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December 2000

State of the Art the Art

The treasures of the Bavarian National Museum

Situated on Munich’s “Museum Street,” the Bavarian National Museum is a treasure trove of Bavarian art and culture. Founded at the behest of Maximilian II in 1867 as an “institution in which the most interesting artifacts of our kingdom and other remains of bygone eras shall be preserved,” the museum was to house part of the royal Wittelsbach collection. As early as 1900, the collection outgrew its space and was moved to a bigger venue, on the Prinzregentenstrasse, where it remains today. The Bavarian National Museum maintains several additional venues throughout Bavaria, such as the famous collection of Meissen porcelain in Schleissheim’s Lustheim palace as well as the Thurn und Taxis Museum in Regensburg.
The building in which the museum is housed is a splendid example of Bavarian historicism. Here, exhibition rooms have been designed and decorated to match the period in which the objects they contain were made. A collection of Gothic statues, for example, is displayed in a huge hall reminiscent of a Gothic chapel. Instead of putting the priceless objects in sterile glass cases, here they are presented in the open, and complemented, of course, by the architecture.
The ground floor accommodates objects dating from the early Middle Ages to the dawn of the Enlightenment. It is interesting to see the shift from predominantly religious art, in the Romanesque and Gothic periods, to an increasing number of secular pieces in the Renaissance and later periods. Special highlights include limewood sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider, one of Germany’s most celebrated Gothic sculptors, the period rooms such as the 16th-century guild hall, medieval armor, and the newly opened gallery of stain-glass windows where 14th-century glass art is cleverly lit from behind, revealing its jewel-like splendor.
The top floors house the recently reopened galleries of early 19th-century art, which includes furniture and decorative art from the possessions of the Bavarian kings, including majolica pottery, bronze sculptures, unusual costumes and scientific instruments. Other rooms contain games, such as elaborate chess sets, historical musical instruments, chinaware — as well as porcelain produced at the royal manufactory in Nymphenburg. The museum shop and a world-renowned collection of nativity scenes are located in the basement of the museum. The nativity scenes come from southern Germany, Austria and Italy and date from the early 18th and 19th centuries. Some are so elaborate that you must look closely to find the actual nativity scene amid the myriad figures. The exquisitely sculpted and often sumptuously dressed figures not only give a vivid impression of strong faith, but also of the period in which they were made. Local costumes and customs are painstakingly presented, making these nativity scenes a main attraction of the museum — not only during the Christmas season. In the bustling Italian market scenes one can almost smell the food and hear the shouts of vendors and passers-by. Visitors who come to the museum in the morning will be disappointed to find this part of the exhibition closed, as it does not open until 14:00.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, a special exhibition devoted to the Christmas and New Year’s traditions of southern Germany and Austria from 1840 to 1940 will be held until February 4, 2001. Advent calendars, miniature models of Christmas markets, St. Nicholas, Christmas tree decorations and New Year’s games and fireworks show the development of Christmas and New Year’s traditions north of the Alps over the years. Wood carvings from the Erzgebirge (Iron Ore Mountains), which are still popular today, and a room decorated as it might have been at Christmas around the turn of the century are among the highlights of this fascinating exhibition. <<<

The museum is open daily except Mondays, from 9:30 to 17:00. Admission for adults is DM 6 for the permanent collection and DM 10 for the special exhibition; admission to the permanent collection is free on Sundays. Free tours in German are offered every Sunday at 11:00. In December these tours focus on the nativity scene collection and the Christmas exhibition. Up-to-date information on special exhibitions and guided tours can be obtained at the museum’s Web site:

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