The Reinstallation of the James Simon Cabinet in the Bode-Museum


In the Bode-Museum, a museum room with Renaissance works is now reconstructed exactly as it was for the opening of the museum in 1904. From 12 July 2019, it will be showing the works from the private collection of the greatest donor in the history of the Berlin Museums, James Simon.

James Simon (1851-1932) was a successful entrepreneur and the largest donor in the history of the Berlin Museums. In 1904, he bequeathed his personal collection of Renaissance works including Andrea Mantegna’s touching Virgin with Sleeping Child – provided that the ensemble would be exhibited in the same room for a hundred years.

However, in the Nazi period, mentioning and honoring a Jewish patron by name was no longer sustainable because of the prevailing anti-Semitic ideology. As a result, in 1939 the cabinet housing Simon’s collection was disbanded. It will only be re-established in its original room in 2019, on the occasion of the inauguration of the James-Simon-Galerie on the Museumsinsel on 12 July 2019.

James Simon and the Berlin Museums

Through his keen interest in the arts and his close relationship with Willhelm von Bode – a key figure in the life of Berlin’s museums and later Director-General of the Royal Museums – Simon became one of the most important patrons of Berlin’s museums. His interests as a collector formed a perfect symbiotic relationship with the vision of the head of the museums. Now spread across the seven collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, James Simon’s donations comprise more than 10,000 objects.

The Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (today the Bode-Museum) opened its doors in 1904. It had long been one of Wilhelm von Boden’s main projects, and had the financial backing of Emperor Wilhelm II. As a collector and Prussian patriot, it was important for Simon to be involved in this enterprise. He donated his Renaissance collection of around 500 objects to the museum, and in 1916 he informed Bode that he would donate a large portion of his art holdings.

The James-Simon-Kabinett

The works of this cabinet included two masterpieces of Renaissance art: Andrea Mantegna's painting “Madonna with the Sleeping Child” (ca. 1455) and a tondo of the Madonna and Child and two angels by Raffaellino del Garbo (missing since 1945). In the middle of the room a magnificent 16th -century table served as the base for numerous small-format bronzes.

Within the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, the James-Simon-Kabinett was an exception with its intense blend of works of art of different materials and the density of its presentation. Wilhelm von Bode had put special emphasis on the homelike atmosphere of this room “to emphasize the donation as such and its origin”.

Video: James Simon - His First Donation to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum / Production: art/beats on behalf of the James-Simon-Gesellschaft

The Second Donation

This second donation – 350 works, primarily made up of German and Dutch wooden sculptures from the late Middle Ages – took place in 1918, and was to remain unique. No other major collector was willing to take such a radical step in the crisis-ridden post-war period.

Under the Nazi Regime

From 1938 onwards, though, objects donated by Jewish patrons were labelled only as “gifts”, and the works donated by James Simon were removed from their original cabinet in August of 1939. After 35 years, the reputation of Berlin’s great patron had fallen victim to the racist policies of the Nazi regime, and even after 1945, the name James Simon came to be largely forgotten.

After the division of Germany the works from Simon’s collection were split between the Eastern and Western part of Berlin. From 1973 works of the collection were shown in a room of the museums in Berlin-Dahlem. Since 2009, James Simon’s patronage has been recognised through a special James Simon room at the Bode-Museum.

The Reinstallation of the Kabinett

In 2019, the James-Simon-Kabinett is finally redesigned in its original room 216 in the Bode Museum and will be reopened to the public on the occasion of the opening of the James-Simon-Galerie. On display are 50 works, mainly of the Italian Renaissance, including Mantegna's “Maria with the Sleeping Child” or Agnolo Bronzino's “Portrait of a Young Man”, both from the Gemäldegalerie.

In order to get as close as possible to the original atmosphere of the cabinet and the personal taste of its patron, sculptures of marble, terracotta and bronze, as well as furniture from the Kunstgewerbemuseum are included. Works that have been lost since 1945 are replaced by large-format reproductions. Text panels inform about the life of James Simon; further works of his collection are marked accordingly in the permanent exhibition of the Bode-Museum.