tel +49 (0)221 9331930
fax +49 (0)221 93319333
About the History of the Diözesanmuseum in Cologne
Only two years after its foundation in 1853 by the Christlicher Kunstverein für das Erzbisthum Köln (Christian Art Association for the Archbishopric of Cologne) the Diözesanmuseum opened its gates. This makes it – beside the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum –the second oldest public collection in the city of Cologne. Unlike the »Kunst-und Wunderkammern« (the art and miracle chambers) of private collectors – be they ducal or common – the fledgling club had no access to a continuously grown collection which by virtue of its size or importance should have been made accessible to the people to serve for their spiritual and aesthetic education. Indeed the founding of the museum is the direct result of the association's goals.
»The association's main goal is to explore, conserve, and, if necessary, restore appropriately the present Christian, specifically ecclesiastical works of art: furthermore, new buildings and acquisitions are to be – in their planning and execution – in keeping with the spirit of the church. – Additionally, the association will promote whenever possible studies in art history and the enlightenment in all areas concerning ecclesiastical art; finally to make provisions for the dissemination of the appropriate taste and proper knowledge through collections, talks, and publications. Last but not least it will direct special attention to the elevation of ecclesiastical poetry and music.« (Neuss 1954).
This shows the all-encompassing nature of the association's goals at its inception which was mainly due to the activities of the Archbishop of Cologne, Johann Baudri (1804-1893) and his brother the painter Friedrich Baudri (1808-1874) in 1853. Especially Friedrich Baudri was an exponent of the doctrinaire Neo-Gothic-style. He had studied extensively the issues concerning Christian Art which were increasingly under discussion following the laying of the corner stone for the completion of the Cathedral of Cologne in 1842. Already in the second half of the eighteenth century the spirit of Romanticism had given rise to a Renaissance of the Gothic style for which effusive words like »majesty«, »fantasy«, and »infinity« were in use. Although initially Nationalism directed against France, it later became anti-Prussian parochialism and more than that a yearning for the »better days« of Pre-Reformation times, which marked the interpretation of the Gothic style during the era of completion of the Cathedral. Baudri had been publishing the bi-weekly Organ für christliche Kunst (Voice of Christian Art) which later turned into the association's newsletter since 1851. He used it as a platform for the vigorous renewal of Christian life and Christian Art in the image of the old primarily Gothic ideal. During the founding phase of the museum he was supported in this by the Cologne jurist August Reichensperger (1808-1895) who had been involved in the completion of the Cathedral and the associated Zentraldombauverein (Central Association for the Building of the Cathedral). Reichensperger was the publisher of its newsletter and had made a name for himself through numerous bellicose speeches and publications, propagating the Neo-Gothic style. The ideal was a Christian State based on class order as in the Middle Ages where there was to be no distinction between craft and art. Only the Gothic style born uniquely of Christianity was accepted as adequate manifestation for the achievement and execution of this goal. This tie with the Gothic ideal remained firmly anchored in the statutes of the Christlicher Kunstverein (Christian Art Association) well into the 1920s.
The creation of a museum which had been agreed-upon by the association in the year of its inception was to be an instrument for the realization of this ideal. When it opened in 1855 in rented rooms its holdings had already grown significantly. Many of the exhibited textiles, for example, are likely to have come from Franz Bock (1823-1899), the Krefeld Chaplan and later the Aachen Canon and board member who was particularly interested in the renewed practice of textile arts. While traveling extensively as conservator of the museum he had collected numerous medieval patterns of textiles by clipping small samples from large fabrics which incidentally earned him the nickname »Scheren-Bock» (The Scissors Man). Apart from textiles and liturgical objects the museum owned mostly sculptures many of them fragmented. Due to its local tradition a concentration on art from Cologne and the Lower-Rhine of the late Middle Ages became evident very quickly in a somewhat heterogeneous collection.
The core of the collection was however made up of loans from parishes and private owners, such as the reliquary shrines from Deutz and Siegburg or the Cathedral's Rubens tapestries, of which Stefan Lochner's »Veilchenmadonna« (»Madonna with the Violet«) – one of the major works of the Cologne school – was the most distinguished. This painting, recently discovered in a seminary under many layers of overpaint by the Cologne artdealer Antoine Brasseur, restored and with a new frame was shown in the Association's first exhibition in 1854. An essay dedicated to it in the Organ für christliche Kunst in 1853 celebrates it as a document of medieval piety and subject of Cologne parochial pride. In its simplicity, beauty, and truth it was hailed as a »gorgeous gem of art« which, dating from the heyday of Cologne art, had escaped commercial abuse brought on by the »egocentric whims of English spleens« and the aberrations of French art dictatorship because of its overpaintings.
The young museum re-opened in 1860 after a two year hiatus in its own now permanent location. The association was able to acquire the former »Offizialat«-building with the Thomas Chapel to the south of the Cathedral. This, having been used in the meantime as a sugar factory, was now transformed into a museum and assembly rooms for the association by board member Vinzenz Statz. The responsibilities were formulated in statutes which remained valid until 1927.
The museum is an »art institute with the following purpose:
a) works of art, models, and replicas of good works of art, designs, as well as books of art-related content are to be acquired and made accessible to study by artists and craftsmen;
b) the works of art entrusted to the institution are to be protected from deterioration and theft even though they may no longer (temporarily or permanently) be of use for the cult;
c) to install a permanent exhibition of old and new works of art and applied art in the style of the Middle Ages;
d) living artists and artisans are to be given opportunity to exhibit their works executed in the medieval style« (Organ 1860).
This point of departure also determined the character of the collection. Not only was it incumbent upon the museum to preserve works of art which had frequently been neglected by the parishes and their ignorant clergy. Similar to the museums of Arts and Crafts of a later age this was to serve primarily as a collection of samples which included the presentation of copies and offered contemporary artists and artisans a forum for their products. The encouragement of craft was directed against the increasingly prevalent machine-made products, which were said to lack the ability to formally shape ethic qualities due to their de-individualized methods of fabrication. The new works were to be »genuine and true« in both material and production. However, due to financial constraints new acquisitions to form a permanent collection were not anticipated. Time and again the association faced financial hardship. Thus, one had to rely upon objects which had been decommissioned by churches or donated by private collectors or had been willed to the association. As a consequence the collection showed a heterogeneous character for the first fifty years of its existence and even now. There is no distinct trace of any one contemporary ecclesiastical art or craft in the Diözesanmuseum. Since the objects provided by artists and workshops were meant for liturgical use – i.e. they were offered for sale, not for acquisition or ownership by the association. A period of decreasing activities – not least precipitated by the »Kulturkampf« (»cultural war«) – was ended by the nomination to the board of Domherr Alexander Schnütgen (1843-1918) in 1875. Sixteen years later he took over the presidency from founding member Weihbischof Johann Baudri and remained in this position with one short interruption until 1905. Starting in 1888 he published the periodical »Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst« continuing the Organ für christliche Kunst which had been suspended during the »Kulturkampf« in 1873 and was directed at artists, clergy, and interested lay people. In it the justification of the Neo-Gothic style was increasingly questioned, even if Schnütgen distanced himself from such utterances. Fritz Witte (1876-1937) whom he had appointed director of his collection wrote in 1912: »A new style is the inescapable result of profound upheaval ...« so that »the very demand to work in the old style puts limitations on our artists which are not only cumbersome but just not permissible.« Schnütgen himself made a strong distinction between constantly changing profane art and sacred art which is obliged to remain without change. As a collector and connoisseur he undertook the re-organization of the collection which through the acquisition of some important objects he fortuitously enlarged. This is how in 1885 a Romanesque chalice with typological scenes came into possession of the museum whereupon Schnütgen presented it in an essay in the annual report of the association. His main thrust is the applied niello technique and questions of dating and localization. It was not so much the individual object which held his interest but the place which it takes through the scholarly exploration of the technical and historical context. Following these criteria he also put together his own collection which he was willing to donate to the Diözesanmuseum. But the museum was reluctant to take on the obligations connected with it and declined the offer. It took to the 1920s for the museum to institute a fundamental change. In 1919 Fritz Witte, the director of the Schnütgen Museum (now municipal) had founded the »Institut für religiöse Kunst der Stadt Köln« (»Institute for Religious Art of the City of Cologne«) through which he hoped to reform the sacred art. Artists such as Peter Hecker, later a board member of the Christliche Kunstverein, or Georg Grasegger were readily interested in this idea. In 1926 the Institute was affiliated with the Cologne Werkschule, where numerous commissions were executed, for example in the classes taught by Jan Thorn Prikker and Dominikus Böhm. Later Witte was succeeded by Jakob Eschweiler (1894-1964) as the Institute's director who had been named director of the Diözesanmuseum in the previous year. While until then the directorship of the museum and the board of the Club had been administrated together, they have since then been strictly separate. Since 1923 Wilhelm Neuss (1880-1965) headed the Verein für christliche Kunst, following Schnütgen's successor Arnold Steffens (1851-1923) as president. The combination of ecclesiastical, municipal, and Werkschul responsibilities in the hands of Eschweiler made the division of sacred and profane art less distinct. Finally in 1927 the newly formulated statutes of the Association brought to an end the adherence to the Gothic ideal. It is the purpose of the Verein to »nurture the Christian fine arts in the archdiocese of Cologne i.e. the preservation of existing art as well as the encouragement of new creations of art of the present by all appropriate means« and »the care of the Diözesanmuseum as a place where these two goals can be achieved.« (Neuss 1954) According to him, Christian art was undergoing a change because now profane art forced sacred art to follow in its footsteps. In the liturgy »we hear the voice of the immortal church while in the fine arts that of mortal man.« Therefore it is desired »that all that is genuine and deep and reaching for form these days speak up freely and in this dialogue find continuing renewal.« (Kunstgabe 1928) This fundamental change though had no impact on the holdings of the museum which in these and in the following years experienced considerable growth through loans, purchases, and inheritance of estates. Especially in the area of the late Rhenish Nazarenes a new and fairly extensive collection focus was created. The new ideas came to light in Eschweiler's newly conceived presentation of the objects. While quality, iconographic peculiarities, arthistorical form, and local artistic tradition defined the permanent exhibition, the contemporary ecclesiastic art was as before only presented temporarily. If the Gothic ideal of form was no longer a determinant, one still viewed these works in the context of the Middle Ages. They were positioned in close proximity to works such as Lochner's Veilchenmadonna. These exhibitions, all of which were of short duration, determined the public perception of the Diözesanmuseum which today can only be partially reconstructed. The annual report of 1928, for example, mentions as topics in the span of only one year religious domestic art, Benedictine art, plans for ecclesiastic commissions, antependia, and various one-person-shows of artists. Most of the collection was evacuated during the Second World War. Lochner's painting of the Virgin had to be moved on various occasions in order to protect it from Hermann Göring's eagerness as a collector. During the devastating attack on Cologne in 1945, the museum buildings (and any remaining artifacts which could not be evacuated) were destroyed or so badly damaged that after the end of the war new quarters had to be found. The museum's activities started with a number of exhibitions in various locations usually in connection with seminars of the Christliche Kunstverein. In 1947 Joseph Hoster (1910-1969) took the helm of the museum while also responsible for precious objects in the Cathedral as the Sakristanpriest. In addition to this he was an assistant in the archbishopric building department, and published the Kölner Domblatt (Cologne's Cathedral Magazine). After the permanent collection had been housed temporarily (1953-1963) in the building of the former private school Surmann-Bonne (near the church of St. Gereon) it was possible to re-open the museum in 1972 under new directorship in a new structure, erected on its old lot, which meanwhile had been donated to the Cathedral, located south of it. This is where Hoster, on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the translocation of the Three Kings' Relics, had organized an exhibition featuring the Master of the Three Magi's Shrine. His successor, Walter Schulten (1920-1993) put new emphasis on works relating to the history of the Cathedral and the purchase of a substantial collection of rosaries. This was followed in 1975 by a highly regarded presentation held on the occasion of the Cologne Rosarian Brotherhood's 500th anniversary celebration. Finally, thanks to a donation of thirteen works by Ewald Mataré, the twentieth century arrived in the collection of the Diözesanmuseum. Financial problems forced the board in 1989 to transfer the museum into the ownership of the archdiocese which in fact had guaranteed the financing since 1972. This change was reason to re-evaluate the museum's future and to develop a new concept for the collection and its presentation. While at the beginning of the museum's history stood Idealism, which had dedicated itself to a utopian society, this was succeeded in the 1920s by a search for a new pictorial language – where art not only serves to propagate an ideal but also as the language of individual processes in thinking and feeling. Presumably mindful of losses incurred by war, following the Second World War the museum's primary mission was the preservation and the documentation of all that had been saved. However, can the calling of a present-day-museum be limited to conserving witnesses of the past that, moreover, have been taken out of their original context and therefore can only convey this past in a counterfeit manner? Rather it appears to be high time to cherish those bits as what they are – the vocabulary of an alien language the nature of which has become obscured by habits of viewing but which must be understood. The »stories« told in these fragments of language are new. They can become comprehensible through our perception and thus become part of the present. This truth is the connection between old and new art. Therefore, Revisiting the Unknown is the motto of the concept which was introduced on the occasion of the re-opening in October 1992 with a special exhibition of exquisitely illuminated manuscripts from the Vatican Library. Hence, the permanent collection is shown enhanced in turn by new acquisitions and permanent loans. By referring back to the criteria Eschweiler had established, old holdings are selectively supplemented and existing areas of concentration are further added to – for example, the small group of Early Christian artifacts, the drawings of the Düsseldorf-based late-Nazarenes, and certain areas of popular piety – and an attempt has been made to deal with glaring omissions. Such a gap exists between the middle ages and the nineteenth century, because the nineteenth century's taste in art was not willing to accept the baroque. The concept of the collection is further enhanced by including the twentieth century and especially contemporary art which in selected examples is meant to be questioned as to language and content. In this selection encyclopedic completeness – as for the middle ages – is not the goal. Since 1993, the museum has organized – in conjunction with the Kölner Gesellschaft für neue Musik (Cologne's Society for New Music) – a series of concerts under the title of hören/sehen (listening and seeing) presenting works of contemporary and non-European music with the intention to broaden the spectrum of perception. Furthermore, a series of readings from literature and talks is planned.
© Diözesanmuseum Köln/ Kolumba/ Ulrike Surmann 1995
Any quotation, even as excerpt, only with acknowledgement of the source
Art museum of the
Archdiocese of Cologne
The Defence of Childhood (2010)
A museum in alterity (2009)
Aesthetic Moment (2009)
Art for All (1995)
Museum of Reflection (1995)
History of the Museum (1995)
Art and Architecture (1994)
Idea and Task (1994)