Thursday, 12 September 2013

Bode Museum

The gigantic equestrian statue of Great Elector Friedrich in the splendid entrance hall of the Bode Museum
The Bode Museum is probably the least visited of the five museums clustered on the Museuminsel in Berlin Mitte; I have been there when the staff outnumbered the visitors, yet there was a queue around the block for the Pergamonmuseum. Which is a shame, because not only is its extensive sculpture collection worth a couple of hours of anyone's time, but also its architecture (internal and external) is the best on the island. Sorry David Chipperfield: I love what you have done to the Neues, but the Bode's neo-Baroque style is (I think) more authentic to its setting. That said, the Bode Museum is a maze to get around and you might need a GPS to get back out again.

The main body of the Bode Museum collection is its large number of statues and sculptures, but you might want to start with its Byzantine collection on the left-hand side of the ground floor. After all, they seem to have transported the whole of a richly mosaicked apse from the basilica of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna and painstakingly reconstructed it here, so it would be a shame to miss it.

There are lots of other fascinating examples of Byzantine art here, particularly Arabic-influenced stone-carving.

There is also wonderfully carved ivory too. In fact, there are so many examples of the ivory-carvers craft in the Bode that it is a shame that to have ivory you also need a dead elephant.

Tsk. Someone has hung an ivory horn on a crucified man. No respect.
My favourite piece in the Byzantine collection is actually an early one-armed bandit. Pub gamblers would put small balls through the holes in the sides of this artefact where they would clatter randomly down the ramps and through other holes. The winner was the first ball to appear in a slot in the back. This slab of marble is richly decorated with a chariot race, so it is a bit like a themed pin-ball game, except there are no flippers and you'd fracture your hip if you tried to nudge it.

Once you have cleansed your palate with the Byzantines, it is time to prepare yourself for the main course, which is a sumptuous feast of statues and sculptures spanning Europe and the centuries up until the 19th. A word of warning though; if you are at all anti-religious then you might get indigestion from a surfeit of people nailed to crosses and voluptuous Madonnas nursing chubby babies.

Here are just a few so that you get an idea of the range of styles and materials (though mostly wood):

Popes also get a look-in, in this case Pope Alexander IV

One thing that began to puzzle me: why are there so many blonde-haired, fair-skinned Mary Mother of Gods here? Then I looked at the characteristics of the German women around me visiting the museum. Ah, that's why!

Mathew, Mark, Luke and Ringo
Not that even religious iconography can't bring a smile to your face, even if your face is in your hands:

There are quite a few beheadings in this collection, my favorite being this deliciously gruesome rendition of Salome and John the Baptist (just look at the expression on her face, and what the dog on the left is doing). I like that the curator has placed a statue of John the Baptist's head on a platter in close proximity.

If you tire of the Christian statuary though, there are plenty of Classically-themed subjects:

Also pagan themes, like this marvelous Goddess Diana (and I love the Green Man face at the bottom):

Statue of the Goddess Diana as a huntress, made out of marble by Bernardino Cametti in Rome around 1720
Pedestal by Pascal Latour around 1754 
Alternatively, you can take time out to admire the architecture, such as this splendid staircase and cupola at the rear of the museum building.

Some of the sculptures are genuinely moving, such as this screaming woman.

Whilst others are surprising, like this anatomical 'muscle man':

The Bode Museum is educational too, explaining for instance the methods by which a bronze statue is made from a wax original.

There is a large coin collection on the second floor, but only numismatic fanatics are likely to get too excited there. A better section to visit is hidden in the basement, an exhibition of religious treasures. It was only on my third visit that I found this exhibition: it seems to deliberately be concealed downstairs behind closed doors. Make sure you don't miss it!

Hands up if you managed to find the 'Treasures of Faith' exhibition!
In conclusion, the Bode might be the least-visited of the cultural treasures on Museum Island (Treasure Island?), but this could be for your advantage, because you can spend more time examining its collections without hoards of semi-interested tourists jostling for a gawp. Your visit might also give the museum staff an existential feeling that they actually need to be there.

One last look at some of the religious art-work plundered purchased from churches across Germany

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad that you decided to blog about the Bode Museum. I agree that it is one of the least visited museums of the island, but one that is most definitely worth a good amount of time. Of all the museums that I have ever visited, this museum is one of my favorite places. Architecturally beautiful. Fantastic pieces of art. Nice place to eat (albeit quite expensive). I'm glad you got some good shots of the artwork! I only wish I had a camera with me when I visited. I ended up spending two days exploring that museum. I really wish people were more eager to see the art there, but then again the lack of crowds was another reason why I loved the museum. The Pergamon and the Neues Gallery are great too, but much more crowded. The crowds around the Nerfertiti Bust were suffocating, and I ended up glancing at the piece quickly before I rushed back out of the room.

    Plus I saw the Treasures of Faith exhibit too! It was amazing. I actually found your blog because I was looking up some information about the exhibit. Many of the Hildesheim pieces are actually at the Metropolitan Museum right now and when I saw the exhibit there, my mind jumped right back to Germany.

    Glad to know someone out there appreciates the Bode Museum as much as me.


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