As part of its series of rotating studio exhibitions, the Kupferstichkabinett presents works from its collection that offer a glimpse into four graphic reproduction techniques typical of the 19th century: copperplate engraving, lithography, steel engraving and early forms of photography. The 19th century was also a time when art history emerged as an accepted scholarly discipline in its own right. Large-format publications containing reproductive prints of works held in major art collections and portfolios of individual artists or on specific themes were published with the aim of disseminating knowledge of works from the early modern period. The various methods used in bringing the public closer to historic works of art can be traced in the Kupferstichkabinett's own extensive collection of works from this period. The choice of reproductive technique deployed at the time also documents the changing view on the art of the early modern period.
In 1810, for instance, the Riepenhausen brothers completed a series of copperplate engravings after works by early Italian artists in the form of outline drawings. What interested them was not the paintings' 'allure of colour', but the arrangement of the forms in clear contours. The Boisserée brothers, meanwhile, focussed their gaze on a different area entirely in their studies of German Renaissance and Netherlandish masters. Starting in 1821, they brought out lithographs of works in their collection. Instead of focussing on line, they concentrated on the tonal qualities of varying shades of grey in imitation of the painted originals, made possible by the lithographic process' ability to depict the finest of lines. In 1845, the Englishman Albert Henry Payne settled in Leipzig and founded the publishing house 'Englische Kunstanstalt' (or English Art Institute). Of the many reproductions he produced were copies of the Berlin art treasures executed as steel engravings in editions with a great number of impressions. The various printmaking forms suddenly found a new rival with the invention of photography. The Photographische Gesellschaft (or Photographic Society) was established in Berlin in 1862 and soon specialized in producing copies of oil paintings. Unlike in the sets of engravings from the early 19th century, the viewer's eye was no longer merely directed to contour, it could now also dwell on surface structure, as shading, gentle gradations of colour and even pastose brushwork were all captured through the eye of the camera.
This shift in the general perception of art is clearly documented in the exhibition. From a financial point of view, the main priority for these pioneers in the printed medium was to increase the number of impressions they could produce at any one time while simultaneously minimizing production costs. There was, after all, considerable competition between them. From an artistic point of view though, the various graphic reproduction techniques used over time provide an insight into the changing tastes of the 19th century.
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