The Skulpturensammlung is one of the largest collections of ancient sculpture in the world and is housed in the Bode-Museum on the Museumsinsel Berlin. The sculptures range in date from the early Middle Ages to the late 18th century and come from the German-speaking countries, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain.
Visitors are greeted by a wonderful variety of Italian masterworks, starting with medieval sculptures such as the Madonna by Presbyter Martinus and the ‘Man of Sorrows’ by Giovanni Pisano, and leading to works by masters of the early Renaissance. Glazed terracottas by Luca della Robbia, Donatello’s ‘Pazzi Madonna’, and the portrait busts of Desiderio da Settignano and Mino da Fiesole form particular highlights in the collection.
Equally impressive are the German late Gothic sculptures, including such arresting works as Michel Erhart’s ‘Madonna of Mercy’ (‘Schutzmantelmadonna’) and sculptures by Hans Multscher, Niclaus Gerhaert von Leyden, Tilman Riemenschneider, Hans Brüggemann, and Hans Leinberger. These are followed by works from the German Renaissance and Baroque periods, including small sculptures carved from alabaster and ivory. The collection ends with the particularly striking monumental warrior saints by Martin Zürn, dating from the time of the Thirty Years’ War.
The Bode-Museum also boasts impressive examples of architectural sculpture. The Romanesque tribune from the Abbey Church in Gröningen, with its finely detailed figure-carving, is one of the German masterpieces of the period, while the animated sculptures of Andreas Schlüter and the group of six statues of military commanders, specifically made for the former Wilhelmplatz in Berlin, are representative of Berlin statuary of the 17th and 18th centuries. Rococo and Neoclassicism in Germany are exemplified with works by Ignaz Günther, Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer, Edmé Bouchardon, Pierre Puget, und Jean-Antoine Houdon.
One room adjoining the balcony of the Great Dome is dedicated to James Simon, the most important patron in the history of the Berlin museums, who endowed the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum/Skulpturensammlung with his important collection of medieval and Renaissance art. On the opposite side of the balcony stands a cabinet whose display commemorates the fires that engulfed the ‘flak bunker’ in Berlin-Friedrichshain in May 1945, resulting in the severe damage or total loss of many of the Skulpturensammlung’s works.
On display for a period of three years is the Würth Kunstkammer, comprising 28 loans from the collection of the industrialist and contemporary patron of the arts Reinhold Würth, in a remarkable example of the commitment to the arts made by private individuals today. The loans are mainly small ivory pieces by 17th and 18th century artists such as Leonhard Kern, Zacharias Hegewald, Joachim Henne, Adam Lenckhardt, Paul Egell, and Christoph Daniel Schenck. Other highlights are a valuable 17th century amber altar and a silver sculpture, partially gilded, by Paulus Ättinger, representing Diana riding on a stag.
The Skulpturensammlung grew out of the 'Kunstkammer' (or 'cabinet of arts') of the Brandenburg-Prussian rulers that was kept in the Berlin Palace and whose origins date back to the early 17th century. The Skulpturensammlung’s core holdings comprised works from that period together with sculptures from the Italian Renaissance. When the museum now known as the Altes Museum was first opened in 1830, the Renaissance sculptures were put on public display, though merely as an appendage to the Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities).
A decade later, the collection was considerably enlarged when, in 1841/42, Gustav Friedrich Waagen, the first director of the Gemäldegalerie, succeeded in purchasing several important sculptures from Florence and Venice, including Desiderio da Settignano’s bust of Marietta Strozzi. It was Wilhelm von Bode, however, who first established an independent collection of sculpture from the Christian era and it is to him that the Skulpturensammlung owes its world-class status. As its director from 1885, his chief focus was on the systematic acquisition of large-scale Italian sculpture and the building up of a collection of works from North of the Alps. The result was a collection which traced the whole development of Western sculpture right up to the beginning of the 19th century.
Bode, who from 1890 was also director of the Gemäldegalerie, wanted works of art to be understood not in isolation, but in their cultural and artistic contexts. When the Kaiser Friedrich-Museum, now the Bode-Museum, was opened in October 1904, sculptures, paintings and furniture from the Italian Renaissance were displayed together. Thanks to Bode’s break with traditional museum practice, painting and sculpture could be seen for the first time in the same building, allowing the development of the two figurative arts to be appreciated in parallel and viewed with equal importance. In 1897, Bode also founded the Kaiser Friedrich-Museums-Verein, an association dedicated to the expansion of the collections, which is still an invaluable support to the Skulpturensammlung and the Gemäldegalerie today.
By 1914, the collection of German sculpture had been almost doubled, thanks to assistance from the Kaiser Friedrich-Museums-Verein, and, most crucially, the great arts patron, James Simon. From 1930, works from North of the Alps were displayed in the 'Deutsches Museum' then housed in the north wing of the recently completed Pergamonmuseum.
The Second World War had enormous consequences for the Skulpturensammlung. Those works which had been moved for safe-storage to the Thüringian salt-mines, and were discovered by American and British troops, ended up in West Germany. They were returned to Berlin in 1955 and put on temporary display in the West of the city in the Dahlem museums.
Numerous other sculptures survived the war in the Friedrichshain anti-aircraft bunker, but after the surrender to the Red Army, they either perished in two disastrous fires in May 1945, were looted or survived only in fragments. Of those which found their way to the Soviet Union, many were brought back to East Berlin in 1958 and put on display here in the Bode-Museum. Around 1,400 objects, however, have been missing since the war.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, the two parts of the collection, divided for decades, could finally be reunited. In the year 2000 the Skulpturensammlung was amalgamated with the Museum for Byzantine Art.
In spite of the heavy losses of the War and the decades of dispersal, the Skulpturensammlung ranks with the best in the world, due not least to the efforts of its directors during the Dahlem years, Peter Metz and Peter Bloch, in acquiring works such as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini’s 'Putto on a Dolphin' and Antonio Canova’s 'Dancer'. Since autumn 2006, when the Bode-Museum was reopened after many years of restoration work, it has been possible to see and study the Skulpturensammlung once more in its original majestic home.
The Museum für Byzantinische Kunst houses a first-rate collection of late Antique and Byzantine artworks and articles from everyday life that is unique in Germany. The focus of the collection is on art of the Western Roman and Byzantine Empires dating from the third to the fifteenth century. It also includes many post-Byzantine icons and craftwork objects.
Almost all the regions of the ancient Mediterranean world are represented in the collection. There are objects from Rome and Italy, from Istanbul (the Byzantine city of Constantinople) and Turkey, from Greece and the Balkans, from Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia and North Africa, from the countries of the Near and Middle East, and from Russia; in other words, all the areas encompassed by the Western and Eastern Roman Empires and the states which fell heir to the culture of Byzantium.
Within this broad spectrum, four main aspects define the Berlin collection’s distinctive profile. Late Antique Roman sarcophagi and sarcophagi fragments offer a panorama of early Christian iconography from the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Rich holdings of figurative and ornamental sculpture from the Eastern Roman Empire allow the stylistic variety and development of this art form to be studied to a degree and depth that is rivalled only by the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul. Precious ivory carvings and mosaic icons document the high technical and artistic standard of Byzantine court art. Finally, everyday objects from Egypt give insights into ordinary life, while liturgical accoutrements bear witness to the worship practices of the early Christian church. Some of these objects are rare excavated finds of organic material, such as wood or fabric, which owe their preservation to Egypt’s hot and dry desert climate.
A few exquisite late Antique and Byzantine items, most of them ivory pieces, were already found in the Kunstkammer of the Electors of Brandenburg. After the Kunstkammer was broken up in 1875/76, these objects were grouped together with a number of Byzantine and Venetian stone reliefs, acquired by Berlin from the collection of the antiquarian Francesco Pajaro, to form the basis of the museum’s collection.
From the 1890s onwards, the collection was expanded by Wilhelm von Bode, who later became the director-general of the Berlin museums. His acquisitions were made with the aim of closing the gap between the celebrated pieces from Antiquity and the art of the European Middle Ages, and in this he succeeded. Thanks to systematic purchases in Asia Minor, Egypt and Rome, within a few years an outstanding assembly of late Antique and Byzantine art was built up in Berlin. The complete collection was displayed from 1904 in the Kaiser Friedrich-Museum, now Bode-Museum.
Although the collection was removed for safe-storage in the Second World War it nevertheless suffered irreparable losses. The division of Germany after the War also split the collection, which was housed in two locations in the postwar years: the Bode-Museum on the Museumsinsel in East Berlin and the newly built museums of West Berlin. After the reunification of Germany, the two parts of the collection were reunited in the Bode-Museum.
In the year 2000, the Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst were merged to form a single museum.