Raivis Sīmansons. A window onto Europe. The Second Canvas Himsel Museum app in museological perspective

Published by Creative Museum and The Mad Pixel Factory, the Second Canvas Himsel Museum app has been rightly advertised as a tool for exploring 6 museum masterpieces in super high-resolution like never before. But there is more to the museological concept of this app which makes it so innovative and special.

Indeed, the Himsel Museum app developed as part of EU supported scModules project, has become an opportunity to bring together in a digital form the scattered remaining collections and documents from – and in relation to – the first public museum in the Baltic – the Himsel museum (est. 1773).

In a sense, the Himsel Museum app is rekindling some of the ideas of a universal museum of the Enlightenment era, which saw museum as a mechanism of acquiring knowledge through a holistic view of the world by means of objects from local and foreign cultures divided into the categories of nature (naturalia), science (scientifica), and art (artificialia).

Thus the Himsel Museum app essentially aspires to looking back to the future; it is a platform for exploring the origins of Baltic museum tradition through showcasing the early collections, which lay at the foundation of three large public museums in Riga – Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, Latvian Museum of Natural History, and the Latvian National Museum of Art.

Symbolically, it is returning to the values and outlook of the universal museum of the Enlightenment era, which tried to imagine and understand the world as a whole.

Practically, it is a place to showcase the identified objects and documents related to the historic Himsel museum in the holdings of these three museums and other cultural heritage institutions, in order to present a picture as complete as possible.

Metaphorically, in turn, regarding the history of North-Eastern Europe, the universal Himsel museum in Riga and the personality of the first Baltic museologist, Nicolaus von Himsel (1729 – 1764) has strong parallels with the concept of ‘A Window onto Europe’, which shaped the destinies of the Baltic region during his lifetime.

Seen in a wider European perspective of the birth of a public museum, the Himsel museum is placed just between the British Museum, which was established in 1753 upon a similar bequest of a private individual, Sir Hans Sloane, and the Louvre in 1789, following the popular revolutionary upheaval.

The collections of the historic Himsel museum and the legacy of his family archive still keep a lot of secrets and it is likely that further research will reveal new insights into the history of the first public museum in the Baltic as it is approaching its 250th anniversary. The Second Canvas Himsel Museum app is a place for this to happen!

Raivis Sīmansons

Muzeologs, PhD