The Aletsch model was once the main attraction of the Berlin Kunstkammer
The Geomorphologico-Geological Collection of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) includes a landscape model of the Swiss Alps. A fact long unknown is that it is a historical showpiece from the Berlin Kunstkammer, which used to be housed in the City Palace. That has now been confirmed by HU scientists in various disciplines and Oscar Wüest, curator of the Bergsturz Museum in Goldau, Switzerland.
The topographic relief features the Upper Rhône Valley and the Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss canton of Valais. Its dimensions are approx. 140 by 100 cm, it consists largely of plaster and wood, and it is in a state of disrepair. It was included in a project database of the HU’s Hermann von Helmholtz Centre for Cultural Techniques in 2011. Back then, however, neither the model’s provenance nor the context of its creation could be clarified. The art historian Eva Dolezel discovered the database entry when working on her doctoral dissertation. Information from archive sources suggested that the model in the HU’s collection was an object from the Berlin Kunstkammer.
Sensualisation of Knowledge
The first room-filling topographic relief was purchased in 1805 and was one of collection’s principal attractions at the turn of the 19th century. Made by the Swiss topographer and creator of relief models Joachim Eugen Müller, 1752–1833, it was a pioneering achievement in precise topography of the Alps. In addition to its scientific significance it seemed to exactly fulfill a need for “sensualisation” of knowledge that was in great demand in the 18th century. Enthusiasm about reliefs continued in Berlin and various extension modules were ordered from Switzerland to enable an even larger area of the Alps to be covered in this way. The model that has survived is one of the additions commissioned for the Kunstkammer in 1820.
The Berlin Kunstkammer was founded in the sixteenth century and housed from the outset in the Palace. It was a typical representative of the universal collections to be found in the early modern era at many princely courts and in academic households or scientific institutions. Until it was gradually broken up in the 19th century it was a collection of natural, artistic and scientific objects. Today, surviving objects from the collection are to be found in a large number of Berlin museums.
The foundation of the University of Berlin – the present HU – in 1810 marked the beginning of this process. The University was endowed with the Kunstkammer’s scientific collections. It was probably not until much later that the rediscovered relief of the Aletsch Glacier found its way into the University’s collections. How, when and in which way it found its way from the Kunstkammer has yet to be clarified.
Eva Dolezel: „Der Traum vom Museum. Die Kunstkammer im Berliner Schloss um 1800 – eine museumsgeschichtliche Verortung, Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin 2019.
|Date:||13. Oktober 2020|