Tag Archives: Vermeer

Germany – a week in Frankfurt and Heidelberg

I braved the rather chilly climate of Germany in December. I have really enjoyed seeing more of Germany over the past two years and it’s a great opportunity to practice the language too. I like the variety of the places you can visit, the culture and love of art, the food (I grew up eating a lot of it) and the fact that everything and everywhere you stay is spotlessly clean and everything works!

First a visit to Frankfurt which I have to say is not the most exciting city to visit in Germany. It is very much a trade fair and convention town and lacks much in the way of personality.

However this was all made a lot better by two things – firstly, the Staedel Museum which unexpectedly had a fabulous exhibit of Van Gogh with a focus on how his works were bought up early in Germany (before he became a desirable artist) and also how he influenced subsequent German artist. I loved it.

Van Gogh portraits

One is a famous fake and one is the even more famous real thing – any guesses?

“Floating” (no shadows so distorted perspective) Books first by Van Gogh and then by Scharl

I also liked the Staedel as it has a Vermeer I haven’t seen before – the Geographer who is apparently staring out of the window imagining the places he is mapping out.

Vermeer’s The Geographer

Tischbein’s portrait of Goethe – there are very few of him so this is popular but not as popular as wondering why he has two left feet – it remains a mystery to this day?

The other plus was that I decided to stay about 20 minutes outside of Frankfurt in a place called Kronberg in a grand hotel that was formerly the home of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter (also Victoria) who built it after her German husband Wilhelm died. It was a lovely spot to be located and very different from Frankfurt.

Living in a grand royal house is good!

My second location was the charming town of Heidelberg – about an hour’s drive from Frankfurt. This town is often called the most beautiful in Germany and I can see why. It has everything you want from an old medieval town and is especially cute during this time of the year. As it is primarily a university town (oldest university in Germany) it is also lively with a strong international student body having a good old time as the semester was ending.

Heidelberg has an eclectic style castle (which was really a fortress) in the hills looking down on the town. It was started and added to at various time between the 1200s and the 1600s – thereafter it was captured in a battle and was no longer used and is therefore lacking things like roofs and windows but it is still very cool and beautifully lit at night. The wiggly path below leads up to another well known place – the Philosopher’s Walk. By the time I had staggered up the slope to follow the walk apparently completed by many famous writers (Mark Twain is said to have finished the Huck Finn book here) and philosophers I was thinking more about my pounding heart than things of great meaning. Then I read that these slopes used to terraces for growing grapes for making local wine so now I understand why everyone felt so philosophical! It is a wonderful walk though and gives a lovely perspective of the town.

Heidelberg Castle and the road up to Philosopher’s Walk plus this year’s Heidelberg Gluhwein mug

The castle up close and personal and views down to the river

The castle hosts the Pharmacy Museum – which i thought was great – love those bottles and jars – beautiful enough to cure you of anything without even sampling the contents!

A wooden cable car takes you to the top of the mountain you see behind the castle – it’s a long way up and I was wearing everything I had with me- nippy up there

Oh yes, and that Xmas thing was in full swing too – markets all along the Main Street of the old town with the flood lit castle in the background. Very authentic.

Germany, Berlin – more fab museums and art – Part 2

Even though I am here for two weeks I am not going to get through all the places I want to see – especially the museums. But I am giving it my best shot knowing I will be back.

The Gemaldegalerie (or Old Master Paintings) has a great collection of European art from the 1300s to 1800. When you buy a three day museum pass you can go into a choice of 30+ museums over 3 consecutive days for free and you get audio guides for free too. It is the latter that is my nemesis as once I start listening I have to keep listening and next thing I know four hours have gone by. This certainly happened to me in the Gemaldergalerie located in the futuristic Kulturforum which also houses the concert hall for the Berlin Philharmonic and many embassies.

The modern environs of the Kulturforum and the genuinely old St Matthäuskirche

One of the nice things about visiting German museums and art galleries is getting more of an appreciation for the art from this country where of course the collections are extensive.

Below are examples of Holbein, Dürer and Cranach

German artists knew their stuff!

Of course the Gemaldergalerie also has artists from other parts of Europe – some of my faves below – Therbusch self portrait (the monocle is so well done I thought if was hanging from the painting at first not part of it), De La Tour, Rembrandt (feisty youthful self portrait) and Botticelli.

Selection from the Gemaldergalerie

More Botticelli and Cranach – I think my friend Sylvie would comment that while these are magnificent paintings they also an excuse for male titillation pre-porn mags. She may be right?!

Selection from the Gemaldegalerie

And some more I liked (sorry Rembrandt crept in again!). The strong and intelligent looking lady at the bottom is by Velazquez.

I am always thrilled to see a Caravaggio and this one was great – Love Conquers All – a look at sacred and profane love where profane, in the form of Cupid, is clearly winning out and having a grand old time. Given this was painted in the early 1600s it was very cheeky even then but also the start of the naturalist rather than idealized style that so many copied afterwards. Possibly the figure was modeled by one of his apprentices.

Caravaggio – Love conquers All

His arch enemy the painter Baglione had done something similar earlier but in the traditional stylised format but he felt that Caravaggio had stolen his idea so he reworked his painting to give the Devil in his painting the face of Caravaggio! The first version with the devil turning away is right next to the Caravaggio in this museum. The one with the devil’s face in full is in Rome

Baglione’s first version

And if I’m not falling for Caravaggio’s then it has to be Vermeer – there are two here but this is my favourite – The Glass of Wine. As usual with his paintings you have to wander what is going here. Why is she drinking but he is not? Is she being seduced? He doesn’t seem that interested to me? I wander if it is a draught she is drinking to miscarry a pregnancy? That is just my theory though!!

Also in the Kulturforum is the Kunstgewerbe Museum – which houses craft objects and fashion and much more from the Middle Ages to today. Loved it here.

Tiffany glass, Art Deco and writing and jewellery boxes

Gorgeous dresses from a while back and the necessary undergarments – no worse than Spanx?

Can you ever have too many lbds? Dior and YSL do their thing.

Another museum I visited on Museum Island was the Neues Museum which now houses the Egyptian collection and the especially famous Bust of Nefertiti. The latter was in a room on its own but no pics allowed. Suffice to say that I was in the room with it alone most of the time – so much space so few people in Berlin – love that. I am showing two shots from the web as she is stunningly beautiful but even better to see it for real. A Must. And of course lots of controversy about whether it should be returned to Egypt!

Bust of Nefertiti, Neues Museum

I have a real love of Egyptian culture because they wanted to create beauty from such an early period of history and they did an excellent job too. The figure below is carved from wood – about 2300 BC!! So much movement.

The figures below are all from tombs of kings or wealthy nobles. The top left is an offerer bearer or handmaiden and the top right is a cloaked figure. The ones below are especially lovely. On the left the man’s wife and daughter have their arms around him and on the right, unusually, the man and the woman have their arms around each other (usually just the women who have their arms around the men). Touching.

Below top right is an engraving of Nefertiti and Akhenaten and their three daughters basking in the rays of the sun – this was the first time a religion had been monotheistic in that only the Sun (actually the light that the Sun generated) was venerated above all others.

From a different era the Golden Hat is one of just four found from Bronze Age Europe. It has very detailed carvings particularly believed to be about astrology and the calendar and lunar changes. It appears they were worn for certain religious ceremonies and were so tall so that they could be seen from far away. Fascinating.

When I visited the Pergamon museum some of the items were still under renovation and in particular the thing everyone wants to see – the Pergamon Altar. However given it is likely to be 2025 before this has been restored enough for people to have access again this is an option I thought I would check out instead. It was actually surprisingly good. A digital artist has created a panoramic vision of not just the altar but all the surrounding areas of Pergamon as it would have been in the day and you can view it at ground level of any of four levels you can climb up in the center of the circular room – there is sound and light turning day to night and it is pretty darn fab. Some attempts to give a feel for the effect are below.

Roll on 2025.

And finally for this post a quick visit to the Nikolaikirche which was originally built in 1230 but has been restored a few times. It is super modern inside.

Strange hanging Jesus and St Nicholas piece – not sure why?

And then next door to the Knoblauchhaus – a joy for Biedermeier furniture lovers.