Old museum

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Old museum
View of the Altes Museum from the Lustgarten

View of the Old Museum from Lustgarten from

place Berlin center
builder Karl Friedrich Schinkel
Client Friedrich Wilhelm III.
Architectural style classicism
Construction year 1825-1830
height approx. 20 m
Floor space 4785 m²
Coordinates 52 ° 31 '10 "  N , 13 ° 23' 55.7"  E Coordinates: 52 ° 31 '10 "  N , 13 ° 23' 55.7"  E
Wall painting in the vestibule destroyed in 1945

The Old Museum at the Lustgarten in Berlin district of Mitte is part of the architectural ensemble of the Museum Island and the World Heritage Site of UNESCO . On behalf of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Built between 1825 and 1830 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel , it is one of the main works of German classicism . It is surrounded by the Berlin Cathedral in the east, the rebuilt Berlin Palace in the south and the armory in the west. The Altes Museum is currently home to the antique collection and part of the coin cabinet .

In 2019, the Altes Museum had around 204,000 visitors.


The Altes Museum from the Schloss Freiheit , painting by Johann Heinrich Hintze , 1832
Old museum with equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III. , around 1900
Old museum after the destruction in World War II , 1950

In the early 19th century, the middle class in Germany became increasingly self-confident. The idea of ​​making the art collections closed to the public accessible to all citizens began to take hold. The general public should have the possibility of a comprehensive cultural education. The Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. shared this Humboldtian educational ideal. In 1815 the king acquired parts of the Giustiniani collection and in 1821 the collection of Edward Solly and developed initial ideas for expanding the Marstall or the Unter den Linden art academy . Finally, he commissioned Karl Friedrich Schinkel to plan a new museum building for the royal art collections. The commission appointed by the king and headed by Wilhelm von Humboldt, responsible for the conception of the new museum building, decided to only exhibit high art there. According to the understanding of the time, this excluded ethnographic , prehistoric and art treasures excavated in the Middle East ; For the time being they were mostly housed in Monbijou Castle.

Planning and construction

The plans by the architect Schinkel were also based on designs by the Crown Prince, who later became King Friedrich Wilhelm IV., Who wanted the Museum Island to have an antique, acropolis-like development. The Crown Prince sent Schinkel a pencil sketch that showed a main building receding behind the porticoes. In his planning, Schinkel embedded the Royal Museum in a building ensemble around the pleasure garden . The City Palace of Hohenzollern in the south should its icon of secular power, the armory in the West represent the military and the then Berliner Dom in the East embody the divine power. The museum in the north, which was supposed to serve the education of the people, thus also stood as a symbol for science and art - and last but not least their bearers: the self-confident bourgeoisie. Schinkel had already been responsible for the classicist redesign of the originally baroque cathedral. The redesign of the pleasure garden by Peter Joseph Lenné , which took place parallel to the construction of the Altes Museum , was largely based on Schinkel's ideas, who created such a cohesive ensemble.

The architect had previously studied the structures of large museums in London and Paris. He developed the plans for the museum with the location on the north side of the pleasure garden around 1822/1823. After that, complicated foundation work was necessary because a connecting canal ran between the Kupfergraben and the Spree. Around 3,000 pinewood piles were driven into the ground for the foundation. It was not until 1825 that construction work on the museum could begin, which lasted until 1828. On August 3, 1830 (according to another source on April 1, 1830) it was given its intended purpose. When it opened and until 1845, it was called the “Museum” or “Royal Museum”. Originally it housed the works of art in the picture gallery .

Destruction and rebuilding

During the National Socialist era , the Old Museum formed the backdrop for propaganda events, both in the museum itself and in the pleasure garden, which was redesigned as a parade area. In the Second World War in 1941 and 1943 allied air attacks by explosive bombs hit, it burned on May 8, 1945 by the explosion of a car parked at the house ammunition wagon from.

Under General Director Ludwig Justi , Hans Erich Bogatzky and Theodor Voissen restored the building as the first museum on Museum Island, largely true to the original. The small remains of the frescoes designed by Schinkel and executed by Peter Cornelius on the back wall of the portico and in the stairwell as well as the transition to the New Museum built by Stüler in 1844 were removed. The restoration of the colored painting of the rotunda took place in 1982 based on Schinkel's designs. A reconstruction of the ceiling system of the showrooms adjoining the inner courtyards on the ground floor as well as the pairs of columns under the beams was dispensed with.


Exterior view of the museum building, drawing by Schinkel
Porch with murals by Peter von Cornelius , 1939

With its clear structure of the external form, the Altes Museum follows the design canon of Greek antiquity and thus embodies the idea of ​​a museum as an educational institution for the bourgeoisie, which was rooted in the Enlightenment. The rotunda, following the example of the Pantheon in Rome , underlines the sacred dimension of the museum as a temple of art.

The two-story building standing on a plinth is 87 meters long and 55 meters wide. It consists of a flat-roofed, cubic structure, which is closed to the outside by a vestibule with 18 fluted Ionic columns in monumental order. The hall, bounded by two corner pilasters , opens onto the pleasure garden. Eighteen sandstone eagles sit above the pillars on the beams of the hall. The four pillars of the staircase hall and the eighteen pillars on the Lustgarten front are made of Cotta and Reinhardtsdorfer sandstone ( Saxony ) from the Cretaceous period , the base of Posta sandstone (Cretaceous period) and the steps of Lusatian granodiorite ( Precambrian ) from Demitz-Thumitz (Saxony). The dedicatory inscription on the front of the building reads:

(Friedrich Wilhelm III donated this museum in 1828 to study antiquities of all kinds and the liberal arts) 

Figure decorations

Schinkel's concept envisaged the erection of large equestrian statues on the cheeks of the outside staircase . The statue of Amazon on horseback by August Kiss , completed in 1842, was placed on the right side of the outside staircase. It shows with great expressiveness an Amazon trying to repel a panther attack with a lance. The statue of a lion fighter on the left cheek, which was only erected in 1861, comes from Albert Wolff based on a design by Christian Daniel Rauch . Depicted is a rider on a rearing horse who is about to pierce a lion lying on the ground with his lance. At the corners of the rotunda there are two groups of horse tamers by Friedrich Tieck (1828) at the front and two Pegasus groups by Hugo Hagen and Hermann Schievelbein (1861) at the back. The horse figures at the Altes Museum corresponded with the horse tamers at the city ​​palace .


Schinkel's main work as a painter was a cycle of frescoes for the museum's vestibule, which the artist included in the first plans for the museum in 1823. For this monumental cycle of paintings, murals were created from 1841 to around 1870 over the entire length of the vestibule and in the upper staircase, of which only the two designs by Schinkel's hand are preserved in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett . The frescoes were done by Peter von Cornelius . This cycle of pictures, almost forgotten today, was one of the most important works of painting of the 19th century in terms of demands and execution. The pictures were of great importance for the architecture and the museum, as Schinkel used the pictures to explain the function and the requirements of his museum in more detail.


Interior view of the stairwell, drawing by Schinkel
The rotunda in the Altes Museum , watercolor by Carl Emanuel Conrad , around 1834

The building's exhibition rooms are grouped around two inner courtyards, with the heart of the Altes Museum in the middle, the rotunda that extends over both floors and is covered with a skylight. It is 23 meters high and has a gallery ring supported by 20 Corinthian columns . The Pantheon in Rome served as a model, and like this one it has a dome decorated with coffered panels. Some of the museum's statues were placed between the columns. The 6.91 meter diameter granite bowl by Christian Gottlieb Cantian , which was erected in front of the outside staircase in 1831, was originally intended to find its place here, but in the end it was too big. From the rotunda one has a view of the praying boy in the exhibition area “Greek Art / Masterpieces - The Greek Classical Image of Man”. It comes from the possession of Frederick the Great. He had it set up in a garden pergola next to Sanssouci Palace , his summer residence in Potsdam , in such a way that he could see it from his library and study in the garden. As early as 1742, King Friedrich II had acquired one of the largest private collections of antiquities of the 18th century in Paris - the collection of Cardinal Melchior de Polignac  - and had it brought to Berlin. It eventually became the foundation of Berlin's museums.

Stair hall

Behind the vestibule is the two-armed staircase running parallel to the facade. Its special charm lies in being both indoor and outdoor space, as it is only closed to the outside by the pillars. On a drawing of the staircase, Schinkel made his ideas of the building's tasks clear with a few staffage figures: it should provide material for immediate viewing and instruction (father-son group, left), but possibly also for further thoughts and discussions (two men in the Dialogue, right).


During the restoration of the Old Museum, which was carried out until 1966, the rotunda was the only part of the interior to be reconstructed in its old form. The circular dome is surrounded by a gallery supported by twenty Corinthian columns . The rotunda was planned as the installation site for the granite bowl, but is now used to present larger sculptures. From the outside, the rotunda can be recognized by a recessed cubic attachment, at the corners of which four sculptures were placed on pedestals . The recourse to the Roman pantheon is a feature that was previously reserved for mansion buildings, as is the flight of stairs in front of the hall.

Here are some contemporary descriptions from Samuel Heinrich Spikers Berlin and its surroundings in the 19th century from 1833:

“[...] stepping out of the actual antiques hall, [we have] the rotunda in front of us. The view through the lower door leads to the vestibule with its splendid columned position, while through the entrance to the upper gallery, to which the beautiful double staircase leads from outside, the coffered ceiling of this vestibule can be seen.

The whole thing is an extremely splendid sight. The gallery, on which the smaller statues are placed in niches, is supported by columns of Corinthian order, the shafts of which are clad with stucco marble, which imitates the Giallo antico. The basic color of the hall is a light gray, and the pedestals on which the statues stand are made of striped gray Silesian marble. A delicate, light, bronzed, openwork iron grille runs around the upper gallery, the niches of which are colored in a light brown tone, on which the white of the marble stands out very well. The floor is incrusted with black decorations, on yellow, and in the middle a group in red clay (like those on the ancient Greek vessels) is attached on a black background. - The cassettes in the dome are decorated with figures, which are painted in a yellow clay on a light red background.

Among the most excellent statues that are set up in the rotunda are the two beautiful Victorien, bought under Frederick II from G. R. Bianconi in Rome , which formerly stood in the semicircle in front of the new palace in Potsdam ; a Hygica, found in the country house of Marius, and formerly set up in Charlottenburg in the vestibule of the royal palace ; a beautiful Apollo Citharoedus made of Greek marble, bought from Bianconi in Rome; an Apollo Musagetes from the Polignac collection and previously placed in the Temple of Antiquities, in the garden of Sanssouci near Potsdam; a colossal Juno, bought in Rome on the orders of His Majesty the now reigning King s. w. "


Special postage stamp for Schinkel's 225th birthday

The building was originally created for all of Berlin's high art collections . The collection of antiquities was housed here since 1904 and was relocated around 1942. Until the end of the Second World War , the rooms then served as furniture storage. After the building was rebuilt, the exhibits from the collection of antiquities were placed here again. Changing special exhibitions were held on the upper floor, from August 2005 to the reopening of the New Museum in October 2009 the Egyptian Museum showed its exhibits there. Since July 2010 the Etruscan and Roman collections have been presented on the upper floor, the main floor houses the Greek collection of antiquities. The Altes Museum is also home to the Coin Cabinet.

Exhibitions (excerpt)

  • Ancient worlds. Greeks, Etruscans and Romans (February 24, 2011 until further notice)
  • Strong guys. Ancient Greek portraits (June 19, 2019 to September 27, 2020)
  • Meat (June 1, 2018 to January 6, 2019)
  • Dangerous Perfection - Antique Grave Vases from Apulia (June 17, 2016 to January 21, 2018)
  • Battle for Troy. The Munich Aeginetes with the additions by Thorvaldsen (September 30, 2015 to May 16, 2016)

See also


  • The Amazon group of Kiss . In: Illustrirte Zeitung . No. 14 . J. J. Weber, Leipzig September 30, 1843, p. 217-218 ( books.google.de ).
  • Michael S. Cullen , Tilmann von Stockhausen: The old museum . Berlin-Edition, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8148-0002-8 .
  • Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer , Huberta Heres , Wolfgang Maßmann: Schinkel's Pantheon. The statues of the rotunda in the Altes Museum . Von Zabern, Mainz 2004, ISBN 3-8053-3255-6 .
  • Andreas Scholl , Gertrud Platz-Horster (ed.): Altes Museum. Pergamon Museum. Antikensammlung Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin . 3rd, completely revised and expanded edition. Von Zabern, Mainz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8053-2449-6 .
  • Jörg Trempler: The mural program by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Altes Museum Berlin . Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-7861-2333-0 .
  • Elsa van Wezel: The concepts of the Old and New Museum in Berlin and the changing historical awareness . Gebr. Mann, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-7861-2443-4 ( = Yearbook of the Berlin Museums NF Vol. 43, 2001, booklet).
  • Kaija Voss: The Old Museum . In: The Museum Island - Past and Present . berlin edition at be.bra verlag, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-8148-0186-5 .
  • Bénédicte Savoy, Philippa Sissis (ed.): The Berlin Museum Island: Impressions of international visitors (1830–1990). An anthology. Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2012, ISBN 978-3-412-20991-9 .

Web links

Commons : Altes Museum (Berlin)  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. https://www.smb.museum/museen-und-einrichtungen/altes-museum/ueber-uns/profil.html
  2. Berlin State Museums counted more than 4 million visitors in 2019. January 31, 2020, accessed July 19, 2020 .
  3. ^ A b Institute for Monument Preservation (Ed.): The architectural and art monuments of the GDR. Capital Berlin-I . Henschelverlag, Berlin 1984, p. 110 ff .
  4. a b c d G. Flügge: Berlin ABC. Old Museum ; in a series in the Berliner Zeitung from 1966/1967 about the Berlin museums
  5. ↑ On this and on the restoration (below) see Götz Eckardt (Hrsg.): Fates of German Architectural Monuments in the Second World War. A documentation of the damage and total losses in the area of ​​the German Democratic Republic . Volume 1: Berlin - capital of the GDR, districts Rostock, Schwerin, Neubrandenburg, Potsdam, Frankfurt / Oder, Cottbus, Magdeburg . Henschel, Berlin 1980, p. 44.