The spaces between the 20 columns on the mainfloor and the niches in the surrounding gallery above it are filled with statues of the gods of antiquity – among them are statues of Nike, the goddess of Victory and Zeus, the father of all gods. All of Olympus seems to be here. The statues are Roman copies of Greek statues and once belonged to the Prussian kings.
In the room’s niches sculptures by the Neo-Baroque sculptor Reinhold Begas (1831–1911) can be seen. Here the beautiful princess Psyche is lamenting her curiosity and its consequences. When Psyche wanted to see her lover, Amor, in the light, even though this was forbidden, he discovered her and fled. Abandoned, Psyche is comforted by the nature god Pan.
The dome dates from the 14th century. It is carved from cedar and popplar wood. With its use of stars as decorative elements it reminds us oft he vaults oft he firmament and heavenly spheres as they are described in the Koran.
The ceiling was dismantled in 1871 with the permission of the Spanish authorities and presented as a gift to a German banker. The museum purchased this masterpiece of Andalusian wood carving in 1978.
To minimise the weight of the ceiling, hollow clay bricks were used, set in gypsum mortar. This allowed an extremely light weight per unit area to be achieved with a high level of load transfer.
Painted against a golden backdrop portraits of German kings once took pride of place in the middle of each cupola. Only two of these images remain today. Four further pictures depicting artists and builders were painted in the spandrels of each cupola. Their names and the names of the town with which they were associated were given alongside their likenesses.
From here there was once a connecting corridor to the Altes Museum. The monumental room was two floors high. There was a large skylight inside of the red cupola with its golden stars and hugh historical paintings depicting the shift from aniquity to the Christian middle ages.
To counter the loss of this room David Chipperfield came up with a marvellous design for a new South Dome. Its walls rise from a square ground plan into the curved dome whose impressive effect derives from the historical building materials used – bricks from demolished houses in the region around Berlin.
The Neo Baroque architecture evokes the Hohenzollern dynasty, which ruled over Prussia for several centuries. The Hohenzollerns were collectors and patrons oft he arts. They laid the foundation for Berlin’s ensemble museums. In the middle of the room, the copy of the famous equestrian statue of Frederick William of Brandenburg – called the Great Elector – was erected at the opening of the museum in 1904.
In the niches on the upper floor there are marble statues of the Prussian King Frederick the Great and his generals. The statue of the ‘Old Fritz’ is a copy of the famous statue that Johann Gottfried Schadow created in 1792 for the parade square in Szczecin. It was commissioned in 1902 by Wilhelm von Bode to show Frederick the Great in the midst of his generals. The other statues were originally erected on Wilhelmplatz in Berlin, where they were replaced by bronze copies in the 19th century.
Further down, the foot of the staircase is flanked by a statue of Mercury by the French Rococo sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714–1785) and a statue of Venus on the other side of the stairs. These statues originally formed the start of the vineyard staircase at Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam.
The unique combination of sculptures, room decoration and architecture makes a visit to the Small Cupola particularly special. Just like in the other cupola rooms, the Museum Island’s universal claim is made wonderfully manifest here.