Gemäldegalerie — Part 2

Having only got through a third of the Gamäldegalerie two Sundays ago, and having completely fallen in love with the Renaissance religious art, I couldn’t imagine going to any other museum or gallery this weekend. I also knew I wasn’t going to try and see all the remaining two-thirds, and that I was going to plonk down €100 and get a Jahreskarte. There’s three different Jahreskarten, from €25 for the Basic to the Classic Plus, which is what I got, which gives me access to all the permanent and temporary exhibitions with bonus “jump to the head of the queue” special powers (if you saw the photo of me on the card, you’d want to get me away quick as possible also) — very necessary for Museuminsel on the weekend.

I decided to walk through the first third again, to remind myself what I’d seen and where I was up to, and yes, my heart did indeed leap with joy on entering the first room. It’s fucking phenomenal; there’s no superlatives that can convey the quality and breadth of the works on display, nor the endlessness of it, more rooms, bigger and smaller, yet more again, and more further still. So, starting where I got up to last time, with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s Das Martyrium der hl. Agathe from 1755.

If the first third was transcendent, the second was … well, even better. I was over half-way through before I realised I was going back in time, from the late-18th century, working my way room by room back to the 13th, each side of the double horseshoe mirroring the other, rather than a linear progression, which pleased me no end, to finish with a sublime number of rooms of heavily gilded altarpieces. The coda to all that was a room of Botticelli. There’s no point wasting insufficient words on it.

Unlike last time, I remembered to turn off the filter on my camera, so it actually worked, though the glare from the atrium ceiling in the larger rooms smeared everything. Most of the paintings have a highly glossy finish, or are protected with glass, and many of them suffer from glare, particularly the darker ones, where any detail is lost from the unsympathetic light gushing down. What sucks for camera is just sad and disappointing for viewing. As for the glass, a couple looked like visitors had been rubbing their greasy heads against it. Some of the works are so massive, 4 or 5 metres high, you really need a ladder to appreciate them, or just grasp their vastness.

So, whereas the first third (which I previously saw) was German, Netherlands, and Flemish art from 13th to 17th centuries, followed by the several rooms of 17th century Netherlands art, the entire left side (ok, it’s not really a horseshoe, more of a ‘Q’ with a hole where the tail should be) is Italian art from 13th to 18th centuries across 23 exhibition spaces. There were many, many Mary with Childs, Hieronymouses, various martyrdoms, Jesuses (alive, dead, reborn), important and not so important apostles and holy people, so many more Marys it’s like that’s the only chance they got to see and be near a woman. Yes, they are beautiful, and seeing them all together helps me understand the monumental shift in art and culture over a few hundred years, but I was often far more attracted to the unknown portraits of men and women, real people with distinct faces, bodies, postures, the gazes of some of them, like Diego Veláquez’ Bildnis einer Dame, Charles Mellin’ Bildnis eines Mannes, Giovanni Battista Moroni’s Don Gabriel de la Cueva, Herzog von Alburquerque spanischer Gouverneur von Mailand, or Georges de la Tour’s Erbsen essendes Bauernpaar which is so magnificent I would steal it in an instant — actually I’d steal pretty much all of the ones I photographed if I had somewhere big enough to put them — the beauty and profundity of them makes me ache; let there never be an end to such art.

I am now two-thirds of the way through, more really, four-fifths, with ‘only’ the temporary exhibitions to go. I got a bit carried away with photos; I couldn’t decide which to show, so I end up with about half of them here. They do the paintings no justice. The depth of the light, the pigments, the brushwork, the frames also, the shift and change when moving closer or further away, the actual colours, hues, tones, shadows, the direction of the light especially, all this is only partially and incompletely, inadequately captured and seen in a photograph. The Gemäldegalerie, yes, worth going three times in a month. It’s going to be very difficult to see a museum better than this (yes, I have no critical perspective when it comes to museums, I love them all, but still …)

Oh yes, the audio guide! Brilliant! It’s why it takes so long to get through all the rooms. I only wish there was more. And the shop is rather good also, though it didn’t have many posters and I was hoping for at least a half dozen of various works to take home.