Sunday, September 11, 2016

Berlin: The Museum Island

The Museum Island stands on the northern end of the long island in the middle of the Spree River that was once the medieval center of Berlin.  The Museum island began with the opening of the Altes Museum in 1830 to house the Royal Prussian collection of Classical antiquities.  Karl Friedrich Schinkel designed the Altes Museum, a major masterpiece of architecture.  Four more museums were built next to it in succession.  The Neues Museum opened in 1859 designed by a student of Schinkel, Friedrich August Stüler,  The Neues was almost destroyed in the Second World War, but was recently restored by architect David Chippendale to house Egyptian and other archaeological collections.  The Alte Nationalgallerie (Old National Gallery), also designed by Stüler, opened in 1876 and now houses a collection of 19th century art.  The Bode Museum (formerly known as the Kaiser Friedrich Museum) now houses Medieval and Byzantine art.  Much of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum's collection (including a major work by Caravaggio) was destroyed by a fire in a storage bunker in the last weeks of World War II.  The last museum to open on the island is probably the most popular, the Pergamon Museum, opened in 1930 and houses a spectacular collection of ancient architecture.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these photos are mine and freely available especially to educators.

The Altes Museum

Alas, I did not get into the Altes Museum.  I arrived just as it was closing.  I wanted to see this museum as much for the building as for the collection.  While the exterior structure survived, the Battle of Berlin destroyed the interior.  Only the rotunda was restored to something like its pre-war appearance.  The rest of the museum interior is a modern rebuilding.

The Museum Island began with the Altes Museum, the "Old Museum," as it came to be known in the mid 19th century.  When Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806, he took King of Prussia's very large collection of Classical art and antiquities back to Paris to the Louvre.  When the collection returned to Berlin in 1814, the public clamored for it to be put on permanent display.  King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel to design a museum to stand opposite the Lustgarten -- then used as a parade ground -- from the Royal Palace, the Stadtschloss.  Construction began in 1823, and the museum opened to the public in 1830.

In many respects, the modern museum begins with this building.  Schinkel designed a very clear and simple design in contrast to the baroque Stadtschloss it once faced.  He made the entire south side of the building fronted with 18 tall Ionic columns that form one side of a simple rectangular plan.  The wall behind the columns is recessed and windowless, intended to carry large outdoor murals.  The openness of the south-side colonnade and the brilliant entrance with its columns and staircase announced to the Berlin public that the museum was open to them.  Originally this would have been a striking contrast to the guarded entrances to the Stadtschloss across the Lustgarten.

Schinkel wanted the museum to educate the public above all else, the first museum in the world with that specific mission.  Earlier museums like the Louvre primarily showcased collections to announce to the world the might and power of the nation and its ruling regime.  Such museums announced to their subjects that the regime is educated, civilized, and fit to govern.  Schinkel certainly wanted his museum to do those things, but also to somehow teach the values of Classical culture to the broad public, to educate them in history and to "refine" them.  Education remains the core mission of most art museums around the world.  Schinkel designed the museum to make the artworks accessible with both architecture and visual imagery suggesting to people how they should be looking at the collection and what they should be learning from it.

The Altes Museum with Schinkel's Ionic colonnade facing the Lustgarten.

The columns at the entrance.  They are all visibly patched from war damage.  This is part of Schinkel's brilliant design for the entrance that originally brought the indoors and outdoors in contact with each other, and invited the people enjoying the Lustgarten into the museum.  The entrance does not become clearly apparent until we approach the center of the south side of the building.

Here is Schinkel's drawing for the second floor terrace above the main entrance.  He designed a double staircase that was originally outdoors.  Twin staircases flanked the main floor entrance and met together on the terrace above with 3 entrances that led to the second floor galleries.
Photo from Wikipedia.

Schinkel designed a mural cycle for this terrace, a series of mythological allegories about time, history, and progress.  Those murals were once part of the educational program of the museum, preparing people for what they were about to see from the distant past.  All of those murals were destroyed in the War.

A drawing by Michael Carl Gregorovius of the top of the entrance staircase and the second floor terrace in its original state opened out onto the Lustgarten.  Photo from Wikimedia.

My attempt to photograph the second floor terrace from the ground floor in front of the main entrance.

The Museum entrance at closing time.

The Cathedral viewed from the columns of the Altes Museum.

Murals designed by Schinkel (himself a very gifted painter) and executed by Peter von Cornelius covered the walls behind the Ionic colonnade on the south side.  They did not survive the war and there are no plans to reconstruct or replace them.

A color photograph from before 1945 of part of the outside mural on the front of the Altes Museum.  These were designed by Schinkel and executed by Peter Von Cornelius in 1855.  They were completely destroyed in the course of the War.  Photo from here.

The female Lion Fighter flanking the outside steps to the museum entrance.  I have no idea who the sculptor is.  I presume this pair of bronze statues were added sometime in the mid to late 19th century after the museum was completed.

The male Lion Fighter on the other side of the entrance steps.

Perhaps I enjoy this bronze naked cowboy too much

The Ionic colonnade looking west.

The north side of the Altes Museum with segway riders.

A first floor gallery on the north side of the Altes Museum photographed before 1945.  All of this is now gone.  Photo from Study Blue.

The Pergamon Museum

I had one big disappointment with the Pergamon Museum.  The Altar of Zeus is closed.  It is in restoration and won't be finished until 2019 at the earliest, so I was told by the museum staff.  But, the rest of the Museum was spectacular.  It is still probably the most popular museum in Berlin, famous for its huge reconstructions of ancient monuments.

The Ishtar Gate from Babylon

This is the smaller of a pair of gates to the inner city of ancient Babylon built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 575 BCE.  The Pergamon Museum also owns the larger gate, but its parts are kept in storage.
The gate is built of glazed brick and adorned with bulls and dragons sacred to the gods Adad and Marduk.  This gate was a major feature of Nebuchadnezzar's reconstruction of the city center of Babylon that included his palace, a temple to Marduk, and the legendary Hanging Gardens.
The museum has Nebuchadnezzar's dedication inscription for the Gate:
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest of princely princes, beloved of Nabu, of prudent counsel, who has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and reveres their majesty, the untiring governor, who always takes to heart the care of the cult of Esagila and Ezida and is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon and Borsippa, the wise, the humble, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, the firstborn son of Nabopolassar, the King of Babylon. 
Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower. 
Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted.

I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings.

I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder

I let the temple of Esiskursiskur (the highest festival house of Marduk, the Lord of the Gods a place of joy and celebration for the major and minor gods) be built firm like a mountain in the precinct of Babylon of asphalt and fired bricks.

This translation and more information about the Ishtar Gate can be found here.

Robert Koldewey excavated the Gate in 1902 to 1914 finding its foundations and a host of glazed bricks.  In 1930, the Ishtar Gate was reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum but not completely.  Size restrictions prevented the reconstruction of the larger second gate that originally stood immediately behind the Gate that we see today in the museum.

A mosaic from the facade of the Audience Hall of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon.

Even though this mosaic is about contemporary with the earliest Greek Ionic temples, I use this as an example of the Mesopotamian inspiration for the Ionic order.  The eastern Ionian Greeks did a lot of business in Mesopotamia and would have seen a lot of buildings with ornament like this.  The stylized palm trees in the center of the mosaic may be inspired by earlier examples that are the ancestors of the Ionic column.

Some of the glazed ornament from the front of Nebuchadnezzar's Audience Hall.

One of Marduk's bulls from the Ishtar Gate

A magnificent lion, one of many, from the front of Nebuchadnezzar's Audience Hall and from the Processional Way to the Ishtar Gate.

The head of that same lion.  I'm not quite sure how this was made.  I'm guessing that these lions were shaped in terra-cotta all in one piece, then cut while damp into bricks.  I presume that the bricks were fired, re-assembled, glazed, and fired again separately, and then incorporated into the wall.

The reconstruction of the Processional Way to the Ishtar Gate in the museum.

Another splendid lion.  There were around 120 of these lions, most of them are now in museum collections scattered around the world.  The Metropolitan Museum has one of these mosaic lions from Babylon.

The head of that same lion

Bill Paulsen trying to look regal with some Hittite lions.

The Market Gate of Miletus from the 2nd century CE.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian probably built this gate to replace an earlier Doric style gate to the city's agora or marketplace.  Earthquakes repeatedly damaged the gate, and finally destroyed it in the 10th or 11th centuries.
Archaeologist Theodor Wiegand excavated the Gate in 1903 and shipped its pieces back to Berlin.  In 1908, Wiegand presented models of the Gate to Kaiser Wilhelm II who was so impressed that he ordered the Gate to be rebuilt out of the surviving pieces.  That was not accomplished until the 1920s.  The reconstruction remains very controversial since it uses a lot of modern replacements for lost parts; replacements whose design was conjectural.

The Miletus Gate looks like an ancient stage backdrop.

Detail from the Gate

Hellenistic excess; An over-elaborate cornice with a string course of Medusa heads.

An Assyrian deity

The Pergamon Museum has a first rate Islamic collection featuring this splendid 13th century lustreware ceramic mihrab from Iran.

There were galleries filled with magnificent textiles.

A 14th century Quran from Egypt showing the beginning of Sura 24; probably from a royal mosque.

A detail from the 14th century Quran from Egypt.

Not a mihrab, but a 16th century niche from a house in Damascus built for a family of Samaritan Jews.
In the spandrels above the top of the arch are inscriptions in Hebrew from Exodus 23: 25-26:
"So shall you serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water.  And I will take sickness away from the midst of you. No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days."

A detail from my photo above of the Hebrew inscription on the left spandrel

The beautiful muqarnas vaulting in this niche made for a Jewish household almost certainly by Muslim craftsmen.

There is more information about this remarkable object here.

Part of the facade of the 8th century Palace of Mshatta from what is now Jordan; a gift from the Ottoman Sultan to the German Kaiser at the beginning of the 20th century.

Splendid and elaborate carving on the facade.

The Neues Museum

The Neues Museum re-opened in 2009 for the first time since it closed in 1939 for the duration of the World War II.  The architect David Chippendale designed the renovation of a badly war-damaged building that had stood as a vacant and neglected semi-ruin for decades.  Chippendale made the inspired decision to retain as much of the building's original appearance -- including the war damage -- as possible.
The Neues Museum returns to its original role housing Egyptian antiquities and other archaeological discoveries.

The Museum's reconstructed main staircase with war damaged columns in the foreground.

Bullet and shrapnel holes in a stone window frame.

Some of the war-damaged original mural decoration  in the Museum.  Another aspect of the preserved and damaged decor is how much museum practice has changed over the past century.

Photo from Wikipedia
The Neues Museum forbids photography of Nefertiti without permission.  I suspect that this is for commercial reasons rather than for security.

The Neues Museum's most famous resident.

Nefertiti was magnificent.  She did not disappoint.  In fact, the photos don't do her justice.  She is the most famous work of Egyptian art -- and the least typical.  There was nothing quite like her before in Egyptian art, or after.  Even now, the vividness of her portrait is striking and apparently struck those who discovered her.  The archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt found her in 1912 during excavations of the site of Akhenaten's capital city, Akhetaten at a place known today as Amarna.  He found her amid the remains of a sculptor's workshop, an artist named Thutmose.  She was the only finished work among several very striking portrait heads of the royal family in various states of completion.

Akhenaten, the "Heretic Pharaoh" who broke all precedent and closed the temples of the ancient gods in favor of his new religion of the sun, demanded that his artists likewise break with time honored Egyptian traditions for making art.  The artists like Thutmose working at Amarna in the palace shops discarded much of the traditional template for making imagery.  In ways that were unprecedented, and unrepeated, these artists pursued truth to appearances in their art, especially in portraiture.  The most famous and most striking example is Nefertiti's bust.

The purpose of the bust remains unknown.  Most scholars speculate that it was made to be a model for other works of art produced in the shop.

Another photo from Wikipedia showing Nefertiti in her own room at the Neues Museum.  The Neues Museum was her old home before World War II.  Until recently, she resided at the Altes Museum since the reconstruction following the War.

While finished Nefertiti is magnificent, unfinished Nefertiti here carved from quartzite is really wonderful.  These unfinished heads were a little smaller than I expected, all of them smaller than life size.
There is a tenon meant to fit in the socket of her crown to be made from another different material.

The same bust from the front.

An unfinished head of the king, Akhenaten with guidelines and corrections still painted on the surface.  This head is both more credibly realistic, and comes across as much less freakish than most other likenesses of the king.

A magnificent head of one of the six princesses, daughters of Akhenaten.

A splendid small head of Queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III and the mother of Akhenaten and the grandmother of Tutankhamun.  This head was tiny, about the size of a walnut.

More royal heads from Thutmose's studio

Ducks flying among the papyrus from the reign of Amenhotep III (I think).

That's the remarkable thing about Egyptian painting; so formal and tradition bound, and yet so open and broad-brushed.

The Xanten Youth, a Greco-Roman bronze statue from the 2nd century found in the Rhine River in the early 19th century.  Scholars believe this un-athletic boy once served as a dining centerpiece and probably held a large silver tray.

Note the acorns, ears of wheat, and grape leaves and bunches in his hair.


The Alte Nationalgalerie opened in 1876 and designed by Schinkel's protege Friedrich Augustus Stüller.
This spectacular looking museum was the original home of the German National Gallery, and now contains collections of 19th century and early 20th century art.

The Museum Island suffered very badly in the fighting for Berlin toward the end of World War II from Allied bombing and from Russian shelling.  The Neues Museum was an abandoned ruin for over 40 years after the war ended.  Bombing gutted the interior of the Altes Museum which was entirely rebuilt.  The Bode Museum (the former Kaiser Friedrich Museum, renamed after the war for its first director Wilhelm Bode) lost a significant part of its painting collection in a fire in the last weeks of the War.  The Pergamon Museum suffered significant damage from the fighting, and from a couple of years of abandonment after the war, especially to the Miletus Gate.

Since Reunification, the German government began a number of long term projects to repair and rebuild the Museum Island, returning it to something of its original glory.  There are further plans renovate and expand the old museums, and even to build some new ones.  Plans are being made to reconstitute and re-unite collections long divided by the Cold War.  For example, there are long term plans to return the painting collection housed in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin to its original home in the Bode Museum.

You can read about those proposals and see detailed architectural models here.

Berlin Cathedral from the Spree River.  After an afternoon on the Museum Island, we crossed a bridge and had lunch nearby.  I sampled a local specialty, curry wurst; basically a bratwurst with ketchup and curry powder.  It was okay.  The places that sold it were definitely not fine dining establishments, but chain stores and the equivalent of hot dog stands.


Gerrit said...

'The reconstruction remains very controversial since it uses a lot of modern replacements for lost parts; replacements whose design was conjectural.'

Yea, not scientific. Let's return it to the original 300 tons of rubble.
An Amsterdam Museum owns an early medieval secular tombstone that was restored in th 19th century - restored in such a way that the later additions are obvious and easily removable. They never exhibit it because of that restoration. 'OK, so - remove that terra cotta stuff' 'We could, but it's such a typical example of 19th century restoration' In good Americen, this is known as Shooting Yourself in the Foot.
The shores of the mediterrranean are dotted with ruined Roman towns. I say: completely recreate one, using whatever is in situ, add pink concrete for whatever is a likely restauration, purple concrete for more fanciful additions, and ridiculously white marble raisin paste for all lost deities and public statues, etc.

The archeological puritans who object still have hundreds of scientifically pristine rubble heaps, all for themselves.
Hurray for Monsiur Lenotre!

Gerrit said...

Oh, and the Xanten youth: before they fulfilled their legal obligation to report to the local authorities, the fishermen who dragged it out of the Rhine decided to make a few bucks for themselves. They added a loincloth so as not to offend the prudish, and the village populace came to see it for a few cents. If you wanted to look under the loincloth (I just can't help seeing some giggly girls) you'd pay a Pfennig extra.

Counterlight said...

I definitely agree with you about the restorations. I've seen 14th century frescoes "restored" to what's left of the originals, and all we get is but a handful of fragments. My respect for 19th century and early 20th century restorers and historicists is growing as they all recede in time.