Although the Finns are not of Germanic origin but moved into Finland from the Baltic area in the early years of the Christian era, driving back the Lapps, the development of their art in the early and medieval periods was closely connected with that of other northern European countries.
The churches, apart from the stave churches, were mostly built of undressed stone with a steeply pitched saddle roof and a separate tower. The interior, with a vaulted roof and usually aisled, was decorated in the late medieval period with wall and ceiling paintings. Examples are the 15th c. church at Lohja, near Helsinki, and Turku Cathedral (begun in the 13th choir 14th enlarged in the 15th c.).
Artists from the Hanseatic towns worked in Finland as in other Scandinavian countries; examples of their work are the 15th c. brasses on St Henry’s tomb at Nousiainen and the St Barbara altar by Master Francke (c. 1410: National Museum, Helsinki). The Finnish fortified castles are of imposing monumental effect (Viipuri, now in the Soviet Union; Turku, c. 1300; Olofsburg, Savonlinna, c. 1475).
After the Reformation there was only a very limited amount of church building, mostly wooden churches which either imitated the medieval stone churches with a nave or had a cruciform plan with arms of equal length and a central dome. The interior was decorated in popular style by local artists, as at Salvinen (1632), Padasjoki (1675) and Kanhava (1756).
In the 18th c. there developed alongside this folk art a modest aristocratic and middle-class art (manor-houses and burghers’ houses; portrait painting).