Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gemäldegalerie Berlin (permanent exhibition)

Gemäldegalerie. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kulturforum, Berlin-Tiergarten. Visited on 18 February 2012.

The sections I visited were: Italian 12th - 16th centuries, miniatures 16th - 18th centuries, Italian 17th-18th centuries, German, French, and Spanish 17th century, French, English, and German 18th century, Flemish 17th century, Dutch 17th century, Dutch and French 14th - 16th centuries.

The visit to the Gemäldegalerie is another step in my relearning to see art during the digital transition. The Berlin Gemäldegalerie has one of the world's finest collections of European art history. There may be more prominent masterpieces elsewhere, but the Berlin distinction is that since 1830 it was developed with a Humboldtian pedagogic agenda to offer a systematic introduction to the main currents of West European painting.

The part of this collection that belonged to the Dahlem Museum during the Berlin Wall is the art historical collection I know best of all since I lived at a subway station's distance from it during my student years in Dahlem. Inseparable from it in my memory is Dahlem's stunning ethnographic collection of ancient art (totems etc.) that gave a profound perspective to the visits. The timeless holy works in the spirit of Easter Island statues created a strange power field to the museum complex...

The Gemäldegalerie survey starts with Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Giotto. Soon the modern look of the human face emerges in the Italian Renaissance, developing into Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, and Neo-Classicism (titles important for historians, not for artists).

Some of the most impressive sections (besides German art) include Dutch masters, and English rococo. The Rembrandt section (16 works by him and more by the Rembrandt school, including The Man with the Golden Helmet) was my favourite then and still is. I love the mix of gravity and humour, and the powerful dynamics of light and darkness.

Other favourites: Brueghel's Dutch Proverbs, the two Vermeers and the equally impressive Mother by his contemporary Pieter de Hooch, and Tintoretto's Maria with the Child Adored by the Evangelists Mark and Luke.

Digitally relevant: sharpness and brightness are prominent in Medieval art, but Renaissance painting avoids them.

The Gemäldegalerie Tiergarten lighting is based on "available light", a general room light without any spotlights on the paintings. The result is that it is sometimes difficult to make sense of the paintings. Paintings that we know as reproductions are more difficult to study as originals in a modest lighting like this. The darker the image (as in Rembrandt's Moses with the Tablets of the Law) the more difficult it is to examine here. I don't remember how they were displayed at the Gemäldegalerie Dahlem, but now it is necessary to study both a reproduction and the original.

The Gemäldegalerie homepage

After writing this I open the web address given by the Gemäldegalerie brochure to the Art Project (Powered by Google). 17 museums seem to be included, and there are artwork reproductions in high resolution legally online. The new art experience: see the original in a dim room light, and study the digital reproduction in bright and extreme close up online?

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