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 order. 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.

The majestic fireplaces decorating the front walls were added by Wilhelm's successor, duke Maximilian I. (1598-1651). As these hold the inscription “Absolutum Anno .M.D.C.”, Maximilian has long been granted the reputation of being the Antiquarium's true creator.

 Thus the Antiquarium would have served to demonstrate the Bavarian princes' wealth, good taste and learning. It would also have firmly placed them in an ancient tradition and in the midst of ancient role models. It would have documented the geographical extent of their power, the rule of law and their awareness of those ancient and Christian virtues needed for the land to prosper. Today the Antiquarium is no longer the property of a ruling family. It is a part of Bavaria's shared cultural heritage.

Presenting that heritage as an integral part of the Residency Museum is a means of introducing visitors to a very different image of Bavaria than that conveyed at the Oktoberfest. On one level it is simply an image of the past. As such it is of interest to historians of art and Bavarian history. But linking the past to the present by ritual is a means of conveying, that what was regarded as excellent in the 16th century is still held in high esteem today. It becomes a means of projecting a favourable image of the present. A continuity of Bavarian culture, values and identity is implied. This may also be true on a personal level: A Minister-President conducting ceremonies in the Antiquarium is literally following in the footsteps of duke Wilhelm V. and by implication in those of the ancient statesmen lining the walls. He may hope to see some of their glory reflected onto himself.


Quite apart from the setting, the marble busts themselves are able invoke the memory of great men and women. They also bear witness to the origins of our Western tradition of depicting famous personalities as mear heads and shoulders. An attentive observer to the Antiquarium will notice however that the ancients' appearance is no entirely ancient. Noses in particular tend to be later restorations, as completing broken pieces was a common practice as late as the 19th century. The coloured stone busts and labels are likewise 16th century additions. Today's museums tend to present their archaeological material as it was found. Earlier restorations have even been removed, as has been done with the Aeginetans in Munich's Glyptothek. In the Antiquarium however, the antiquities have been allowed to keep their early modern make-overs. They can thus invoke not just the memory of ancient taste and craftsmanship, but of 16th century Bavaria as well.


Printed Sources:

 Diemer, Dorothea and Diemer, Peter: Das Antiquarium Herzog Albrechts V. von Bayern. Schicksale einer fürstlichen Antikensammlung der Spätrenaissance. In: Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 58 (1995), S.55-104.

 Faltlhauser, Kurt (Edit.): Die Müncher Residenz. Geschichte – Zerstörung – Wiederaufbau. Ostfildern 2006.

 Heym, Sabine: Das Antiquarium der Residenz München. Munich 2007.

 Weski, Ellen and Frosien-Leinz, Heike (Edit.): Das Antiquarium der Münchner Residenz. Katalog der Skulpturen. 2 Vol. Munich 1987.


External Links:

 The Website of the Munich Residenzmuseum:

 A short film offering impressions of the Residenz and its Antiquarium:


Explanatory texts for the Photographs:

 Photo 1: The Belgian Royal Couple entertained to a banquet in the Antiquarium, 1971.;

Photo from:

 Photo 2: 67m in length, the Antiquarium is a gigantic Renaissance hall with a towering barrell roof. Arranged along its longitudinal walls are marble busts of Roman emperors in chronological order, as well as other famous men and women of antiquity. The ceiling depicts personifications of virtues and fame. The supporting arched semi-columns offer maxims of advice on moral behaviour as well as images of important Bavarian towns.

 Photo 3: The busts of ancient statesmen are surrounded by those of their family members. Faces have been restored. Busts and signs are likewise early modern additions. Statues placed in the semi-columns' alcoves serve as additional decoration.

 Photo 4: Flanking the high windows are depictions of important Bavarian towns, here the town of Rosenheim. Thus the Antiquarium would have documented the extent of the Bavarian realm.

 Photo 5: This photo I would suggest to use to attract readers attention on the Blog-Site itself.