I am spending a few days in Munich, Bavaria's capital. My plan here is to visit the city and, in particular, the world-famous art museums located in the Kunstareal or art quarter, North of the city centre. My base for these days is within walking distance of the museums in Schwabing, an area with a rich cultural and intellectual tradition, having been home to two of my all-time idols, 20th-century Bauhaus artists Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Schwabing is also the location of the impressive Academy of Fine Art -Akademie der Bildenden Künste, with its modern extension next to the original 1886 building- and is next door to the area occupied by Munich's historic university, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. If you find yourselves in the quarter, I recommend you take the time to enjoy the many art deco buildings and villas in the area, or perhaps go for a stroll on the pleasant -and hugely popular on sunny days- Englischer Garten, next to the river Isar.
Aiming to proceed in chronological order, the morning after arrival I headed to the Alte Pinakothek, the historic museum created in 1836 to house the Bavarian royal art collection, and nowadays devoted to old master paintings up to the 1700s. The Alte Pinakothek is the brainchild of King Ludwig I, a fanatical collector and patron of the arts whose legacy includes the Alte and Neue Pinakotheken as well as the Glyptothek (built to house the monarchy's collection of classical sculpture) and many other neoclassical buildings in the city centre. Needless to say, Munich suffered heavily under Allied bombing raids in World War II, and the Alte Pinakothek (built originally in severe Italian Renaissance style) was only restored to its former glory and reopened to the public in 1957. As I finally entered the building, I was incredibly disappointed to realise that most of the museum is still closed to the public due to lengthy renovations scheduled to finish later in 2018. Not currently accessible areas include early German, Flemish and Netherlandish painting and the German, Flemish and Italian Renaissance. You can imagine my frustration, the one silver lining being that selected masterpieces from the closed-off sections have been relocated to the rooms still open to the public.
As it was, I ended up spending the better part of the day in the Alte Pinakothek and really, really enjoying the visit, perhaps because I was able to concentrate on a comparatively small number of rooms. In terms of all-time masterpieces, Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna and Child with Carnation (one of his earliest paintings) is temporarily located in a side corridor, alongside Raphael's Madonna Tempi and pieces by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi. Entry to the collection is currently through the room devoted to Dutch Golden Age painting, including the museum's Rembrandts. Out of these I was immediately touched by his 1661 Resurrected Christ, whose very human expression stares disarmingly at us straight out of the canvas. The Alte Pinakothek is home to the five paintings of Rembrandt's Passion cycle (depicting scenes from Christ's death and resurrection), which at the moment share a wall with Albrecht Dürer's arresting Self-Portrait at the Age of 28, completed on the year 1500. This room also contains beautiful pairs of portraits by Rembrandt's Dutch contemporaries Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) and Rembrandt's pupil Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693).
Next door is the room devoted to the Italian Baroque, which also contains beautiful pieces, including two depictions of Cynic Philosophers by Luca Giordano (1634-1705), painted realistically from live models in the style of Caravaggio and his followers, which Luca probably acquired in Naples from his master Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652). Equally noteworthy are two tremendous compositions by the Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The Adoration of the Magi (1753) and The Holy Trinity seen in a Vision by Pope St Clement (c 1737). Out of the works in this room I was particularly touched by the searingly beautiful Noli me Tangere (the apparition of the resurrected Christ to Mary Magdalene) painted in 1590 by Federico Barocci (1535-1612). The room nearby devoted to Spanish Old Master painting is equally interesting and includes the unfinished 1631 portrait of a gentleman by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) which, with its highly polished face and barely sketched hands, offers a tantalising glimpse into Velázquez's working process. Other highlights include four of the five depictions of Seville street children by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) in the possession of the Alte Pinakothek, as well as a striking Disrobing of Christ (c 1590?) by El Greco (1541-1614).
It is relatively unusual even in major institutions to find a section devoted to French painting as large and detailed as that in the Alte Pinakothek, which includes masterpieces by François Boucher (1703-1770) -including his iconic 1756 portrait of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's official mistress-, Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), as well as a fascinating section on pastel portraits from the 1700s by the likes of Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) and Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), the latter having been the subject of a recent exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
One of the most impressive areas currently open to the public in the Alte Pinakothek is that devoted to Flemish artist (and international star of his time) Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Rubens's oeuvre is displayed across several rooms and presided over by his massive (over 6 metres high) 1617 The Great Last Judgement, the only painting to have hung continuously in the same spot since the creation of the institution (In fact the need to accommodate this work was a constraint on the design of the building). I must admit that, generally speaking, I am not a huge fan of Rubens's over-the-top flamboyant, unabashedly fleshy style, but there are some portraits here which come across as much more direct and sincere and which were a pleasure to gaze at.
Last but not least, I really enjoyed ambling through the Alte Pinakothek's side corridors, full of the small-format paintings which almost always, regrettably, play second fiddle to larger artworks. What these works lack in size they often make up for in subtlety and attention to detail, two examples out of many here being Adriaen Van der Werff's stunning 1703 Entombment of Christ and Rembrandt's 1629 self-portrait.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Alte Pinakothek to anyone with a passing interest in old master painting, especially after it reopens fully later this Summer. Another strong recommendation is the delightfully old-fashioned cafe with its mouth-watering selection of cakes (After much hesitation I personally opted for the Apfel Kuchen but the other options looked equally appetising). Don't forget to ask for the (very thorough and helpful) audioguide, included in the ticket price but which I missed at first as it was provided at a separate counter.
In follow-up pieces I will deal with other art museums in Munich.