Welcome to the Alte Pinakothek
The Alte Pinakothek, commissioned by King Ludwig I and built by Leo von Klenze, was opened in 1836 to make art from the Wittelsbach collections accessible to the public. The architect Hans Döllgast reconstructed the exemplary gallery building which had been severely damaged during the Second World War.
Originally, visitors were able to enter the gallery via a staircase on the east side – today, the upper gallery is accessible via the central northern entrance and the large staircases on the building’s south side. The light-flooded staircase designed by Döllgast has become an icon of reconstruction architecture.
Early Netherlandish Painting
The tour of the upper gallery starts in Room I with a section on Early Netherlandish Painting. Around 1400, the southern Netherlands entered a golden age of art and culture, which was marked by new world views, intense observation and accurate reproduction by way of refined painting techniques which used oil as a binding agent.
The Columba Altar by Rogier van der Weyden is the central painting of this room. With the death of Charles the Bold in 1477 and the assumption of power by the Habsburgs, a new era began which saw an engagement with antiquity as well as contemporary Italian art.
German Renaissance Painting
The transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age took place in German art around 1500, a period known as the “Dürer period”, named after Albrecht Dürer. This period was characterized by humanism and a profound knowledge of both antiquity and contemporary Italian art.
One of the highlights of German Renaissance painting is Dürer’s “Self-Portrait”. In stern frontal view, previously reserved solely for the portrait of Christ, Dürer painted himself in the attire of a scholar. Displaying the creative hand of God in the foreground, Dürer, as a Christian humanist, thus proclaimed his artistic identity.
In the Hall of the Cologne School of Painting, visitors can discover some of the earliest works of German Renaissance Painting the Alte Pinakothek has to offer. Many 15th-century works still feature the gilded ground.
In the panels of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, extraordinarily sculptural figures stand side by side as if they found themselves on a narrow stage. The saints wear fashionable clothes and are characterised by certain attributes: in the middle, for example, we can discern Saint Bartholomew with a knife in his hand.
The painters, most of whom were anonymous, received their nom de plume from the themes featured in their works. Stefan Lochner, the first master of Cologne painting known by name, is represented here with several works.
15th- and 16th-Century Italian Painting
Room IV features Florentine devotional paintings of the Renaissance, including numerous large altarpieces which were acquired by Ludwig I of Bavaria. Works by Fra Filippo Lippi, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Perugino bear witness to a new age of painting, which had already dawned with the revolutionary art of Giotto and his successors, exhibited in the adjacent gallery. Under Medici rule, the flourishing commercial metropolis of Florence grew into a centre of artistic development, which also influenced the young Raphael. Three Madonna paintings by Raphael, on whose birthday the foundation stone of the Alte Pinakothek was laid, are further highlights in this room.
The numerous innovations in Florentine Painting during the 15th century are exemplified by Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna of the Carnation”. This picture of the Virgin Mary, probably created for a member of the Medici family, is one of the earliest works by the universal genius and the only one of his paintings to be part of a German collection.
Room V is dedicated to the golden age of Venetian painting with major works by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. European art was profoundly shaped by the achievements of Renaissance painters in Venice, who used colour and light with great sensitivity and a love for experimentation, in order to present religious and mythological motifs in a thrilling way. They paid particular attention to the art of portraiture, which brought forth a completely new form of sovereign portraiture with Titian’s “Portrait of Charles V”.
Jacopo Tintoretto’s so-called Gonzaga Cycle, which was originally intended for the Ducal Palace in Mantua and depicts important events in the history of the House of Gonzaga, can be admired in the second tier which runs around the room.
17th-Century Flemish Painting
Anthonis van Dyck was one of the most important portrait painters of the baroque period. A whole room in the Alte Pinakothek is dedicated to his work, which forms the link between the paintings of the Venetians and the masterpieces of Peter Paul Rubens. In fact, both were role models for him: Van Dyck’s early histories reflect his confrontation with Rubens in Antwerp, and his portraits were lastingly influenced by Titian.
The centrepiece of the Alte Pinakothek is the grand Rubens Hall. Since its opening in 1836, his monumental “The Great Last Judgement” has hung in the centre, reminding us that the House of Wittelsbach also commissioned works directly from Peter Paul Rubens.
With his large-format paintings and their equally dynamic, moving and sensual visual language, Rubens left his mark on an entire epoch. This way, complex subject matters could be conveyed vividly, inviting the viewer to emotionally relate to themes commonly encountered in the Bible or in ancient mythology.
The Rubens collection of the Alte Pinakothek is one of the most important and comprehensive in the world. The famous self-portrait with Isabella Brant in the honeysuckle bower, painted immediately after his return from Italy, testifies to Rubens’ artistic ambitions.
17th-Century Dutch Painting
Due to the political and religious separation of the northern and southern Netherlands, a school of autonomous painting emerged in the northern part pf the country. There had never been so many bourgeois patrons, painters and paintings confined to such a small region as in the commercially successful province of the Netherlands. In demand were mostly landscapes, seascapes, history paintings, interiors, still life paintings, portraits and genre paintings.
Among the Amsterdam painters represented in the Alte Pinakothek, Rembrandt occupies a prominent position. His youthful “Self-Portrait” from 1629 is located in one of the galleries on the upper floor, which run parallel to the main halls.
Gerard van Honthorst is one of the young Caravaggisti from Utrecht who took Caravaggio’s realistic chiaroscuro painting as their model. His “Merry Companies” with music-making and carousing cavaliers and courtesans counted among the main themes of Caravaggian art.
European Baroque Art: 17th- and 18th-Century Italian Painting
South but also north of the Alps, Baroque art was influenced by two opposing views established in Rome around 1600: the painters who succeeded Caravaggio adopted a naturalistic position; for their depictions, they chose powerful figures borrowed from everyday life and staged them in brightly lit settings. The other trend, whose representatives included artists like Guido Reni, contrasted this with an ideal of classical beauty: these painters were trained in ancient art, and favoured balanced compositions.
The centre of this room features two large altarpieces by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, whose fame as the best painter in Venice brought him commissions from all over Europe.
17th- and 18th-Century French Painting
17th-century French painting was significantly influenced by Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, and both painters spent several decades of their lives in Rome. There, Claude Lorrain created classical landscape paintings, which are particularly striking because of their extraordinarily atmospheric rendering of light. Poussin painted history paintings for an educated public, inspired, among other things, by works from the Renaissance and Antiquity.
Influenced by Catholicism, Spanish religious painting is represented here with several works, such as Zurbarán's “Burial of St. Catherine”, a work of profound seriousness. The portraits in this room, on the other hand, appear realistic and lifelike, like Velázquez’s “young Spanish nobleman”.
The masterfully painted, rare genre scenes of Murillo, who worked in Seville, portray street children who – despite their poverty – seem to lead a fulfilled life.
The galleries and rooms of the “Untere Galerie” display Flemish and German Renaissance paintings. During the refurbishment of the Neue Pinakothek (from 2019 on), these rooms will feature artistic highlights of the 19th century.
In the age of humanism, secular themes became increasingly fashionable. Particularly in the Netherlands, genre paintings, still life paintings and landscapes proliferated. They depicted the everyday world and at the same time conveyed the central values of an emerging bourgeoisie. The rich trading city of Antwerp developed into a significant artistic centre during the 16th century.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the most formative painters of his time. With his peasant scenes and allegorical depictions, he held up a mirror to the viewer. His “The Land of Cockaigne” in the Alte Pinakothek shows vividly how people are affected by the vices of laziness and gluttony, which count among the deadly sins.
Jan Brueghel the Elder initially continued his father's artistic legacy, but soon began to forge his own path. With his wide open landscapes and lush flower still life paintings, he reflected the cultivated taste of his time, which was oriented towards variety and richness of detail.
From 1350 onwards, German Renaissance painting with its altarpieces initially stood entirely in the service of the church.
The altars, with their richly and anecdotally embellished images, show scenes from the Holy Scriptures or from legends. Since many of the worshippers could not read, these paintings took the place of actual books.