laws, aimed at limiting luxurious consumption, primarily among burghers, but later (2nd half of the 18th c.) also among nobility. In the 18th c., however, some Estonian intellectuals (August Wilhelm Hupel, Johann Christoph Petri) started advocating the view that luxury had a positive impact on economic development. They also maintained that in a northern country like Estonia luxury helped to deal with the whims of the climate. Regardless of the regulations, the scope of luxurious consumption was delimited by common practice. Among the key sources for studying this phenomenon are eighteenth-century probate inventories of burghers from Tallin and Parnu, several hundred of which are available. The inventories are the basis of the authors' conclusions. Luxurious goods were not rare in burgher households: the inventories note gold and silver jewellery, gems, tableware made of noble metals, faience and valuable china (from Saxony or Delft). Burghers wore expensive clothes, following European fashion trends. Affluent households were furnished with luxurious furniture made of mahogany or walnut. The second half of the 18th c. brought a vogue for upholstered furniture sets, including sofas, couches and chairs. There was an increasing number of mirrors and clocks. Interiors were decorated with paintings and engravings, many of which were imported from the West (e.g. paintings from Nuremberg, works of the Dutch school). Generally, well-to-do burghers enjoyed a similar level of luxury as burghers in other regions of Europe.
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