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Städel Museum

Seven Hundred Years of European Art

The Städel Museum in Frankfurt houses half of all famous German paintings: Goethe in the Roman Campagna. (The other one hangs in Hamburg.) It was painted by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, who happened to be in the right place at the right time to portray the right person to bring him fame, and if it were not for Goethe, it would likely have been just another supersized portrait. Named after its founder Johann Friedrich Städel, a bachelor merchant & banker who, ‘in God’s name’, left his substantial art collection to his fellow citizens of Frankfurt after his death in 1816, the Städel Museum today provides a rich survey of 700 years of European art, spanning the Middle Ages to the present. It holds one of the most important collections in Germany, comprising numerous excellent paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints & photographs.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein: Goethe in the Roman Campagna
Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1787)

There is no escape; when you enter the museum, you have to see Tischbein’s Goethe, which is exciting anyway, and while you’re at it, also have a look at the portrait that Andy Warhol made of him. Other collection highlights include Jan van Eyck’s Lucca Madonna & Ecce Homo by Hieronymus Bosch, Botticelli’s idealized portrait of a lady & Titian’s portrait of a young man, Albrecht Dürer’s rhino & Lucas Cranach’s Venus, Rembrandt’s self-portrait etching at a window & The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer, Monet’s Houses by the Bank of the River Zaan & The Courtyard of the Orphanage in Amsterdam by Max Liebermann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Nude with Hat & Dog Lying in the Snow by Franz Marc, Jean Dubuffet’s Tapié grand-duc & Jean Fautrier’s Grand nu, Boat Trip by Gerhard Richter & Rainer Fetting’s First Painting of the Wall, and Wolfgang Tillmans’ Freischwimmer № 54 & Horde by Daniel Richter.

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Tischbein Crash Course: If you ever see a Tischbein painting other than the one above, it’s likely by another Tischbein. In the 18th & 19th centuries the family produced over two dozen artists & artisans, a third of them women, who were active throughout Germany & elsewhere in Europe. Its three foremost members are Johann Heinrich Wilhelm (1751–1829), known for his painting of Goethe, his uncle Johann Heinrich (1722–1789) from Kassel, and his cousin Johann Friedrich August (1750–1812) from Leipzig. To keep all the family’s Johanns apart, uncle Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Elder called his nephews Friedrich & Wilhelm; art historians, who are on a first-name basis with only Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian & Rembrandt, talk about the Kassel, Leipzig & Goethe (or Naples) Tischbein respectively.


Zu meinen Lieblingswerken im Städel gehört die topografische Zeichnung Die Hooglandse Kerk in Leiden des Künstlers Cornelis Pronk (1691–1759). Diese Zeichnung gibt den Blick aus dem Inneren der ursprünglich mittelalterlichen, auf einem künstlichen Hügel errichteten ringförmigen Burg von Leiden wieder. Von dort blickt man durch ein weit geöffnetes Tor auf den monumentalen Kirchenbau der Hooglandse Kerk. Die beeindruckende Größe des spätgotischen Bauwerks bezeugt das Vorhaben, Leiden zum dritten Bischofssitz der Niederlande zu machen. Diese Pläne wurden jedoch 1535 aufgegeben und die Arbeiten an der Kirche beendet.


Besides most of the pictures mentioned above, my favourites at the Städel are Deodato Orlandi’s St John the Evangelist Mourning (c. 1310–20), Quentin Massys’ portrait of a scholar (c. 1525–30), By the Window (1890–1) by Fritz von Uhde, Kirchner’s Two Women by a Sink (1913), Josef Albers’ Study for Homage to the Square (1957), and Self-Portrait with Monkey (2001) by Maria Lassnig.


Gerhard Richter’s Kahnfahrt (1965), a painted reproduction of a newspaper photo, may be one of the Städel’s highlights, but Betty is one of the best-known subjects in his oeuvre. The copy here at the Städel is a very-limited-edition print (1991) of a painting (1988) that Richter made based on a photograph (1978) of his 11-year-old daughter — a print of a photo of a painting of a photo.