The Beauty of Ruins

"Koknese Castle Ruins" by Juljis Feders, 1904.

“Koknese Castle Ruins” by Juljis Feders, 1904.

I returned to Latvia a second time this year and was entranced by the glorious castle ruins there yet again.This time, I had a chance to visit the Latvian National Museum of Art and was delightfully surprised to find that Latvian artists from the past had also painted the same exact ruins that I have become enamored with.

Wall piece from the Latvian National Museum of Art. Artist unknown.

Wall piece from the Latvian National Museum of Art. Artist unknown.

Here are the ruins of Koknese castle again in a much moodier, darker composition. Two very different takes on the same location!

"Timebound" by Colin Nitta, 2015.

“Timebound” by Colin Nitta, 2015.

My painting inspired by Koknese, “Timebound” is from a different vantage point, though certain elements can be recognized such as the central wall piece that juts up between the left and right wall ruins. It’s interesting to note that when the Latvian artists painted Koknese, they were working at a time when the landscape was totally different. At that time, Koknese was on a hill overlooking the surrounding landscape. My version of Koknese has water right up to the castle’s edge with no change in elevation (just ignore the big alien planet and the ship in mine, for now). Why the difference?

The answer is the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union from 1940-1989. During that time, hydroelectric stations in this area were built to supply power to nearby cities and in the process, they dammed up rivers. This caused the water level to rise greatly, so that the Koknese we know today has water right up to its edge, whereas in 1904 when Juljis Feders painted it, the water was much further down below. Painting from his vantage point made a lot more sense at the time; Koknese looks truly fantastic up there on it’s hill. That kind of composition is catnip for artists.

These differences make a huge impact on the castle’s relation to the surrounding landscape. I can only imagine what Koknese must have been like in the year 1200 when it was not a ruin but a real fortress on a high hill overlooking the surrounding territory. It must have been truly awesome back then! There is a great deal of myth and wonder surrounding these old ruins. So much narrative power lies in a pile of old moss covered stones. A year ago, I thought I might be tired of castles and ruins by now, but I can see that I’ve only just begun to explore these enchanting places in my work.

"Cesis West Tower".

“Cesis West Tower”.

"Dobele Spire"

“Dobele Spire”

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