Eva Troelenberg Abstract

Collecting Big? Monumentality and the Berlin Museum Island as a “World Museum” between the Imperial and Post-Imperial Age

Eva Troelenberg
Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence

The Berlin Museum Island is characterized by the display of large-scale monumental architectural exhibits, most notably the Egyptian Courtyard, the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gateway and the early Islamic Mshatta Façade. Such objects represent various moments in world history and unite aesthetic expressions from different cultures within a narrative on the history of civilization. Scholarship in the last decades has dealt with the relationship between these museum settings and the informal imperialist claim of the German Kaiserreich, as well as how the museum architecture interacts with the architecture on display (see e.g. Gaethgens 1996; Marchand 2009; Bilsel 2012).

In light of such approaches, I will look at the historical genesis and development of the Berlin collections from a transcultural point of view. I will assess the role of monumental display in the understanding of the collections as a ‘World Museum’.

Rather than focusing only on the Imperial foundations of these different collections, my contribution aims at a process-related reading, critically following the concept of a monument-based “World Museum” throughout the changing history of the German nation between the foundation of the Kaiserreich and the postwar partition into East- and West Germany (Troelenberg 2014). This approach will reveal interesting shifts but also continuities in the intellectual perception as well as in the very material status of artworks during these changing political circumstances, which embrace both the Imperial and Post-Imperial ages and the ensuing implications for German relations to the world-at-large. Considering the cross-cultural and transnational ‘biographies’ of the objects involved, my analysis also contributes to our understanding of transcultural perception processes and their conditions which are often informed by the paradigms and practices of collecting and display within a given intellectual and political climate.


Thomas Gaethgens: The Museum Island in Berlin, in: The formation of national collections of art and archaeology, ed. Gwendolyn Wright, Hanover 1996, 52-77.

Suzanne L. Marchand: German Orientalism in the Age of Empire. Religion, Race, and Scholarship, New York Washington 2009, esp. 410-426.

Marianne Yaldiz and Peter Zieme: 100 Jahre Turfan-Expeditionen. Wege der Forschung in

Archäologie, Kunstgeschichte und Philologie, in: Jahrbuch Preußischer Kulturbesitz 39 2002/2003; 307-328.

Can Bilsel: Antiquity on display: regimes of the authentic in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, Oxford 2012.

Michael S. Falser: Gipsabgüsse von Angkor Wat für das Völkerkundemuseum in Berlin – Eine sammlungsgeschichtliche Anekdote, in: Indo-Asiatische Zeitschrift 16 /2012, 43-58 and 18/2014, 43-55.

Eva-Maria Troelenberg: Mschatta in Berlin. Grundsteine Islamischer Kunst (Connecting Art Histories in the Museum 1, Dortmund 2014).