The Picture Gallery, a structure built specifically to house an art collection, is one of the most majestic 18th century buildings in Europe. It is also the oldest surviving gallery building in Germany. Frederick the Great had it built next to the palaces Sanssouci and the New Chambers from 1755–63 (or 1764) to house his newly assembled painting collection. Here, he presented in closely hung arrangements nearly 180 of the best works of the Flemish and Dutch Baroque schools of painting, the Italian Renaissance, and the Baroque period, juxtaposed with outstanding ancient sculpture as well as French 18th century sculpture.
The complex sculptural program on the simple exterior, depicting allegories on artistic training and practice, sets the tone for the purpose of the building. The opulent design of the interior is all the more surprising with its gilded ornamentation and sumptuous floors made of yellow and white marble, a colorful stone intarsia floor, paintings, carved and gilded frames, ancient and Baroque sculpture, and stuccowork allegories of the arts and sciences high above the heads of visitors forming a unique compendium of the arts. Even today, over 140 outstanding paintings from the 16th – 18th centuries can still be seen in the gallery, including Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas, five works by Anthony van Dyck, seven works by Peter Paul Rubens, including his St. Jerome, as well as paintings by Jan Lievens, Jacob Jordaens, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Gerard de Lairesse, Carlo Maratta, Ciro Ferri and others. The paintings are complemented by French statues from the original 18th century interior design as well as ancient busts.
In 1990, UNESCO inscribed the Picture Gallery on the list of Cultural Heritage of Humanity.