The Joy of Anonymity: The Bode-Museum

By Rob Packer

We were followed by the sound of jangling keys. From room to room the doors were locked behind us and another dark uniform stood there by the door, fingers on keys, up and down, up and down, metal against metal, kerchink, kerchink. As we stopped to examine a Cranachian gruesomeness of hell, the metronome of the keychain picked up from adagio to andante. I could feel eyes focusing on the back of my head, whispered conversations in German and the kerchink kerchink of the keys. Didn’t we know they were closing soon?

The next time I was in Berlin it was 1998 and the Bode-Museum had closed for its decade of renovation. Living in Berlin one midsummer night, a wisp of daylight in the northern sky, I remember that blank neo-Baroque façade rising triangularly sheer out of the Spree, its moat, bridges connecting it to the river’s other banks, cut off by the railway line from the rest of the island’s museums. The Bode-Museum would forever recall that certain socialist officiousness that I remembered from that first foray into East Berlin, one sweltering summer afternoon in 1995. (My other, equally vivid, memory of that afternoon was on Alexanderplatz, where a drunk decided that my grandfather’s Ich spreche kein Deutsch, “I don’t speak German”, was a contradiction.)

Although the Bode-Museum reopened in 2006, I hadn’t got around to visiting until last month. Where once key chains had marked the hours, the museum today is bright spacious—and almost deserted—galleries of an amazing range of European (mostly religious) sculpture and Byzantine art. Rather than the headlong dash around enormous galleries to dutifully see famous painter after famous painter (I think we’re all guilty of this), the mostly anonymous sculptors here is actually quite refreshing: you can really concentrate on the aesthetics of these lifelike (or sometimes not so lifelike) pieces.

Take a look at the photos and judge for yourself.

Windows and sculptures on the Bode-Museum’s cupola.

The entrance hall of the Bode-Museum

A royal donatrix, Paris, 1320/1330

The altarpiece from Minden Cathedral, Westphalia and Lübeck, around 1220 and 1425

St John the Baptist, Westphalia, early 15th century

A bronze falcon, Southern Italy, 13th century

A madonna and child, Giovanni Pisano, Siena, around 1314

Lamentation of Christ, Erfurt, around 1480

Altarpiece, Vogtland, around 1520

Altarpiece, Carinthia, around 1520

One of the Magi, Upper Bavaria, 1519

St Anne, Upper Swabia, 1512

A wooden frieze, Egypt, 6th century

An apse mosaic, Ravenna, 545

Fragment from a glass bowl, Rome, 4th century

Peacock lamp, Egypt, 5th/7th centuries

Tomb relief, Egypt, 4th century

Christ and two angels, Egypt, 6th/7th centuries

Mary at the Annunciation, Francesco di Valdambrino, Siena, around 1420

Pentecost retable, Alvise Vivarini, Venice, around 1478

Marriage of the Virgin, Northern Netherlands, around 1490/1500

A reliquary bust, France, early 15th century.
The colour especially makes it look more Asian than European.

Alabaster alterpiece, England, mid 15th century

Bust of an unknown man, Johann Gregor van der Schardt, Nuremberg, around 1580

Money can’t buy taste. Diana on the Deer, Paulus Ättinger, Regensburg, around 1610

St Roche, Franconia, 1770/80


8 Responses to The Joy of Anonymity: The Bode-Museum

  1. Marissa says:

    Some absolutely lovely pictures!

  2. Rob,

    Looks like a really interesting place and your pictures are fabulous.

    I’m intrigued how they got the Ravenna mosaic and the other Byzantine items.


    • Rob says:

      Hi Peter, thanks for your comment and I’m glad you liked the photos! The Ravenna mosaic is a whole apse, but I’m not sure how those items ended up in the collection, unfortunately. According to the labels, almost all were acquired in the 1900-1910 period. Maybe a combination of a post-Schliemann archaeology boom in Germany and the European movement of Egyptology and other ologies around the same time?

  3. A real feast for the eys. Magnificent and priceless. These have been informative for me as well. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Rob, I love your tours! How did I miss this post?! Beautiful shots! I keep scrolling up and down. So expressive! You brought them to life. I started to list my favorites but gave up because there are too many!! Theadora (Saint Anne and Saint Roche are pretty darn fab.)

    • Rob says:

      Thanks for the comment, Theodora! I really loved these sculptures, there were so many beautiful pieces. Also there was something about the woodwork here that made them feel alive, like they looked like people I know. I’m glad you liked them!

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