Antiquarium de Munich (Paul Duschner)

 

Bavarians who save a person's life can hope to receive a special token of recognition by their state, the prestigious Christophorus Medaille, or even the Bayerische Rettungsmedaille if they have put their own life in jeopardy. The honour is received at the hands of no lesser person than the Minister-President himself at an annual ceremony performed in one of Bavaria's most festive locations: the Munich Antiquarium. When the Belgian royal couple visited Bavaria in 1971 it was here that they were entertained to a state banquet.

The Antiquarium isa gigantic Renaissance hall. It was built in the late 16th century to house the Bavarian dukes' antiquities collection. Later it was also used for court ceremonies. Today it's massive interior space and imposing decoration are still appreciated as a backdrop for official occasions. But it is also open to the general public. For after the end of the Bavarian monarchy, the entire Munich Residency was converted into one of the city's most popular museums.

 What makes the Antiquarium special, is that its appearance still closely resembles that of the late 16th century. So the hall can serve as an important memory space: It can be used to invoke the image of a glorious Bavarian past, a past marked by wealth, Renaissance architecture, classical art, learning and virtues. When used as a ceremonial setting today, it can create the impression of continuity between those glorious days of old and the present Bavarian state. Its function is thus not entirely different from that of the late 16th century. For the Bavarian dukes had also once wanted the hall to demonstrate their connection to a prestigious past. In their case, this had been classical antiquity itself.

 

 The story of the Antiquarium begins with Duke Albrecht V. of Bavaria (1550-79), an important figure of the Holy Roman Empire. Being a prolific collector of antiquities, he bought entire collections at a time in Germany and Italy. As these were too numerous to form part of his equally famous Kunstkammer, the Antiquarium had to be built: 67 m in length, almost 12 m across and with a towering barrel roof.

It was Albrecht's successor, Wilhelm V. (1579-97) who wanted to use the hall for court ceremonies. The interior space was cleared of objects. The remainder were arranged in front of the long walls, as they can still be seen today. The busts of Roman rulers, each surrounded by those of important family members, were brought into chronological .leer. They are followed by prominent politicians of the Roman Republic as well as two non-Romans, Mithridates of Pontus and Alexander the Great. Last in line we see two legendary kings of Rome: Quirinus Romulus and Numa Pompilius. These were not meant to be admired as individual pieces of art but formed part of a larger composition in which the newly decorated ceiling also had its role to play.

A visitor standing in the centre of the hall and looking up will see a series of sixteen depictions of women seated on clouds surrounded by cherubs. They are personifications of fifteen virtues and of fame. Latin writings on the vaults offer maxims of wisdom. For instance concerning “Iustitia”: “Praeclarissima virtutum iustitia” (Justice is the most excellent of virtues.) and “Iustitia etiam hostibus debetur” (Justice is owed also to enemies.). Also to be found are depictions of Bavarian towns, especially those which played a role in the administration of justice.

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