To collect, preserve, research and communicate – that is what museums are responsible for. Museological research preserves and broadens knowledge of the cultural legacy that is preserved by museums and forms the scholarly basis for collections and exhibitions. Conservation and restoration make it possible for artworks, even extremely fragile ones, to be presented to the public, and preserves them for future generations.
Scientific Research regarding the Collection
A selection of current projects from the areas of research and conservation at the Städel Museum:
A comprehensive research project is investigating the German art world in the period from 1960 to 1989 from the perspective of contemporaries. The project is being carried out with support from the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.
The initial focus is on contemplating and discussing important phases in the most recent chapter in the history of German art with approximately one hundred artists, gallery owners, collectors, curators and journalists decisively involved in the development of the art scene in the Federal Republic of Germany from the 1960s onward. The aim is to collect narrative data as a basis for reconstructing artists’ careers, the relationship structures within the art scene during the period in question, group formations and major artistic processes and events. Within the framework of a qualitative interview technique, the project team is gathering data that will be made available to the public on a digital database in the form of interlinked video, audio and text documents. Preparations are also in progress for an extensive printed publication.
The Städel Museum curator Franziska Leuthäußer is the project director.
“Café Deutschland” features more than seventy artists, gallery owners, art historians, critics and collectors. In conversations, they talk about their experiences and describe their perspectives on the art world from the post-war period to the present (in German).
In a project concluded in late 2018 after running for several years, the drawings of the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings were digitalized, piece by piece, and published online. The Städel Museum presides over a collection of over 25,000 hand drawings spanning the period from around 1400 to the present day. The digitalization project was carried out in cooperation with Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and was funded by the German Research Foundation. With its completion, the Städel Museum’s complete holdings of drawings are now accessible online to scholars conducting research and any member of the public with a keen interest in art.
The project consisted of two distinct phases. The first was a photographic campaign lasting four months, during which time all drawings were digitalized. Parallel to this, staff began the long task of compiling the metadata on each work within the parameters of a core catalogue. The completed datasets can now be browsed and viewed online, in the Städel Digital Collection. The joint heads of the Department of Prints and Drawings, Dr. Jutta Schütt and Dr. Martin Sonnabend, oversaw the project, which was coordinated by Dr. Ralf Bormann.
Albrecht Dürer, Lady in Venetian dress contrasted with a Nuremberg “Hausfrau” (ca. 1495)
Jackson Pollock, Figure (1948)
With the foundation of the Frankfurt-based banker and merchant Johann Friedrich Städel, not only paintings and prints, but also his significant collection of more than 4,500 hand drawings—among them a remarkable number of extraordinary individual sheets—came to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut. For the history of the institute it is of particular importance to precisely determine which drawings of the current holdings had already been in Städel’s possession. Because only then will it be possible to describe in more detail the character of his collection as a whole, its focal points, quality level and the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the works. As a result of subsequent additions and interventions and also due to the rather complex source material, ascertaining which drawings in the present-day Städel originally formed part of the foundation is not a simple task. The research project began in the spring of 2017 and aims at reconstructing Johann Friedrich Städel’s collection of drawings. The plan is to present the results of the project that is headed by Dr. Joachim Jacoby in an exhibition featuring an exemplary selection of drawings of Städel’s foundation donation.
Caption: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, The Drunken Lot (ca. 1630–1633)
In December 2015, the Städel Department of Prints and Drawings started a research project focusing on the museum’s holdings of Dutch drawings of the eighteenth century. With around 600 sheets, the Städel Museum houses one of the largest and—in terms of quality—one of the most distinguished collections outside of the Netherlands and the most unique holding of its kind in Germany. It can be traced back to the founding collection of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and hence to Johann Friedrich Städel and, especially, his friend Johann Georg Grambs, who was one of the foundation’s first administrators. While the Dutch art of the seventeenth century has become familiar to a wide audience as the “Dutch Golden Age” (Gouden Eeouw) thanks to the works of artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, outside its country of origin relatively little is known about the Dutch art production of the eighteenth century, which so far has only very rarely been the object of scientific research. The Städel Museum owns exceptional works of artists like Jacob de Wit, Isaac de Moucheron, Aert Schouman, Cornelis Troost, Jan van Huysum and many more. Their art reflects the bourgeois taste as it fits into the context of eighteenth-century Enlightenment and which becomes apparent in a greater appreciation and an emancipation of hand drawings, a preference for pictorial, coloured drawings and the creative exploration of the art of the “Dutch Golden Age”.
The research project under the supervision of Annett Sandfort will conclude with the publication of a scholarly catalogue presenting around 90 selected drawings and an exhibition in autumn 2020, where the results will be made available to the general public. The research project was made possible by the Frankfurt-based Stiftung Gabriele Busch-Hauck.
Caption: Herman Henstenburgh, Bouquet, 1700, watercolour and opaque colour on white prepared parchment, 340 x 286 mm
Since October 2017 and as a new addition to the series of scholarly catalogues, the Department of Prints and Drawings has for the first time been preparing a catalogue of the German drawings of the twentieth century. Starting point for the project and main focus of the collection are the drawings of Max Beckmann and the “Brücke” group of artists. Another important aspect in the collection are the works of artists that focused on abstraction or figuration in the divided, post-war Germany. These tendencies, which find expression in informalism, neo-expressionist movements or pop art, are well represented by works of Karl Otto Götz and Bernhard Schultze as well as Georg Baselitz, A. R. Penck, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. Moreover, the documentation of the history of collecting German paintings at the Städel will also take into account the political history of the twentieth century with the two world wars and National Socialism in Germany.
The research project lead by Jenny Graser will lead to a publication with a selection of around 100 exemplary works as well as an exhibition, which will open its doors at the Städel Museum in winter 2019. The project position has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Stiftung Gabriele Busch-Hauck.
Caption: Georg Baselitz, Oberon, 1964, lead and coloured pencil on laid paper
As an institution with a long tradition, the Städel Museum considers it a historical and moral obligation to identify cultural artefacts from its own and the municipal collection which were taken from their rightful owners during the Nazi period for reasons of persecution. In 2002, the Städel was one of the first museums to begin systematically researching the provenance of its holdings. Within the framework of this project, art historians search the Städel collections for works that made their way into the museum by unlawful means during the period of National Socialist rule. For every painting acquired after 1933 and known to date from before 1945, we endeavour to find the completest possible evidence of its provenance.
Since the project got underway, more than four hundred works have been processed in this fashion, and in the case of seven paintings, four sculptures and one print the museum either returned the work to its rightful owner or repurchased it. For this complex and exacting research work, the Städel Museum has networked with numerous scholars and institutions, and by way of several platforms – for example the Provenance Research Work Group or the so-called Lost Art database of the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg – cultivates intensive and ongoing exchange on this issue.
In support of research at the Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, the Passavant Prize for outstanding scholarly studies in the areas of art history and archaeology has been awarded every three years since 1996. Specialist conferences on various topics moreover take place at irregular intervals. The colloquia and the prize programmatically commemorate Johann David Passavant, who not only made a major contribution to the development of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in the capacity of director from 1840 to 1861, but was also one of the founders of modern art theory. The Passavant Colloquium and the Passavant Prize are made possible by generous private support.
The last Passavant Colloquium took place in November 2015. Under the title “The View from Up Close. The Images of Altarpieces and Their Function in Medieval Times“, northern Alpine altarpieces from the Middle Ages were at the heart of the colloquium. The Passavant Prize 2016 for research in the history of art was awarded to Dr. Corina Meyer, honouring the comprehensive research activity conducted by the Stuttgart-based art historian on the person of Johann Friedrich Städel and the foundation of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut.
Caption: Johann David Passavant, Self-Portrait with Beret before a Roman Landscape, 1818, oil on canvas, 45 x 31.6 cm, Inv. 1585
Since 2013, within the framework of the Städel cooperation professorship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut of the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt (Prof Dr Jochen Sander), a research project financed by the Volkswagen Foundation has been in progress at the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt. The project title translates as “Studies on the transfer of art and technology in Hesse and on the Middle Rhine in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times on the basis of the painting in the holdings of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt”. The Frankfurt contribution to the research is based on the examination of the works with the aid of infrared reflectography and the interpretation of the process by which they were executed. Many of the works examined bear a close relationship with paintings in the Städel’s own holdings.
At the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in Hanover, research has been underway since 20112 on the technique, formal appearance, context and significance of the “Golden Panel”, one of the key works of German art around 1400. The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Städel cooperation professorship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut of the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt (Prof Dr Jochen Sander), the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaft und Kunst Hildesheim, and financed by the Volkswagen Foundation. The Frankfurt contribution to the research is to examine and interpret the work’s execution, above all with the aid of infrared reflectography – an undertaking also relevant with a view to related works in the Städel Museum collection.
From June 22nd until September 25th, 2016, the Städel Museum presented the exhibition “Heaven on Display. The Altenberg Altar and Its Imagery”. At its heart was one of the earliest surviving altarpieces from the German-speaking area. For the first time, its components which had been scattered to different collections could be reunited and presented together with other objects preserved from the choir’s furnishings. The shrine’s investigations that became possible in the course of the preparation for the exhibition, produced many unexpected results which shed a new light on the original arrangement and function of this early high altarpiece. As the X-ray fluorescence analysis could not be fully assessed until after the catalogue’s printing, the results are being published here.
Under the direction of Professors Jochen Sander (Städel Museum, Frankfurt), Ulrich Schütte and Hubert Locher (Marburg) and Klaus Niehr (Osnabrück), the German Research Foundation’s project entitled “Mittelalterliche Retabel in Hessen” has been in progress at the art-historical institutes of the universities in Frankfurt am Main, Marburg and Osnabrück since 2011. The research project is devoted to the holdings of Medieval and Early Modern altarpieces which were either executed within the boundaries of the present-day State of Hesse, or found their way into this region at the time of their execution. Within the context of this extensive project, works from the Städel Museum collection are also researched and reassessed with the aid of the latest infrared examinations. The results will be presented in 2018 in a two-volume publication.
Caption: Protestant Parish Church, Kirchbrombach, Altarpiece of St Alban, after 1518
Within the framework of the project “Scholarly Catalogue of German Painting in the Städel Museum, 1550–1800: Part 1 (1550–1725)” funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), the Städel Museum comprehensively investigates 76 German paintings comprising altogether 82 individual panels dating from 1550 to 1725. Among them is the highly significant collection of panels by Adam Elsheimer and his circle revolving around the “Altarpiece of the Exaltation of the True Cross”. Other important works include paintings by Hans Rottenhammer, Georg Flegel, Paul Juvenel the Elder, Johann Ulrich Mayr and Johann Heinrich Roos. Each individual object is documented comprehensively with its history, and the current state of research on the respective work is presented in relation to important issues. The subsequent discussion will embed the works in the current research discourse. The project’s primary focus lies on monographic issues that localize a painting in the oeuvre of the respective painter: Its genesis, attribution and dating as well as the iconography, the context of its execution and the content will be clarified. This also touches on the overall discussion of German painting in the early modern period, in which matters related to art theory, regional and international exchange as well as the social history of art are particularly virulent.
The Head of German, Dutch and Flemish Paintings before 1800, Prof. Dr. Jochen Sander oversees the project, which is carried out under the supervision of Dr. Almut Pollmer-Schmidt. Christiane Weber (M.A.) is responsible for conducting the technological analysis.
Caption: Adam Elsheimer, Altarpiece of the Exaltation of the True Cross, 1603–05, oil on copper, 133.6 x 107 cm
In addition to the 25,000 drawings and 90,000 prints dating from the Middle Ages to the present, the Städel Department of Prints and Drawings oversees a unique holding of some 120 sketch books, most of them of German artists of the nineteenth century, such as Asmus Jacob Carstens, Carl Morgenstern, Karl Wilhelm Wach, Emil Lugo, Hans Thoma and many more. Due to the fragile state of the binding and paper, these rather special works of art may currently only be viewed in the Study Room in exceptional circumstances. To make them fully accessible to the general public again, they will be subject to extensive restoration efforts until the end of 2019, after which they will be digitalised and published online as part of the Städel Digital Collection (https://sammlung.staedelmuseum.de/de).
The project is supported by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung and the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung within the framework of the initiative „Kunst auf Lager“.
While conducting a technical examination of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s work “The Sleigh Ride” (1927–1929), staff at the Städel Museum have discovered a previously unknown painting by the major Expressionist artist and founding member of the artistic group ‘Die Brücke’. “Café Scene” was concealed beneath the canvas of “The Sleigh Ride”, which was completed at a later point.
The Frankfurt businessman and patron Dr. Kurt Möllgaard gifted the painting to the Städel Museum Association in 1987. The presence of two canvases mounted one on top of another over a single stretcher went unnoticed for decades – until now. Technical analysis revealed that both pictures were created by the same person. In order to exhibit the newly discovered painting as a separate work, “The Sleigh Ride” was removed from its existing stretcher and remounted. The newly discovered “Café Scene” enriches the Städel’s Expressionist holdings, adding a work which vividly displays the changes to Kirchner’s late style. It represents a marvellous expansion of the museum’s already first-rate collection of Expressionist works.
The depiction of a crucified man and two onlookers was executed around 1430 as part of a monumental altarpiece that showed the Deposition of Christ on its central panel. All that remains of that retable – once one of the most prominent works of fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting – is the upper half of the right-hand wing, the former outside of which depicts John the Baptist. The painting has been in the Städel Museum collection since 1840.
Beginning in October 2014, this work will undergo comprehensive conservation and restoration focussing primarily on the scene’s background, which consists of gold brocade, and on measures to improve the visibility of this relief-like gold ground. In its present state, the original relief structure of the background is no longer discernible owing to the large number of material losses and revisions it has suffered in the course of its history. The original gold ground is among the earliest known applications of the so-called pressed brocade technique in Netherlandish painting. This extremely sophisticated technique impressively simulates the effect of space and textile materiality.
The restoration of the altarpiece wing “The Thief to the Left of Christ” is being carried out with support from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
In the Department for the Restoration of Prints and Drawings, various projects are always in progress simultaneously. At the moment, eighty-six works from the holdings of the Department of Prints and Drawings are undergoing treatment, among other things for the exhibition “Raphael to Titian: Italian Drawings from the Städel Museum” which will begin in the autumn of 2014. The department has been accompanying the process of the show’s preparation for more than two years, and with particular intensity in the last six months before its opening.
The first step is to determine the works’ condition. The paper and drawing materials are the most important vehicles of information and provide pointers of great relevance for a work’s more in-depth scholarly investigation. Watermarks shed light on the date of execution; collectors’ stamps and handwritten notes allow conclusions about the provenance. Under the microscope, adhesions and mountings are carefully removed from the backs of the drawings with a scalpel, exposing memos and other clues. This often contributes to the better understanding of the work and its attribution to a particular artist. Many works are being newly mounted and matted for presentation in the exhibition, an individual solution being sought for each.
Caption: Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola), 1503–1540, Head of a bearded man towards the right, ca. 1523/25 (?), red chalk on paper, 18.9 × 13.1 cm