- Old Masters
- Refurbishment of the old museum building
- History of the Städel’s collection of old masters
- New hanging and priorities of the presentation
- New acquisitions and donations
- Collection Highlights
The reopening of the Main River wing with the new presentation of the Städel’s "Old Masters" (1300–1800) collection on December 15, 2011 marks the conclusion of the comprehensive refurbishment measures in the old museum building. Developed by Prof. Dr. Jochen Sander, chief curator of the "Old Masters" collection and Deputy Director of the Städel, the new presentation benefits essentially from the recovery of the historical main axis of the Main River wing, which, starting from the central Rotunda, connects the large skylight galleries and their related cabinets. While the eastern part of the building is reserved for German, Dutch, and Flemish painting with masterpieces by Dürer, Grünewald, Holbein, and Elsheimer, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Brueghel, and Rubens, the rooms following the cupola hall in the west mainly accommodate works by artists from Romance countries’ schools, splendidly represented by Mantegna and Botticelli, Tiepolo and Batoni, Poussin and Chardin. The Rotunda itself houses a small, yet qualitatively outstanding group of early Netherlandish paintings – a tribute to the crucial role played by masters like Jan van Eyck, the "Master of Flémalle," or Rogier van der Weyden in the development of European painting north and south of the Alps.
Besides familiar and world-renowned masterpieces of the Städel, the restructured presentation of the collection also boasts numerous new acquisitions, which, as important additions, fill gaps in the Städel Museum’s collection of old masters. One of the highlights is certainly the purchased portrait of Pope Julius II by Raphael and his workshop. A portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Younger could be secured for the museum through the work’s acquisition by the Städelsche Museums-Verein. Guercino’s "Virgin with Child," dating from about 1621/22, was added to the collection as a donation by Barbara and her husband Eduard Beaucamp.
"Extending the Städel’s collection in all areas is one of our main concerns," says Max Hollein, Director of the Städel Museum. "In parallel with the development of the various collections we have also made the structural alterations necessary to not only preserve the substance of the building, but to adapt it to the requirements of a museum run along modern lines."
"We are very pleased to be able to present our important collection of old masters, which forms the Städel’s foundation, in its traditional place again after it has enthralled thousands of visitors at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and in Tokyo and Aichi during the refurbishment measures," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Schweickart, chair of the Städel Museum’s administrative board.
Refurbishment of the old museum building
During the fifteen-month conversion period, the complete old museum building (the Main River wing and the garden wing) has undergone basic refurbishment. Under the direction of the architectural office schneider+schumacher, which is also responsible for the ongoing extension of the Städel, the fire protection facilities and the barrier-free accessibility of the museum were improved. Further measures concerned the creation of a connection between the old building and the extension via a central stairway located exactly in the axis of the main entrance, as well as the reconstruction of the Metzler Hall, for which the internationally acclaimed artist Thomas Demand conceived a specific work.
In the course of the refurbishment measures, the rooms for the "Old Masters" presentation in the Main River wing and, before, the galleries reserved for "Modern Art" in the garden wing were optimized both architecturally and technically after plans by the architects Kuehn Malvezzi. The layout developed by the architect Oskar Sommer in 1878, which had been changed during the Städel’s reconstruction after World War II, was restored by opening the central axis. By screening some of the cabinets’ side windows, the presentation areas could be considerably extended. A specific color concept helps visitors find their way through the new exhibition. Bright and classical colors dominate the "Old Masters" presentation, the three primary colors red, blue, and green marking the different areas of the collection in the skylight galleries. The adjoining cabinets also reveal more intimate special tones.
A new lighting system supports the color concept for the presentation of the collection. Dimmable artificial lights were installed in the large skylight halls so that conditions can now be adjusted to the individual presentations in the various galleries. A light bar permits to accentuate single exhibits with additional halogen and LED spots. The seating facilities have been replaced with newly designed leather benches, which invisibly incorporate technical air conditioning devices and round off the presentation of the collection in the old building as a both new and familiar spatial experience for the visitor.
The costs for the refurbishment of the old building – of the garden wing and the Main River wing – amount to a total of 18 million euros. 11.4 million euros are covered by the City of Frankfurt; the rest is met by the Städel Museum. "What Frankfurt has shown in recent years is what extraordinary role culture may play in an active city," says Prof. Dr. Felix Semmelroth, head of cultural affairs of the City of Frankfurt. "Particularly for a business and finance metropolis like Frankfurt, culture is an essential factor for the city’s positioning in the region and beyond it. The Städel, which has also accommodated the works from the Städtische Galerie since 1908, takes an important position as a cultural highlight in this context. This is why the City of Frankfurt regards it as its task to support the Städel’s successful endeavors and safeguard their results for the future," Prof. Dr. Semmelroth emphasizes.
The presentation of the museum’s contemporary art collection in the new extension building accessible as of February 25, 2012 will provide the final highlight for the Städel’s reopening series.
History of the Städel’s collection of old masters
Since its foundation in 1815, the Städel has been a museum of middle- and small-format pictures. This already characterized the collection of its founder, Johann Friedrich Städel (1728–1816), but also holds true for the majority of works by old masters added to the collection in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of these works were donations or legacies left to the museum by Frankfurt citizens eager to follow in Städel’s footsteps; most of these works came from private art collections in the Main River metropolis. Such collections had already been part of the repertoire well-off patrician and middle-class Frankfurt families relied on for their self-presentation in the eighteenth century – an instrument that leaves no doubt that they ultimately followed the traditional model of the aristocracy.
Yet, not even a decade would pass after the Städel Museum’s foundation before this profile determined by the Frankfurt collectors’ specific taste began to be changed. First still impeded by quarrels over the founder’s will with distant relatives, the administrators of the foundation aimed at making Städel’s private collection a public collection from 1828 on – a presentation that was to comprise exemplary works from the most important schools of European painting. This objective was achieved thanks to the stroke of luck that Johann David Passavant, the great art historian and connoisseur, was appointed curator ("inspector") of the Städel – a post he held from 1841 until his death in 1861 – as well as to his successors’ collecting activities. "It was not least due to Passavant’s expertise – who had set out on his career as a member of the Nazarene movement – that the collection of old masters in the Städel achieved its level of quality which is still admired internationally today," Prof. Dr. Jochen Sander points out. Not only key works of early Netherlandish, German and Italian painting, but also important Dutch and Flemish Baroque paintings were added to the collection assembled by Städel himself. However, representative, "princely" large formats such as Rembrandt’s "The Blinding of Samson," Tiepolo’s "The Saints of the Crotta Family," or Poussin’s "Landscape during a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe" would only become part of the museum’s holdings in the course of the twentieth century. Today, the Städel Museum still finds itself confronted with the task of filling gaps in its collection of old masters mostly caused by personal preferences of taste.
New hanging and priorities of the presentation
The new hanging offers several new core themes. Right at the start, visitors will find themselves confronted with a so-called Petersburg or salon hanging – a symmetric arrangement of works closely mounted in multiple rows, one above the other – which conveys an idea of Johann Friedrich Städel’s original collection in his house on Frankfurt’s Roßmarkt. The presentation comprises most of the still extant pictures from the founder’s possession. Yet, since far more than four hundred of the five hundred paintings of the original collection were already sold with Städel’s explicit approval in the first third of the nineteenth century so that better works could be acquired, the definite appearance of the collection rooms could only be reconstructed selectively. This homage to the founder of the institution and the origins of its collection center around two portraits by Frans Hals that rank among the masterpieces of the Städel’s collection. The paintings in the museum were presented in the Petersburg fashion until the early twentieth century, by the way; the taste of the times only changed after.
The stairway presentation also recalls the beginnings of the institution by confronting two monumental works by the Nazarene painters Philipp Veit and Friedrich Overbeck, who decisively influenced the Städel’s fortunes in the early nineteenth century, with a work by Carl Friedrich Lessing, whose history painting superseded the Nazarenes’ religious art.
Leaving the stairway behind, visitors enter the Rotunda, where they find themselves face to face with a high-carat ensemble of early Netherlandish paintings. Comprising works by such artists as Jan van Eyck, the "Master of Flémalle," or Rogier van der Weyden, this part of the presentation gives lively evidence of the fact that the Städel Museum boasts one of the most important collections of early Netherlandish painting in the world.
Presenting major works by Lochner, Dürer, Grünewald, Holbein, and Elsheimer, as well as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Brueghel, and Rubens, the main galleries to the right are dedicated to German and Netherlandish painting, while the various schools of Romance countries follow to the left with paintings by Mantegna, Botticelli, Tiepolo and Batoni, Poussin and Chardin. The respective lateral cabinets accommodate further, mainly middle- and small-format pictures of the contexts presented in the galleries. Thanks to the specific quality and composition of the Frankfurt old masters collection, specific new core themes continually emerge beyond mere regional groupings and schools. The gallery highlighting German painting on the eve of the Reformation with its magnificent assortment of masterpieces by Dürer, Grünewald, Cranach, Holbein, and Altdorfer not only confronts the visitor with the sacral painting of the era, but also presents itself as an extraordinary portrait gallery. The two rooms reserved for Dutch painting, whose exhibits are grouped around major works by Rembrandt and Vermeer show two obvious core themes: history painting and landscape painting. Visitors will make similar observations in the rest of the galleries and cabinets.
Like the stairway presentation with its salon hanging, the two cabinets flanking the stairway in the west outline the history of the Städel Museum’s collection. Here we come upon the portraits of a Frankfurt patrician family, the von Holzhausens, which were entrusted to the museum as the last male representative’s legacy in 1923. High-caliber works by Faber von Creuznach, Urlaub, and Ziesenis illustrate the changing character of the family’s desire for representation across the centuries, but also document the development of portrait painting between the Renaissance era and the Rococo age.
In one of the cabinets, Georg Baselitz’s major work "Oberon" and Eugen Schönebeck’s "Bildnis L. T." welcome the visitor as harbingers of the approaching opening of the new galleries of contemporary art scheduled for February 2012. They enter into a dialogue with the old masters’ works and illustrate the continuation of the Städel collection into the present. Baselitz’s "Oberon" exemplifies the survival of mannerist gestures across the centuries right down to today’s art. The fact that Baselitz became a collector of mannerist art himself later on makes the ahistorical analogy emerging here all the more interesting. Schönebeck’s "Bildnis L. T." does not render the Russian revolutionary Leo Trotzki as a dynamic leader, but rather as a monumental, almost petrified projection figure with an oversized head. Especially a comparison with Amico Aspertinis’s "Portrait of a Man" underscores Trotzki’s nonsovereign inhibited attitude. The major works by Baselitz and Schönebeck were donated to the Städel Museum by the German collector Dr. Dorette Hildebrand-Staab in early 2011.
The new "Old Masters" presentation has been sponsored by the Sparkassen-Kulturfonds des Deutschen Sparkassen- und Giroverbandes.
New acquisitions and donations
The Städel’s collection of old masters has also again and again been extended selectively, but purposefully through the acquisition of exceptional individual works in recent years. The line of significant purchases of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch paintings in the early twentieth century – for which Rembrandt’s "The Blinding of Samson" (1905) and Hieronymus Bosch’s "Ecce Homo" (1917) may be cited as examples – could be continued with the acquisition of Dirck van Baburen’s "Young Man Singing" (2007) and the eponymous main work of the Master of the Van Groote Adoration, a donation by Dagmar Westberg (2008).
Portrait of Pope Julius II by Raphael and his workshop
In 2010, the Städel succeeded in acquiring the portrait of Pope Julius II by Raphael and his workshop from the private Ellermann collection. This portrait ranks among Raphael’s most famous works and has survived in several versions; the best known is to be found in the National Gallery in London, another in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Measuring 106.0 x 78.4 cm, the painting on a poplar panel not only fascinates the viewer by virtue of its artistic quality, but, unlike the London and Florence versions, also shows a number of creative changes carried out in the course of its execution. The underdrawing, which can be made visible by means of infrared reflectography, shows that revisions were made especially in the area of the face and the position of the chair. Likewise, the position of the right hand was also altered during the painting process as documented by x-ray. These interventions and the particular character of the underdrawings testify to an exceedingly creative approach to pictorial invention, which lends this work a special status in comparison to the hitherto known portraits of Julius.
Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Portrait of Luther
With the acquisition of Lucas Cranach the Younger’s portrait of Luther by the Städelsche Museums-Verein in 2010, the counterpart to the portrait of Philipp Melanchthon, already in the possession of the Städel, has found its way into the museum. The two reformers’ pictures can now be presented together for the first time after eighty-six years and as a portrait diptych provide a new highlight for the German painting section. The provenance of this portrait of Luther, which was purchased in New York, can be traced back to a French private collection of the 1920s without interruption. The likeness was still listed as a work by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who died in 1553, in Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg’s catalogue raisonné. This can be mainly attributed to the then reading of the dating of the picture as 1539. When the painting was carefully cleaned in 1978, the original dating of 1559 came to
light. Since then, the work is regarded as a painting by Cranach the Younger. The work had already been identified as a counterpart to the Städel’s portrait of Philipp Melanchthon by Kurt Löcher in his review of the museum catalogue.
Guercino’s "Virgin with Child"
In 2010, Barbara and Eduard Beaucamp of Frankfurt donated the painting "Virgin and Child" (ca. 1621/22) by Guercino, one of the foremost painters of the Italian Baroque, to the Städel. This both valuable and art-historically significant work has been a crucial addition to the institution’s collection of old masters. Barbara und Eduard Beaucamp had discovered the painting at an art dealer’s in 1981 and purchased it at a cost far below its real value, as the work was considered a nineteenth-century copy. The art critic and his wife Barbara Beaucamp’s expert eye, however, recognized the painting’s extraordinary quality.
The reopening of the "Old Masters" presentation will be accompanied by the publication of a survey of the collection titled "Alte Meister (1300–1800) im Städel Museum" (Old Masters [1300–1800] in the Städel Museum), which, based on the institution’s holdings, sheds light on important aspects and stages of the history of European painting between 1300 and 1800. Central pictorial tasks – such as the monumental public altarpiece, the individually used, smaller-format devotional picture, the portrait, the landscape, the genre, and the still life – are discussed as are historically essential epochs of the development of European art that were of decisive influence on the Städel’s collection: Northern European painting in the late Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance painting, Mannerist art and Baroque art north and south of the Alps, and, finally, eighteenth-century painting. The Städel’s works feature prominently in all essays of the catalogue: the texts are aimed at encouraging readers to visit and explore the paintings for themselves.