The Alte Pinakothek

28 Nov

If I’m honest the Alte Pinakothek is my favorite of the three galleries in Munich.  It’s not that I particularly like the artwork, which of course I do; it’s that the Alte Pinakothek just feels the way an art museum should, all high ceilings, parquet floors, and rich colors on the wall.  Leo von Klenze, the architect responsible for the Alte Pinakothek and indeed much of Munich’s city center, created something truly outstanding when he was commissioned by the King in 1826 to build a building for the royal family’s art collection.  Even despite the fact that the building was severely damaged in World War II and redone without some of its more ornate features, it’s still an architectural gem.

At this point I should be encouraging you to see all the great masterpieces in the galleries.  You should, yes, but the Alte Pinakothek is also filled with a number of hidden treasures.  When visiting for the first time you’re likely to spend more time with the big names, but look around a bit.  The museum is rarely crowded to the point that you can’t simply peruse at your own pace, and given its size you can still accomplish a thorough tour in three hours.  Some of the easily-overlooked highlights include the 18th Century Italian paintings in room XIIb upstairs (just be aware you’ll probably want to book a trip to Venice afterwards) and the portraits in room IIb upstairs.

Despite the grandeur of the main rooms, some of the most interesting works can be found in the smaller Cabinets along the length of the building.  There are smaller, more intimate works from many of the acclaimed artists found in the galleries as well as earlier pieces from artists such as Giotto di Bondone and Fra Angelico.  There’s also a collection of tavern scenes by Adriaen Brouwer among others in room 11 that’s quite entertaining.

There are some other interesting stories in the Alte Pinakothek.  The self-portrait of Albrech Dürer on display was essentially stolen from the city of Nuremberg some time ago.  The artist the city hired to make a reproduction took the original to Munich and sold it for a handsome sum while the reproduction was put on display in Nuremberg.  It adds an interesting twist to what is already a fascinating painting.  Also, when you’re in the middle of the main galleries take a look to your right and left.  One one side you can see Dürer’s Four Apostles on the wall, all religious fervor and serious contemplation.  On the other is Francois Boucher’s portrait of the Maquise de Pompadour, perhaps the most famous royal mistress in history.  They are both fine works of art to be sure, but the juxtaposition of the two with such varying subject matters on either side of the gallery always makes me giggle.

All of this together gives the Alte Pinakothek its unique character and makes it one of the best museums in Europe to spend an afternoon in.  The works on display are of the highest quality, but the small space and lack of crowds allow the visitor the unique chance to spend time with the art, develop their own opinions, and find a surprise or two.  Slow down and take a look.

Suggested Plan:  The gallery’s layout makes for a pretty self-explanatory route, but you still need to be somewhat aware of where you’re going.  Be sure not to miss the galleries on the ground floor, which feature great examples German and Flemish painting.  The biggest challenge, however, is seeing the cabinets upstairs.  I find the best way to do is to see a few at a time, 1-12 for example, and then go back and wander through the main galleries.  This keeps the historical and geographic layout of the museum somewhat together.

Don’t Miss:  For once I won’t immediately say Dürer.  It’s kind of hard to miss, but room VII, featuring the work of Peter Paul Rubens, showcases some of the artist’s best works.  The most impressive is without a doubt his Last Judgement.  The sheer size of it is enough to give anyone pause, but the color and the characteristic figures make it a Baroque masterpiece and worth a good amount of your time.  Also tucked away in a corner in room IV is da Vinci’s Madonna of the Carnation, the only work of the master on permanent display in Germany.

Dining:  Café Klenze on the ground floor makes for a nice respite while seeing the Alte Pinakothek.  It’s operated by The Victorian House, a local restaurant group that features English specialties as well as more Continental fare.  The entrees are good, if a bit pricy, and there is a nice selection of pastries available.  Whether you prefer an English-style tea and scone break or the more German coffee and cake, it’s a nice place to stop.  It’s best to visit in the afternoon when the sun is streaming in, giving the whole place a warm, comfortable glow.

Audio Guide:  The audio guide is free with admission and is helpful as there is very little labeling on the artworks.  On Sundays it costs €4.50, worth it if you’re curious about the art.  It’s still perfectly possible to enjoy the Alte Pinakothek without the audio guide, however, especially if you visit often.

Other Tips:

  • If you’d like to avoid a crowd, don’t go on Sunday.  The €1 admission charge brings in plenty of locals.
  • It’s possible to combine the Alte Pinakothek with the Neue Pinakothek for a day, but it makes for a long day of art.
  • Be aware that there are no restrooms on the upper floor.  At the risk of sounding like your mother, make sure you use the facilities before you go up there.
  • Take some time to look around the outside of the building, as well.  The brick work on the facade betrays which parts of the building are original and which were destroyed during World War II.
  • The grounds of the Alte Pinakothek are popular with locals for football, frisbee, and simply sitting on the grass reading a book.  If the weather’s nice stop on the grass or on a bench and enjoy.



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