Ancient Bronzes in Berlin

Objects Made of Bronze, Iron and Lead in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Antikensammlung

The online database of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Antikensammlung was created between 2004 and 2011. It gathers together 8,278 metal objects from the holdings of the Antikensammlung – comprising almost the entirety of all acquisitions made prior to 1945, including items lost during the war. In the future, it is to be expanded to include all the metallic objects acquired since 1945 as well.

Etruscan-Italian and Roman Statuettes, Vessels and Other Objects

The database was produced in two stages. The first stage (2004–2007) was based on Carl Friedrichs’s inventory catalogue Geräthe und Broncen im Alten Museum (1871). This publication, primarily covering Etruscan-Italian and Roman statuettes, vessels and other metallic objects was produced completely without illustrations, coming as it did shortly before research in the field adopted the new documentary medium of photography. Up to the present day, this catalogue has served as a stand-in for the older inventories when it comes to assigning the objects in the collection call numbers, though the numbers for the objects contained in the catalogue are prefaced with the abbreviation Fr. (Friedrichs).

Griechischer Klappspiegel mit Darstellung der Entführung des Ganymed, Mitte 4. Jh. v. Chr., Misc. 1928

Greek folding mirror with depiction of the abduction of Ganymede, mid-4th century BC, misc. 1928 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung / Norbert Franken

Greek Bronzes

The second stage (2008–2011) covered the metallic objects acquired between 1871 and 1945, which include significant numbers of Greek bronzes. These originate from locations such as Dodona and Lousoi, and from the excavations carried out by the Berlin museums in Olympia, Samos, Priene, Miletus and Didyma.

In addition to this, this phase of the project looked at the objects that have been missing since the end of the Second World War. Thanks to accommodations made by Russian colleagues, in 2009 and 2010 we were able to inspect the objects that have been held in the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow since 1945. As such, this database offers the first expansive visual impression of one of the most important sections of the Berlin Antikensammlung.

The History of the Berlin Bronzes

Due to fires in the anti-aircraft bunker in Berlin-Friedrichshain in May of 1945 (one of the storage locations used for the collections of Berlin’s museums during the Second World War), many of the bronzes suffered severe damage and their inventory numbers were lost. This often makes it difficult to definitively identify the objects, and particularly when it comes to less significant items, it can sometimes be impossible. Efforts were made by staff from the Antikensammlung back in the 1960s and 1970s to catalogue the most significantly affected portion of the bronzes, which were returned to Berlin from the Soviet Union in 1958.

Picking up where this work left off, in reviewing the collections that were reunited at the Altes Museum in Mitte in 1995, another 10% of the objects could be identified, pieced together, or paired with missing parts. As a result of in-depth research, a number of statuettes were revealed to have been mistakenly included in the collections of the Ägyptisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and in the Skulpturensammlung of the Staatliche Kuunstsammlungen Dresden.

Now that this work is complete, we know that the contemporary collections in Berlin represent around two thirds of the former holdings. In addition to objects that were lost or presumed destroyed in the war, the remaining third includes the bronzes that were transported to Russia during the war, items that were transferred or loaned to other branches of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and various long-term loans to museums right across Germany.

Finial of the leg of a folding table in the shape of a griffin with a snake, 1st/2nd century AD, Fr. 2298 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung / Norbert Franken

Bekrönung eines Klapptischbeines in Gestalt eines Greifen mit einer Schlange, 1./2. Jh. n. Chr., Fr. 2298

New Colour Photos and Missing Objects

The bronzes in the Antikensammlung were photographed by Norbert Franken, the majority of the Olympia bronzes by Mirko Vonderstein, and the bronzes in the Pushkin Museum by Konstantin Korganov. These new colour images reveal that many of the bronzes have lost their ancient or Baroque patinas, and that many of the pieces in Moscow bear a patina caused by fire.

Missing objects can be most easily be identified by the fact that they only appear in historical black-and-white photos, engravings, watercolour paintings or sketches in pencil. It is impossible to ascertain the whereabouts of objects with no visual documentation or detailed description. Some of them might have been among the objects from the historical collections that were catalogued retrospectively at various points in time in Berlin; in the absence of visual documentation and clear identifying features or labels, it is highly unlikely that they can be located.

On the Production of the Digital Inventory of the Berlin Bronzes

In the process of producing the digital inventory of the Berlin bronzes, a whole range of new insights were gained on the function of individual objects, their acquisition history – particularly about previous owners – and other aspects. Such comments are generally labelled with the initials NF (Norbert Franken). It was not possible to verify all old assertions about the objects. Bibliographic references have been updated and substantially expanded. A deliberate decision was made not to attempt to adjust the dating and descriptions of all objects to precisely reflect the latest research findings. 

The database largely reflects the findings of the project at the date of its completion in 2011, which were included in the publication of the same year. Literature on the individual objects that has been published since then has been added as it has appeared, something we continue to do whenever we are made aware of such work.

Bronzekrug mit Darstellungen der Musen, 4./5. Jh. n. Chr., Fr. 1628

Bronze pitcher with depictions of the muses, 4th/5th century AD, Fr. 1628 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung / Norbert Franken

Contact

The Antikensammlung welcomes information about errors, new research findings or lacking citations at: ant[at]smb.spk-berlin.de.

In order to enable a comparison of description and object, you can find the digital copy of the catalog Geräthe und Broncen im Alten Museum (1871) by C. Friederichs for the objects of the Fr-inventory under the following link.


Project management: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer, Andreas Scholl
Project staff: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Norbert Franken
Coordinating institution: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Duration: 2004 to 2007; 2008 to 2011 (complete)