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.
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.
In a three-year project beginning in the summer of 2015, the drawings of the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings are being digitalized and published online. The Städel Museum has in its possession some 22,000 drawings spanning the period from around 1400 to the very present. The digitalization project is being carried out in cooperation with the Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and sponsored by the German Research Foundation. Its aim is to make the Städel Museum’s complete drawing holdings accessible to research and the art-interested public on the internet.
The project itself consists of two parts. Within the framework of a photo campaign lasting altogether four months, image files of all drawings are being made. During that time, work will already begin on the three-year process of entering the metadata on each work as specified by a core field catalogue. The first completed datasets will go online in the autumn of 2016. The heads of the Department of Prints and Drawings, Dr Jutta Schütt and Dr Martin Sonnabend, are in charge of the project, which is carried out under the supervision of Dr. Ralf Bormann.
Albrecht Dürer, Lady in Venetian dress contrasted with a Nuremberg “Hausfrau” (ca. 1495)
Jackson Pollock, Figure (1948)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caption: Protestant Parish Church, Kirchbrombach, Altarpiece of St Alban, after 1518
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