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Along with the collecting, physical preservation, and display of artefacts, the study and analysis of the objects in the collection ranks among the core responsibilities of every museum. The overwhelming diversity of objects in the Antikensammlung’s collection forms an excellent basis for archaeological research. The collection therefore sees itself as a research institution that carries out archaeological research and fieldwork. Special attention is devoted to the exploring and studying of the museum’s holdings.

In addition to the projects outlined in more detail below, the Antikensammlung is also engaged in the analysis of previous conservation actions and investigations into the history of the collection, partly in cooperation with the Excellence Cluster Topoi, the Transformations of Antiquity collaborative research centre at the Humboldt-Universität, as well as with the J. P. Getty Museum in Malibu.

Research projects at the Antikensammlung

Berlin’s Antikensammlung and the Berlin offices of the German Archaeological Institute joined forces in 2006 to conduct research into the largest bathing complex in Roman Miletus, the Faustina thermae. The alterations that took place to the building from its construction sometime in the second half of the 2nd century CE up to its abandonment in the Byzantine period lie at the heart of this DFG-funded project.

The sculptures displayed in the baths, depicting numerous pagan deities (Apollo and the Muses, Dionysus with satyrs, Asclepius, several statues of Aphrodite) and honorific statuary are the most important reflection of the transformations that occurred in the transition from the Roman imperial period to late antiquity and the early Byzantine epoch. The manner in which the statues were altered is a sign of their reinterpretation to suit Christian sensibilities, while the fact that many were repositioned offers an insight into shifting viewing habits and the role the objects played within the architectural space.

In addition, a meticulous analysis of the building’s history was undertaken as part of the project to flesh out in greater detail and with greater accuracy the various construction phases outlined only in cursory detail in the initial publication written on the site, dating from 1928. Targeted sondages both inside and outside of the building provided additional clues as to the chronology of construction and changes in use. Investigative analysis into the structural ornamentation, inscriptions and graffiti, coins, pottery fragments, and other small finds completed the picture.

Funding: DFG
Duration: 2007 to 2012
The findings of the archaeological investigation are being prepared for publication.

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) has made significant contributions to archaeological research since 1921. The international project, in which some 27 countries currently participate, aims to systematically catalogue Greek and Italian pottery held in museum collections. The German branch of the project is supported by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The publications compiled as a result list the objects according to vase shape and painting style. In addition to photographic documentation and drawings, they also contain a full bibliography, information on the objects’ origin, production technique and post-antique history, as well as outlining any figural decoration on the vessels and their importance. The catalogues also include maps and timelines that place the objects in a geographical and chronological context. Wherever possible, attributions are made as to the painting and pottery workshops behind their making. Analytical studies provide information as to colours and workshops.

The German CVA (including the three volumes previously compiled for collections in the former GDR) comprises 95 volumes so far, of which thirteen are made up by the Antikensammlung at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin alone. Three more volumes on the Antikensammlung are due to be published in 2013.

The individual catalogues are digitized at the Beazley Archive in Oxford and can be browsed via its online database: International colloquia, held every two years, bring together vase experts from several countries.

Thanks to funding from the DFG, the image database 'Ancient Bronzes in Berlin' in Berlin, compiled from 2004 to 2011, has been online since September 2011. Since January 2012 it has been possible to update and expand the database day-by-day.

The new database replaces the older 'Friederich Image Database' and catalogues, in 8278 separate entries, the bronze, lead, and iron objects (current holdings and war losses) in the Antikensammlung, the vast majority of which were acquired prior to 1945. A wide variety of search criteria allows users to browse the database efficiently and with greater flexibility, including a free-text search and searches by inventory number, material, object group, find location, previous owner, literature, and other criteria.

The 'Berliner Skulpturennetzwerk' project for the contextualisation and interpretation of ancient sculpture is jointly run by the Freie Universität and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and falls under the joint auspices of Prof. Johanna Fabricius (Institute of Classical Archaeology at the FU Berlin) and Prof. Andreas Scholl (Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

As part of its focus on the 'transformational function of humanities', the project received funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research from 2009 to 2012 in its funding initiative 'Freedom for Research in the Humanities'.

The project aims to digitally archive and make public images of the ancient sculptures contained at the Staatliche Museen’s Antikensammlung (around 4400 in total), as well as around 4000 modern plaster casts of ancient sculptures held in all the Staatliche Museen’s various other collections, the Gipsformerei (Replica Workshop), as well as the plaster collection of ancient sculpture at the FU and the Humboldt University’s Winckelmann Institute. The overriding scholarly concern is to concentrate on a historically differentiated reconstruction of the contexts in which the works were originally displayed, as well as on determining possible links between the works as to their spatial and functional context. This demands that digital records are also made of relevant archive material and current excavation dates and that these two sets of information are combined. The work is carried out by qualified research assistants.

Supplementary projects under the umbrella project include the interlinking of all data in a semantic 'context browser' and the formation of an interactive 3D recreation of Pergamon and its surrounding areas (including an inventory of excavations, a reconstruction of known parts of the city layout, the contextualisation of statues and a reconstruction of the landscape).

Select research findings were presented to the public in the major Pergamon exhibition that went on show in the Pergamonmuseum from September 2011 to September 2012, 'Pergamon – Panorama of the Ancient Metropolis', which included a contextualised, interactive 3D recreation of the ancient city.

The publication of images of sculptures and plaster casts will take the form of both online catalogues and publications in print. To find out more please click here.

The Berliner Skulpturennetzwerk’s expertise should then be consolidated in the long-term within the 'Berliner Antike-Kolleg', a panel created by the Excellence Cluster Topoi. The Skulpturennetzwerk’s expertise should also bear fruits in teaching activities at the various universities involved.

Partners of the network include: the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute, the Cologne Digital Archaeology Laboratory (CoDArchLab) at Cologne University’s Archaeological Institute, Berlin’s Zuse Institute, as well as the department for illustrative design at BTU Cottbus.

Photographs as (Research) Objects in Archaeology, Ethnology and Art History

A cooperation between the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut (Photothek), the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Antikensammlung, Sammlung Fotografie) and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Institut für Europäische Ethnologie), funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung as part of the funding initiative ‘The Language of Objects – Material Culture in the Context of Social Developments’.

Archaeology, art history and ethnology are connected not only by their common institutionalisation around 1900, but also by their use of photographs as substitutes for the objects of their research. Based on the most recent studies on the materiality of photographs and photo archives, the research project understands documentary photographs as three-dimensional objects formed by historical processes that operate as repositories of sedimented knowledge in social and cultural contexts. It aims to show in a comparative investigation how the formation of methods in the humanities, the development and dissemination of photographic techniques, and the establishment of specialised photo archives in the decades before and after 1900 were mutually dependent. The focus here is on techniques and practices of scholarly work on and with photographs. The latter lead a double existence as objects: they are indexical representations of objects, and at the same time they are themselves ‘talking’ objects. The project will explore the scholarly potential of photo archives in museums, universities and research institutes, as well as develop a model for the cross-departmental networking of different collections. At the same time it aims to provide new insights into inter-disciplinary processes of canon formation.

The collections of the four partners can be understood as prototypical for the use of photographs in the three disciplines, thereby ensuring the comparison and exchange of methods and results. Nevertheless, they should also be considered and contextualised as unique cases. The project will investigate the following subsections in the respective collections: the photographic documentation of archaeological excavation campaigns in Greece and Asia Minor (Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – PK, Antikensammlung), architectural photographs from the USA and Europe ca. 1900 (Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – PK, Sammlung Fotografie, Kunstbibliothek), the Hahne-Niehoff ethnological photo archive (Humboldt-Universität, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie), and the photographic documentation of applied arts (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Photothek). The wide range of competencies and photo-archiving practices to be found in the different institutions (museum, university and research institute) are crucial to the development of the project’s central theses: the specific materiality of the photograph in its manifold manifestations, the alterations made to the photographs themselves as a result of their different applications and uses, and the superimposing of the visual content with discourses from different academic fields. One of the aims of the project is to establish an international network. Besides workshops, a symposium, a book and online publications, an exhibition to mark the end of the project is planned at the Museum für Fotografie in Berlin. Here, the research findings from the collections of the participating institutions are going to be presented to the general public. In addition, the photographic material brought together in the course of the project will be made available for further interdisciplinary research projects.

Dr Costanza Caraffa (Coordinator)
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institut, Photothek

Phone: +39 055 2491164   

Dr Martin Maischberger
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Antikensammlung
Tel.: +49 30 266 42 5101   

Dr Ludger Derenthal
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kunstbibliothek (Sammlung Fotografie)
Tel.: +49 30 266 42 4180  

Prof Dr Wolfgang
Kaschuba Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie
Tel.: +49 30 2093 70843      

The Language of Objects