Unterlinden Museum

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The Unterlinden Museum (officially Musée d'Unterlinden, also cited in English as Musée Unterlinden) is located in Colmar, France, in the Alsace region. The museum, housed in a 13th-century Dominican religious sisters' convent, is home to the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald and features a large collection of local and international artworks and manufactured artifacts from prehistorical to contemporary times. The museum bears the quality label Musée de France and is one of the most visited in France outside of the Île-de-France.


thumb]] The museum was established in 1849, the buildings (abandoned following the French Revolution) having been saved by the Societé Schongauer (founded in 1847 by Louis Hugot ) and bequeathed to it by the municipality. The collection at first centered around a Roman mosaic found in Bergheim, Haut-Rhin, still displayed today at the place to which it was originally moved, and plaster copies of antique sculptures on loan from the Louvre. In 1852, the focus of the collection shifted dramatically, when the Isenheim Altarpiece as well as most of the other large painted and/or sculpted altarpieces from former Colmar or Upper Rhenish churches, abbeys and monasteries, were installed in the building. The museum opened its doors to the general public in the following year, 1853.<ref name="culture.gouv.fr">Description of the museum on culture.gouv.fr</ref> As the museum's official website states : "Today the museum covers a surface area of about 5,620 m², including exhibition spaces (4,000 m²), conservation, storage and other work areas (1,370 m²), and offices (250 m²)".<ref name="Project the Baths">Project "the Baths"</ref>

In the 1950s and again in the 1980s, the need appeared for the museum, which had seen a steady growth of the number of its displayed artifacts in every domain, to gain more space by using available surface more appropriately, and was each time addressed as far as the classified character of the building in itself could allow. Today, the Unterlinden Museum currently spreads out over three levels and makes use of every space available in the large complex of buildings. The city of Colmar is currently working to transform the adjacent, Art Nouveau former baths building, into an annex of the museum, in which, by 2014, the modern masters can be displayed permanently. According to the museum's website, "The total area open to the public, which now amounts to 4,000 m², will be enlarged to 6,300 m²".<ref name="Project the Baths"/>

The collections

File:Musee d Unterlinden colmar.jpg
Outside view of the chapel

With roughly 200,000 visitors per year, the museum is the most visited in Alsace. Famous above all things for the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, it also displays a major collection of Upper Rhenish medieval and early Renaissance art, among which the Colmar native Martin Schongauer occupies the most prominent place with several altarpieces and a large number of original drawings, engravings and woodcuts. Other famous names include Albrecht Dürer (engravings only), Lucas Cranach the Elder and Hans Holbein the Elder as well as local painters Caspar Isenmann and Jost Haller. Most of the earliest paintings, however, are the work of anonymous German, Alsatian or Swiss masters, such as the Master of the Stauffenberg Altarpiece. Other sections displayed by the museum are : local and international archeology; medieval, Renaissance and baroque sculpture (religious as well as profane) and stained glass; weapons, furniture, music instruments and toys from the 14th to the 19th century; ancient, ornate wine barrels (a collection donated by Jean-Jacques Waltz in 1927); modern and contemporary art.<ref name="culture.gouv.fr"/> Because of a general lack of space, this last collection, although very well furnished (works by Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Fernand Léger, Serge Poliakoff, Georges Rouault, Pierre Bonnard, Robert Delaunay, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and others) is only seldom displayed in its entirety. The 2012 enlargement of the building by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron is explicitly meant to address this problem.

The expansion

A new cultural and urban regeneration initiative: The City of Colmar has launched an ambitious expansion project that will allow the Unterlinden Museum to annex the premises of Colmar’s former municipal baths, a magnificent Art Nouveau edifice built in 1906 and located opposite the museum. In addition to this annex, the project includes the construction of a modern building and the refurbishment and redesign of the current museum premises.

This expansion project will result in a twofold increase in the museum’s surface area, bringing it to nearly 8,000 square meters. Many masterpieces, especially works of modern and contemporary art, currently stored in the museum’s vaults, will finally be able to be presented to the public thanks to an innovative exhibition space design.

With its new configuration, the Unterlinden Museum embraces a bold and contemporary vision: that of a substantially modernised museum, in considerably larger and remodelled premises. The expansion project invents a new museum, one in which education and the initiation to art appreciation represent core priorities and one that takes advantage of the most recent advances in information technology and communication systems for the greater enjoyment of its visitors. This new conception takes an open approach to the museum experience, designed to reach the widest audience possible.

The operation also represents a major urbanisation project for the City of Colmar, certain to further enhance the attractiveness of the Alsace region for tourists. Apart from serving as a cultural initiative benefiting the entire region, the expansion and redesign of the Unterlinden Museum will serve as a driver of urban regeneration, economic development and social cohesion.

Key figures: Cost of the operation: €24.5 million, before taxes Total surface area: 7,900 square meters Expected attendance: 500,000 visitors each year Cultural budget allocation by the City of Colmar: 16%

General timetable:

  • 2007-09: Project study and selection of the project architects, the firm of Herzog & de Meuron
  • 2011: Architectural design phase
  • 2012: Launch of construction and refurbishment phase
  • September 2014: Grand opening



  • Le Musée Unterlinden de Colmar, Sylvie Lecoq-Ramond [former director] & Pantxika Béguerie [director as of 2008], Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, 1991. ISBN 2-226-05411-1



External links

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