Altes Museum

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The Altes Museum (German for Old Museum) is one of several internationally renowned museums on Museum Island in Berlin, Germany. Since restoration work in 1966, it houses the Antikensammlung (antique collection) of the Berlin State Museums.<ref name="museumsinsel">Template:Cite web</ref> The museum was built between 1823 and 1830 by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the neoclassical style to house the Prussian royal family's art collection. The historic, protected building counts among the most distinguished in neoclassicism and is a high point of Schinkel's career.<ref name="smb standorte">Template:Cite web</ref> Until 1845, it was called the Königliches Museum (Royal Museum). Along with the other museums and historic buildings on Museum Island, the Altes Museum was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Planning and location

In the early nineteenth century, Germany's bourgeoisie had become increasingly self-aware and self-confident. This growing class began to embrace new ideas regarding the relationship between itself and art, and the concepts that art should be open to the public and that citizens should be able to have access to a comprehensive cultural education began to pervade society. King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia was a strong proponent of this humboldtian ideal for education and charged Karl Friedrich Schinkel with planning a public museum for the royal art collection.

Schinkel's plans for the Königliches Museum, as it was then known, were also influenced by drafts of the crown prince, later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who desired a building that was heavily influenced by antiquity. The crown prince even sent Schinkel a pencil sketch of a large hall adorned with a classical portico.

Schinkel's plans incorporated the Königliches Museum into an ensemble of buildings, which surround the Berliner Lustgarten (pleasure garden). The Stadtschloss in the south was a symbol of worldly power, the Zeughaus in the west represented military might, and the Berliner Dom in the east was the embodiment of divine authority. The museum to the north of the garden, which was to provide for the education of the people, stood as a symbol for science and art—and not least for their torchbearer: the self-aware bourgeoisie.


Schinkel had developed plans for the Königliches Museum as early as 1822/23, but construction did not begin until 1825. Construction was completed in 1828 and the museum was inaugurated on 3 August 1830.<ref name="smb standorte"/> Schinkel was also responsible for the renovation of the Berliner Dom in the neo-classical style (which was originally a baroque cathedral), and he exercised considerable influence on Peter Joseph Lenné's renovation of the Lustgarten, which coincided with the construction of the museum, resulting in a harmonized and integrated ensemble.

In 1841, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV announced in a royal decree, that the entire northern part of the Spree Island (known as Museum Island) "be transformed into a sanctuary for art and science." In 1845, the Königliches Museum was renamed the Altes Museum, the name it holds to this day.

The building


thumb The Altes Museum takes the Greek Stoa in Athens as a model, borrowing heavily from Greek antiquity and classical architecture. The museum employs the Ionic order to articulate the 87 m (285 ft.) face of the building, which is the only part of the exterior with any visual sign of the Orders; the other three remaining facades are of brick and stone banding. Atop the eighteen Ionic columns, which support the portico, sit eighteen sandstone eagles.<ref name="smb standorte"/> The dedication inscription, upon which the eagles are perched, reads:

FRIDERICVS GVILHELMVS III. STVDIO ANTIQVITATIS OMNIGENAE ET ARTIVM LIBERALIVM MVSEVM CONSTITVIT MDCCCXXVIIIFriedrich Wilhelm III founded this museum for the study of all forms of antiquities and of the liberal arts in 1828.


Schinkel's original plans called for the installation of two large statues of mounted knights, which would flank the entrance to the museum. In 1842, the statue "Kämpfende Amazone" ("Fighting Amazonian Woman") by August Kiss was placed on the right side of the main staircase leading into the building. It displays with great expressivity the attempts of an Amazonian woman to ward off a panther's attack. The statue on the opposite side, "Löwenkämpfer" ("Lion-fighter"), was not added until 1861. The statue, which shows a lance-wielding man on horseback about to kill a lion, was completed by Albert Wolff after a draft by Christian Daniel Rauch. Eventually, it was built with two basic objectives: to serve a didactic role and to enhance the layout of one of the city's most representative areas in front of the Royal Palace. Schinkel experimented with some ideas already current in France; for example. the museum's division into galleries around an oval hall and the large portico with colonnades- two options that he interprets in an innovative manner

The body of the two-story building is raised on a plinth, giving the building a greater stature as well as preventing the risk of damage to the artwork from moisture or flooding, for which the island was renowned.<ref>Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany (Karl Friedrich Schinkel) - Architecture of Germany - German Architecture Guides from</ref> The Spree river from which the island protrudes was actually reconfigured by the architect, in order to allow enough ground space for the museum to be built. Necessary roadway changes, bridge expansions, and canals were introduced around the same time as the Altes Museum construction. The original dome, which was an exact hemisphere modelled on the Roman Pantheon, underscored ecclesiastic dimensions of the museum as a temple of art.<ref name="smb standorte"/> It was made invisible to the exterior observer because of the museum's proximity to the Berliner Dom, as the museum was not meant to compete with the cathedral's dome. To avoid that, the rotunda was disguised with a square cover, which is reset from the front of the building and clearly visible from the exterior of the museum.


After the broad staircase and Ionic columns, the portico leads through a bronze portal to a double staircase ending in an upper hall. The staircase and hall are separated by a colonnade providing a panorama of Berlin.

The exhibition rooms of the museum are grouped around two inner courtyards; the center of the building is the two-story (23 m), skylit rotunda, which is surrounded by a gallery supported by twenty Corinthian columns. Like the Pantheon in Rome, its interior surface is adorned with coffering (rectangular, sunken panels). A portion of the museum's statue collection is displayed between the rotunda's twenty columns. Originally, the 6.9 m (23 ft.) wide granite basin by Christian Gottlieb Cantian, which now rests in the Lustgarten directly in front of the museum, was to be installed directly under the rotunda's skylight, but it was judged too large to be moved into the museum. The rotunda was the only portion of the museum, which was reconstructed in its original form during the 1966 renovation of the Altes Museum.

From behind the entrance lobby rises a two-winged, grand stairway, which is at once inside and outside, enclosed only with columns. Schinkel illustrated his idea of the purpose of the building with decorative figures on the walls of the stairway: it should provide material for direct observation and instruction (illustrated by a father and son) but also be able to encourage further thought and discussion (illustrated by two men in conversation).

Schinkel's most important work as a painter was a cycle of frescoes for the lobby of the museum. This monumental series of paintings, which was included in the first plans for the building and executed from 1841 to ca. 1870, covered the entire length of the portico and the upper stairwell. The murals were destroyed in the Second World War; only two original drafts in Schinkel's hand remain (on display in the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin). This nearly forgotten mural cycle counts among the most important frescoes of the 19th century.<ref name="Templer">Jörg Trempler: Das Wandbildprogramm von Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Altes Museum Berlin. Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-7861-2333-0.</ref> The images were of great symbolic importance for the museum, provideding a detailed representation of Schinkel's ideas regarding the function and purpose of the museum.<ref name="Templer"/>


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The royally appointed commission, which was responsible for the conception of the museum, decided to display only "high" art in the museum. This precluded the incorporation of ethnography, prehistory and the excavated treasures of the Near East; instead, these artifacts were primarily housed in Schloss Monbijou.

With the completion of the Neues Museum (New Museum) by Friedrich August Stüler in 1855, Museum Island began to take form. This was followed by the Nationalgalerie (now the Alte Nationalgalerie) by Johann Heinrich Strack (1876), the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bodemuseum) by Ernst von Ihne after plans by Stüler (1904), and the Pergamonmuseum by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffmann (1930). Thus Museum Island evolved into the institution it is today.<ref name="museumsinsel"/>

Julius Carl Raschdorff's 1894–1905 reconstruction of the Berliner Dom into a neo-Renaissance cathedral (replacing the classical cathedral designed by Schinkel) severely disrupted the classical ensemble, especially since the new cathedral has significantly larger dimensions than its predecessor.

During National Socialism, the Altes Museum was used as the backdrop for propaganda, both in the museum itself and upon the parade grounds of the redesigned Lustgarten. Just before the end of Second World War, the museum was badly damaged when a tank truck exploded in front of the museum, and the frescoes designed by Schinkel and Peter Cornelius, which adorned the vestibule and the back wall of the portico, were largely lost.<ref name="smb standorte"/>

Under General Director Ludwig Justi, the building was the first museum of Museum Island to undergo reconstruction and restoration, which was carried out from 1951 to 1966 by Hans Erich Bogatzky and Theodor Voissen. Following Schinkel's designs, the murals of the rotunda were restored in 1982. However, neither the ornate ceilings of the ground floor exhibition rooms nor the pairs of columns under the girders were reconstructed. The former connection to the Neues Museum has also not been rebuilt; instead, an underground passageway connecting all of the museums of Museum Island is planned as part of the Museumsinsel 2015 renovations.<ref name="museumsinsel"/>

The Antique Collection

The Altes Museum was originally constructed to house all of the city's collections of fine arts. However, since 1904, the museum has housed the Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities). Since 1998 the Collection of Classical Antiquities has displayed its Greek collection, including the treasury, on the ground floor of the Altes Museum.<ref name="smb standorte"/> Special exhibitions are displayed on the second floor of the museum.

See also

  • List of art museums
  • List of museums in Berlin
  • List of museums in Germany



Further reading

  • Michael S. Cullen, Tilmann von Stockhausen: Das Alte Museum. Berlin-Edition, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8148-0002-8.
  • Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer, Huberta Heres, Wolfgang Maßmann: Schinkels Pantheon. Die Statuen der Rotunde im Alten Museum. Von Zabern, Mainz 2004, ISBN 3-8053-3255-6.
  • Andreas Scholl, Gertrud Platz-Horster (Hrsg.): Altes Museum. Pergamonmuseum. Antikensammlung Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin. 3., vollständig überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage. Von Zabern, Mainz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8053-2449-6.
  • Jörg Trempler: Das Wandbildprogramm von Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Altes Museum Berlin. Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-7861-2333-0.
  • Elsa van Wezel: Die Konzeptionen des Alten und Neuen Museums zu Berlin und das sich wandelnde historische Bewusstsein. Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-7861-2443-4 (=Jahrbuch der Berlin Museen N.F. Bd. 43, 2001, Beiheft).

External links

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