In the 19th and early 20th century many artists in the Baltic, influenced by archaeological and historical sources, addressed subjects from antiquity or mythology. A passion for studies of the ancient past was stimulated by the romantic world view and the interest in archaeology. The article examines the earliest works reflecting Latvia’s prehistory and mythology, and brings together the material that could have served the artists as examples and sources of inspiration. In the mid 19th century, archaeology as a science was only just beginning to develop in present-day Latvia, and empirical knowledge was still inadequate. The motif of the ‘wild man’, known in European iconography since the Middle Ages, was still popular at this time; in works by Baltic German and Latvian artists alike, ancient Latvians are frequently shown as savages. The first of the Latvian artists from the ‘Rūķis’ generation to depict the prehistory of his people was painter Arturs Baumanis (1867–1904), who maintained the academic style in which he had been trained at the academy. A second late 19th-century artist whose depictions of prehistory stand out among those of contemporaries is Ādams Alksnis (1864–1897). The theme of antiquity is also represented in the oeuvre of the painter Janis Rozentāls (1866–1916), who employed a diverse range of styles and techniques. Themes from ancient Latvian history also appear in the oeuvre of Rihards Zariņš (1869–1939) – especially in his prints, created in a markedly conservative, national romantic style. Motifs from prehistory appear in sets and costumes by stage designer Jānis Kuga (1878–1969). The artists’ strivings for historical truth can most probably be related to the feeling among educated people of the late 19th and early 20th century that they had a duty to acquaint their compatriots with the past, so that they might take pride in episodes from their history.