When the Prussian collections got into serious difficulty housing its extensive artefacts, plans were made for a second museum hub in Berlin as early as the beginning of the 20th century. Yet it took until the 1950s before the Kulturforum, a collection of cultural buildings, was eventually designed and built at the edge of West-Berlin close to Potsdamer Platz (at that time right at the border where the Soviet, British and American sectors conjoined). Thus the Cold War division of the city was also mirrored in the public art collections that were once literally scattered on both sides of the Berlin Wall. The Kulturforum can also be understood as the modernist answer to the Museum Island. After a discussion about the modenist outlines of the Kulturforum, and a walk by such stunning buildings such as the Neue Nationalgalerie designed by Mies van der Rohe and the organic State Library and Philharmonie both by Hans Scharoun, we will concentrate on the spectacular paintings of the Gemäldegalerie.
During the Cold War the Old Master paintings ranging from the 13th to 18th centuries were in a temporary exhibition space in the suburban Dahlem district in West-Berlin. After the German reunification of 1990, these art works did not return to their historical home on the Museum Island. The Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery) completed in 1998 was especially designed to be this historic collection’s new home. That is why the Gemäldegalerie presides over one of the world’s finest collections of European masterpieces by Van Eyck, Bruegel, Dürer, Raphael, Tizian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Rembrandt’s Cornelis Claesz Anslo and his wife Aaltje and Samson threatening his father-in-law are neighbors of two of the finest works of the Dutch master Frans Hals, the almost impressionistic Malle Babbe and the portrait of the One-year-old Catharina Hoofdt and her nurse, a version of Sandro Botticelli’s Venus Rising and Antonio da Correggio’s Leda with the Swan.
In order to help you better understand early modern art practices we discuss exciting details of historical paintings, analyzing process, material and compositional structure, and considering the ever changing role of art in the society. Looking closely at the Gemäldegalerie’s extraordinary medieval art helps us to acquire a context for the artistic development of later centuries. We move forward by investigating the surprisingly contemporary qualities of the Dutch Golden Age paintings, paying special attention to the octagonal Rembrandt room at the heart of the museum and admiring the magical genre scenes of Jan Vermeer with his luminous painting technique and revolutionary use of optical devices, such as a camera obscura. We cover as many facets as possible within our three hours, but we humbly acknowledge that with such a colossal amount of art history masterpieces, the Gemäldegalerie is best tackled over a couple of visits.