Living in northern Germany for the time being, I thought, “Hey, why not do my birthday in Berlin?” Why the hell not, right? It was impromptu and perfect, consisting of museums and food. Since I haven’t written about art in a while, my post here is on the state museums of Berlin.
I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, dropped my bags off, and went straight to the Bode Museum for architecture, medieval altarpieces, and sculptures. Here I saw some of the most fascinating altarpieces and small carved ivories. I was floored by the room with a mosaic apse from Ravenna. I’m not sure if the mosaic is from the Basilica of San Vitale where one of the most famous mosaics of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora reside, so if anyone knows, please chime in. I think this is what’s great about art and art history: you think you know the art object, but you still have many, many questions.
On Sunday, I visited the Brandenburger Tor, the Pergamon Museum, and the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery). So many great monuments and paintings seen. Since I can’t write about them all, I want to focus on the biggest surprise for me, which was the Pergamon Museum.
First thing’s first. It’s called the Pergamon Museum because it houses the 2nd century B.C.E. Pergamon Altar from Hellenistic Greece. Unfortunately, the museum is under construction and the altar itself is not on view, and won’t be on display again until 2019.
But that’s okay, because I still was able to see and experience the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from BABYLON, the roman Market Gate of Miletus, and best of all, the intricate Umayyad Mshatta Façade possibly from the palace of caliph Al Walid II (8th century). (Museum link for photos.)
I felt as if I was in some sort of historical stroll through different lands and time periods, when giant lions forewarned foreign visitors the strength of their city. Think Midnight in Paris, but much earlier and less of Owen Wilson griping about how he just wants to disappear into the 1920s. When I came face to face with the Ishtar Gate and walked along the length of the Processional Way, I was bowled over by the enormity and ferocity of the architecture. We talk about architecture today, but I think sometimes we may forget that architecture guides us with its physical structure as well as its images. In this case, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way still embody strength and power, and one can see how they demanded, from visiting dignitaries to the ancient city of Babylon, respect and acquiescence.
From ancient Babylon to ancient Rome…
My final moments at the Pergamon Museum were spent in the Islamic art and architecture area looking at, among other objects, a mihrab (prayer niche) of beautiful faience mosaics, calligraphic script and patterns from the Beyhekim Mosque (13th century)…and an intricate wooden cupola from Palacio del Partal of Alhambra, Spain.
The pièce de résistance of the entire museum whirlwind weekend, from my perspective, was the Mshatta Facade. I’ve only seen and studied the facade in art history survey books and google images, so it was astounding to see this Umayyad creation in person. You have to look at it from afar first to see its grand size, but then must come close to the wall to see the detailed stone carving. Yes, likely a team of artists and artisans used tools to create mystical animals and luscious vegetal motif in a stone wall.
So grand. Here I am, happy as can be on my birthday weekend.