lettering unizeit

Gods in plaster

Kiel has been the proud home of a gate to the gods for 176 years. The Antiken­sammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities) has even more to offer visitors than the illustrious company of the likes of Zeus, Aphrodite and Hermes. It boasts the rich cultural history of the ancient Greeks and Romans, including millennia-old mysteries.

Statues in the Collection of Classical Antiquities
© pur.pur

Authenticity and grace characterize the works of ancient sculptors: On the left a plaster cast of a Roman copy of the "Aphrodite of Knidos", in the middle "Hermes with the Dionysus boy" by the Attic artist Praxiteles.

Cape Sounion, located on the southern tip of Attica, was a sacred place in ancient Greece around 600 BC. According to legend, King Aegeus threw himself from the cliffs into the Aegean Sea, named after him ever since, out of sorrow over the presumed death of his son Theseus. Here, the Greeks pay homage to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and bring him consecration gifts. Like the Kouros of Sounion, a colossal statue of a young man over three metres high greets arriving sailors together with other marble sculptures.

Today, more than 2,700 years later, the Kouros no longer adorns Attica's sea-side where it was discovered in 1906, but welcomes modern seafarers to the Kiel Fjord, some 2,100 kilometres from where it was found, in the rooms of the Collection of Classical Antiquities at the Kunsthalle zu Kiel (Museum of Fine Arts). Admittedly, the statue is a copy, a plaster cast of the original that stands in the Athens National Archaeological Museum. But just like hundreds of other casts of the most important antique works of art, it easily transports the beholder into the world of antiquity in the Mediterranean region.

"In the Collection of Classical Antiquities, students, researchers and enthusiasts learn to see."

Dr. Manuel Flecker
Dr. Manuel Flecker
© pur.pur

Head of hundreds of statues: Manueal Flecker, curator of the Collection of Classical Antiquities.

We owe it to Peter Wilhelm Forchhammer that we do not have to travel to Athens or Rome to watch Heracles (Roman "Hercules") wrestle with the Nemean lion or to witness the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons taking on Athena's snakes. In 1843 the Professor of Classics at Kiel University opened an art museum, at that time in Kiel's Castle, motivated by the desire to enable interested fellow citizens to experience antique masterpieces in their home environment, "to awaken and enliven the sense of art in northern Germany [...] open and accessible to everyone, for the enjoyment and instruction for everyone, and I would add, to the glory of the city and the country." 

Forchhammer had previously collected 10,000 coins in donations, and 56 students also donated towards the idea. Antique casts were purchased from the plaster replica workshops of the famous museums in London, Paris, Rome and Copenhagen. When it was established, the Kiel collection was one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Germany and is still the only one in Schleswig-Holstein. In 1909 the collection moved to the newly built Kunsthalle after 19 years in a half-timbered house behind today's Stadtmuseum Warleberger Hof (Kiel City Museum - Warleberger Hof). It previously had to be removed from Kiel Castle because Prince Heinrich, brother of Emperor Wilhelm II, wanted the residence for himself.

However, some things have not changed: as in the middle of the 19th century, admission to the collection is free of charge and it still serves its original purpose of training the observer's eye. "In the Collection of Classical Antiquities, students, researchers and enthusiasts learn to see," says Dr Manuel Flecker, curator of the Collection of Classical Antiquities and assistant professor at the Institute of Classics at the CAU. What the archaeologist means by this is that it is only through close examination and comparison with other works of art that the ancient statues gradually reveal their secrets. The Kore of the Acropolis, the statue of a girl from the time around 510 BC provides impressive evidence of this hypothesis.

In contrast to most of the exhibits in the Kiel collection, it radiates red, blue and golden colours instead of white alone. In fact, most of the antique figures were decorated in colour, but the ravages of time meant that the colour was lost - as was the case with the Kore. In the plaster cast of the original, however, researchers discovered various patterns on the surface, compared them with other works, and were able to reconstruct some of the colourfulness in this way. These are the qualities that Manuel Flecker appreciates about the replicas in Kiel; their condition is often better than that of the original marble statues.

This does not necessarily apply to Flecker's personal favourite piece in the exhibition: Hermes and the Infant Dionysus. The cast of the marble ensemble from the fourth century BC was restored after the Second World War. It was given a coloured coating to imitate the stone of the original. In the process, however the different surface properties of the hair, body and coat of the sculpture were lost. But it was precisely these properties that were the subject of controversy since the sculpture was discovered. Did the sculpture come directly from the famous ancient sculptor Praxiteles, or is it a later copy?

But those who prefer originals also will find what they are looking for in the Collection of Classical Antiquities. Numerous Greek clay vessels with their rich, glossy paintings depict goddesses and gods, heroes, kings and the ancient world. What the statues and ceramics have in common is the fact that it will be a long time before they no longer have new stories to tell, because according to Manuel Flecker: "Each epoch, every one of us poses completely new questions about these antique works of art."

Author: Denis Schimmelpfennig

Digital treasures and narrated history

In spring, two new attractions from the Kiel Collection of Classical Antiquities will celebrate their première: together with CAU students, the museum has developed an interactive online catalogue in which over 1,000 previously unpublished antique coins from the collection are presented. Interested visitors will also be able to experience the transformation of ancient man and his environment via a new audio guide. In cooperation with the Graduate School "Human Development in Landscapes", two tours narrated by professional speakers have been created. (ds)

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