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Behind the scenes ... the inner workings of a museum: Christoph Schmidt - photographer, Gemäldegalerie

30.03.2012
Gemäldegalerie

Over 4.5 million people visited the museums and galleries of the National Museums in Berlin last year. Spectacular special exhibitions, small presentations and the museums' permanent collections offered an array of cultural highlights that everyone could enjoy: whether expert, schoolchild or tourist, every trip to the museum is a personal experience that leaves behind lasting impressions and new insights.

But who are the people who work for the National Museums in Berlin? What jobs and professions are required to keep such a large operation like the Berlin Museums with its 19 museums, 4 institutes and 4,729,856 artworks running smoothly? All of the people presented here contribute to the success and the existence of this universal museum that collects, preserves and studies art and culture from the beginning of time to the present day. They all work behind the scenes and only rarely meet our visitors on site. We want to lift the curtain a little and offer a glimpse backstage at the inner workings of a museum.

Christoph Schmidt - photographer, Gemäldegalerie

What does your typical workday consist of?
Fortunately, there's no standard day here. Most of our jobs come from the conservators, I talk with them first about which photos and analyses are scheduled. As well as X-rays, infrared reflectography has become especially important. It's possible to view the underdrawings on the primed canvas beneath the layers of paint using a special camera. The length of time needed for the whole programme - micro, macro, UV, raking light, infrared, X-rays etc. - depends on the format of the painting of course, in some cases it can take several weeks.

Has there been one particularly memorable event in the course of your career?
When the Gemäldegalerie was moved in 1997/98, the Rembrandt painting 'The Mennonite Preacher Anslo and his Wife' was in the Hahn-Meitner-Institute in Berlin-Wannsee. Several pictures were being examined there with neutron autoradiography. This one, the largest Rembrandt of the Berlin collection, had to be carried past the research reactor through the experimental hall full of measuring instruments; worlds collided at that moment, it really was an unusual experience.

What do the National Museums in Berlin mean to you personally?
Very nice colleagues and a permanent contract. The latter, especially for photographers on the free market, is not something to be taken for granted these days.