Antikensammlung (Kassel)

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Wilhelmshöhe Castle

The Antikensammlung in Kassel is a collection of antique art objects and coins, the beginnings of which go back to the 17th century. It currently (2016) comprises around 4800 objects and is located in Wilhelmshöhe Castle after several changes of location . Since 1948, the State Art Collections in Kassel and thus also the Collection of Antiquities have been owned by the state of Hesse . The holdings of the collection are fully recorded in the “MuseumPlus” database ; the data will gradually be made publicly available.



Landgrave Moritz von Hessen-Kassel , who was nicknamed "the scholar", already owned an antiques room. The oldest known evidence of his purchases dates back to 1603. At that time, seven Roman lamps were purchased in France for the antiques chamber.

Looted art from Greece

The first antique marble sculptures came to Kassel in 1688 , after Landgrave Karl von Hessen-Kassel had made Hessian troops available to the Republic of Venice for two years the previous year. This should work together with other European contingents, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire towards the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese fight. On their return, the soldiers brought their sovereign not only ancient coins and bronze statuettes , but also several marble reliefs and steles for his collection, including a representation of Artemis Elaphebolos , the deer-killing Artemis .

These stones were initially housed in the antiques chamber of the Marstall and placed in the Sculptura chamber of the Ottoneum , the Kassler Kunsthaus, in 1696 . Only guesses can be made about the sites and the origin of the individual collection items from this phase. In the following decades, the collection was apparently not fundamentally expanded: Landgrave Karl undertook a trip to Italy in 1699/1700, which was meticulously prepared, but apparently did not buy any further marble sculptures for his collection on this occasion. Parts of the collection were not scientifically processed and published until the middle of the 18th century. At that time, Johann Matthias Gesner looked at the Greek imperial inscriptions in the collection.

Purchases in the 18th century

In 1750, the collection was expanded: The next Landgrave, Wilhelm VIII of Hessen-Kassel , and his son Friedrich had no fewer than 101 objects auctioned in The Hague in August of that year . They came from the collection of Count Johan Hendrik van Wassenaer Obdam, who had died in 1745. Johann Arckenholtz was commissioned to bid for the later Kassel exhibits . The items that he acquired included 16 marble sculptures, the majority of which, however, did not come from antiquity. As with the parts of the Kassler Antikensammlung brought by the troops from Greece, there is no reliable information about the provenance of the art objects bought by Arckenholtz.

In 1751 a complete collection of antiques was added, which the Auxiliary Bishop Franz Joseph von Hahn, who died in 1748, had compiled. It mainly consisted of small bronzes and marble portrait heads, which have since disappeared.

In 1776/77 Landgrave Friedrich II undertook a trip to Italy, which took him to Rome and Naples , among other places , and from which he brought numerous items for the collection to Kassel. Before starting the trip, he had sought support from Johann Joachim Winckelmann in vain . Instead he was advised by Johann Friedrich Reiffenstein . Later the clergyman Giordani in Rome added to the collection with further purchases, which he had sent to Kassel. Further shipments from Italy to Kassel can be traced back to 1782. The first pieces purchased by Friedrich II arrived at the Ottoneum on August 18, 1777.

At this point in time, the individual parts of the collection were still housed in different locations: the landgrave's library was still in the stables, works of art as well as scientific objects in the art house, bronze casts of ancient sculptures were in the open, and the collection of plaster casts was also in an unsuitable location. Frederick II therefore had a building erected on the newly laid out Friedrichsplatz from 1769, which - initially only planned as a library - was opened in 1779 as an encyclopedically designed museum . This Fridericianum Museum was open to everyone four mornings a week. The architect Simon Louis du Ry was commissioned with the conception .

Presentation in the Museum Fridericianum

Draft drawing du Rys for the Fridericianum

The antique collection took up several rooms on the ground floor. Behind the vestibule there was a gallery of ancient sculptures on the right-hand side, followed by a corner room in which ancient cabaret from the time of the Egyptians was presented, supplemented by cork models of ancient buildings. On the other side of the vestibule was the gallery of modern sculptures. Bronze casts, plaster casts and marble copies of ancient works were exhibited there, as well as antique figures and the marble busts of the Landgrave's ancestors. According to du Ry, the Gallery of Antiquities, which was 82 feet long and 38 feet wide and divided by two rows of Doric columns, included eight larger than life marble figures, of which he particularly emphasized a Minerva, an image of Didius Julian and a Paris. Furthermore, in his description of the initial establishment of the museum, he mentioned ten less than life-size antique marble figures in this room as well as the front of a marble sarcophagus , which was decorated with a bacchanal . Du Ry particularly highlighted the mention of this sarcophagus in Montfaucon's work on ancient art.

The separation between real antique and antique pieces in the new museum was innovative. Frederick II endeavored to work on his exhibits scientifically. After he returned from Italy on April 11, 1777, he founded the Société des Antiquités. A lecture was given every fortnight and there were also scientific prizes to promote knowledge of ancient art. Christian Gottlob Heyne won the prize in the first call in 1778 with a praise to Winckelmann, which contained specific information on the study of archeology .

On the occasion of the founding of this society, a medal was struck, on the back of which the not yet fully completed Museum Fridericianum can be seen. A boy, led by Minerva, is on his way to antiquity, the purpose of which is defined by the inscription "DOCENT ET OBLECTANT" (= you teach and please). The society existed until 1808; However, in the lectures there was seldom a view of art in the spirit of Winckelmann, as Friedrich II had wished: Most of the time, mythological and literary subjects were kept. An exception were Dietrich Tiedemann's dissertations from 1779 and 1780, in which he dealt with 17 ancient statues in the collection. It was not until the 19th century that Ludwig Völkel published another publication on the holdings of the collection.

In autumn 1777 the painting and sculpture academy was founded in Kassel. Du Ry gave a ceremonial speech and warned the artists present to train themselves on the antique pieces that the sovereign had collected.

Confiscation and transfer to Paris

The Kassel statues in the Musée Napoléon

In October 1806, Hesse was occupied by French troops, Landgrave Wilhelm IX / Elector Wilhelm I was deposed and fled and Kassel was declared the residence of the Kingdom of Westphalia , in which Jérôme Bonaparte ruled. As a result, numerous French military officials visited the Fridericianum Museum. On behalf of Napoleon, a delegation under Dominique-Vivant Denon examined the museum's holdings in January 1807 to determine what should be transported to the Musée Napoléon in Paris . Among other things, he had the imperial order to send all statues in the Kassel Antikengalerie to Paris. Ludwig Völkel was part of the commission that, in the spring of 1814, when Paris had been captured by the Allies and Napoleon abdicated, was supposed to go there in search of the art treasures that had been transported from Kassel. This mission was largely successful. Replacements were received for seven lost marble objects, and the fact that the restoration of several pieces had become necessary due to transport damage, according to Völkel’s testimony, did not affect their appearance. On the contrary: He praised the now more glossy and more even surface of the statues. As a result, numerous copper engravings were published that had been made from drawings in the hijacked collection. They had titles such as Galerie du Musée Napoléon and, according to Völkel, were sometimes accompanied by texts that contained new information about the works of art. In Paris, non-illustrated guides to the Napoleonic collections had also been printed to enable visitors to the exhibition rooms to orientate themselves and obtain information. There were also printed works with partly full-page images; 15 sculptures from the Kassel holdings were documented in this way.


In October 1815, the collection began to be transported back to Kassel, where it arrived again on November 1 and was probably placed in the same arrangement as it was in the Fridericianum Museum. Inspired by the Paris publications, Völkel began to write a German description for the sculptures in the collection. This attempt got stuck in the beginning: in 1818 Völkel was able to place the first eight descriptions in the Göttinger Zeitschrift , but shortly afterwards the editor Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker switched to the University of Bonn and the journal ceased to appear.

From 1785 until well into the 19th century, the collection of antique sculptures in Kassel was hardly expanded due to the lack of interest from the ruling electors. Only three replacement objects were received from Paris in 1815, where a number of works of art were lost.

Prussian Provincial Museum

In 1866 Hessen-Kassel became Prussian. The Museum Fridericianum was renamed the “Royal Museum”, an expansion of the collections was ruled out due to this conversion into a Prussian provincial museum or a teaching collection. The sculptures remained in the restored condition, as the level of knowledge of the 18th century had enabled, and were no longer processed. Eduard Pinder , the first archaeological curator after Völkel, was at least able to expand the historical collection of casts. Only after Johannes Böhlau returned from the Samos excavation and took care of a new concept for the museum did the antique collection again receive the attention it deserved. The marble statues were cleaned, and a selection of sculptures was molded by experts from the plaster molding shop of the Berlin museums. In 1906 it was finally decided to leave the Museum Fridericianum to the library alone, and the museum holdings were to be transferred to a new museum. The sculptor Christoph Nüßlein took on the restoration of the ancient marble sculptures in 1912 and 1913, the archaeologist Margarete Bieber was now supposed to look after the collection and write a catalog.

On the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of Kassel, the Royal Museum Fridericianum, later the Hessian State Museum , was opened. A hall in the style of a basilica was now available for the large statues. Casts and other replicas were now kept completely separate from the antique pieces. Photo documentation was probably made in 1913/14 on which Bieber was able to base her catalog. For decades, Bieber's publication was regarded as the model for a successful inventory catalog.

Association with the Hessian House Foundation, move to the Landgrave Museum and the consequences of the Third Reich

From 1934, the state museum was to focus even more on the history of the state of Hesse. What was not of Hessian origin was transferred to the Landgrave Museum. From 1935 on, the Greek statues stood there under the barrel vault of the stucco hall and in the neighboring classicist galleries, which were probably designed by Leo von Klenze . Ideal Roman sculpture and other works of art were to be housed on the ground floor of the northeast wing, which was restored in 1937/38. Hardly installed there, however, they were removed again in 1939 and placed in salvage cellars for the war time.

At that time, the collection no longer consisted of the holdings nationalized in 1866. In addition, from the 1920s onwards, Landgraf Philipp had made purchases for the Hessian House Foundation . They included vases, terracottas and cabaret as well as numerous marble portraits. Together with Hans Möbius, the Landgrave had tried to design a collection that could give a more comprehensive picture of ancient art and culture than the old collection, which focused on works in stone. An overall scientific study or even a publication of the extended collection was no longer possible before the war.

In September 1941, the Fridericianum Museum was destroyed by bombs. The stored sculptures were transferred from downtown Kassel to the cellar of Wilhelmshöhe Palace. In January 1945 this building was also hit by bombs and all floors of the central building collapsed, causing the collection to suffer considerable damage.

post war period

In the post-war years, the sculptures were salvaged from the ruins and temporarily cleaned. In 1948, some parts of the antique collection were again presented on the ground floor of the State Museum. After Landgrave Philipp decided to exhibit the pieces from the Hessian House Foundation in Schloss Fasanerie , the collection of antiques was again significantly reduced from 1951 onwards. It was expanded again from 1957 through new acquisitions. In particular, the curator Ernst Berger ensured an expansion of the collection in 1960/61. During this time, some of the sculptures in the collection were moved to two rooms on the upper floor of the State Museum in order to test the effects of the works of art in artificial light. The results were negative, it was found that the moving daylight had significantly better effects. Berger and his successors therefore asked for the sculptures to be housed in rooms with daylight, but the collection remained in its temporary exhibition location until 1973. Under Reinhard Lullies , statues could at least be chemically cleaned in the 1960s and three statues that had been lying since 1939 were erected again. With a very modest budget, Lullies was only able to increase the holdings in Kassel thanks to loans from the Ludwig Collection. In view of the fact that it was decided in 1962 to house the collection of antiquities together with the Old Masters Picture Gallery in Wilhelmshöhe Palace, which was to be rebuilt, Lullies also promoted the scientific processing of the existing holdings.

Wilhelmshöhe Castle

Apollo from Kassel in a 19th century depiction

In 1973 a comprehensive restoration of the sculptures was declared necessary. At the same time, the conception of the exhibition had to be carried out in Wilhelmshöhe Palace, where a provisional restoration workshop was finally set up. A freelance restoration team worked there on the first statues that were to be presented in the permanent exhibition, including the Apollon in Kassel . The exhibition in Wilhelmshöhe Castle was opened on April 3, 1974. Further restoration and documentary work lasted until 1994 due to lack of money. From 1985 on, this work also included working with remaining paint on the sculptures.

After the collection and the loans had been given appropriate accommodation in Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, other collectors and lenders were also open to expansion and the collection of antiquities could be significantly expanded in this way. The works of art that were incorporated into the collection after the move to the palace include the Aristodika relief , which was initially exhibited on loan in Kassel and has now been donated to the Collection of Antiquities. The Glykera grave stele is on loan from the Ludwig Foundation .

In the years 1998 to 2001 a building renovation was carried out at Wilhelmshöhe Castle. A workshop should also be set up that would meet professional standards. The Antikensammlung was therefore relocated there as part of the exhibition The Antikensammlung as a guest in the documenta hall . The ancient works of art were combined with contemporary art in this exhibition.

After the work on Wilhelmshöhe Castle was completed, the collection of antiquities returned there. The inventory catalog of the stone sculptures appeared in print in 2007 and is now also available online.



The catalog lists 39 exhibits under the heading Greek ideal sculpture; 23 pieces from the collection of antiquities can be added to the Roman ideal sculpture. The already mentioned Kassel Apollo is one of the best-known examples of ideal sculpture in the Kassel antique collection.

The collection of antiquities in Kassel also includes six Greek and 24 Roman portrait heads, as well as five Greek and six Roman reliefs with religious motifs or depictions of gods.

Sepulchral art is represented with four Greek grave reliefs or figures and fourteen exhibits, which are summarized under the heading Roman Sepulchral Sculpture. This section of the catalog contains the Herodios relief , which probably dates from the fourth or third century BC, as well as the Aiberga tombstone from the Merovingian period . The catalog also lists the categories Varia, Kypriaka and Ägyptiaka as well as the Modern Replicas section.

Coin collection with a focus on "Hercules Farnese"

Farnese Hercules

In addition to the sculptures, the collection of antiques now also has a not insignificant number of ancient coins . One focus of this coin collection is made up of coins depicting the Farnese Hercules . Landgrave Karl admired this on his trip to Italy and then had it reproduced at home. The over eight meter high copy is known as the Kassel Hercules . It has stood on the summit of the Karlsberg west of Kassel since 1717 and symbolizes the claim to power of the former sovereign. Hercules, who won the apples of the Hesperides , hides them behind his back in his right hand. He leans on his club, which is padded with the skin of the Nemean lion . This statue - the archetype of which was probably created by Lysippus - was reproduced over 200 times as early as Roman times . With the support of the numismatist Bernd Hamborg , a collection of coins was created in Kassel from the 1980s onwards, bearing images of Hercules Farnese. This was done not only for local historical reasons, but also to address the question of the relationship between the statuary model and the various coin images.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Michael Eissenhauer and Rüdiger Splitter, introduction. The antique collection of the museum landscape Hessen Kassel , on
  2. Simon Louis du Ry gave the lecture Essai d'une description du Musée Fredericien 1784 in the Société des Antiquités for a planned museum guide, cf. H.-K. Boehlke, Das Museum Fridericianum , in: Journal of the Association for Hessian History and Regional Studies 74, 1963, p. 91 ff., Quoted in Gercke 2007, p. 13, note 25
  3. Peter Gercke and Nina Zimmermann-Elseify , Ancient Stone Sculptures and Modern Replicas in Kassel. Inventory catalog , Mainz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8053-3781-6
  4. Antique stone sculptures on

Coordinates: 51 ° 18 ′ 54 "  N , 9 ° 24 ′ 58"  E