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600 Years of Art at the University Leipzig –
Rediscovering the Collection

STUDIENSAMMLUNG

Ritterstrasse 26 (Rektorat)
04109 Leipzig

Opening Hours:
Monday 11-15 h

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The Art Collection

The University Art Collection (Kunstsammlung) comprises European paintings, sculptures, works on paper as well as objects of the applied arts from the High Middle Ages into the present. In many ways, the collection reflects six hundred years in the history of Germany’s second oldest university. Rather than being collected for museum purposes, the holdings gradually grew over time and are significant both as an ensemble and for numerous important pieces. The exhibition on the ground floor of the Rektoratsgebäude (Rectorate, Ritterstraße 26) offers visitors a synopsis of the history of the alma mater as well as a representative cross-section of the collection.

The Early Period

Reformation and Baroque

The State University

Contemporary Art

 

 

 

 

The Early Period

Historically the Universität Leipzig (“Alma mater Lipsiensis”) is an offshoot of the Charles University in Prague. After Masters and students of German origin had left Prague – due to what they considered political oppression – a new university was founded in Leipzig in 1409 with the support of the Margraves of Meißen and the permission of the Pope. Frederic IV, also known as the “Quarrelsome”, and Wilhelm II granted them property and the right to self-administration. This special status is symbolised in the Art Collection by “insignia”, such as the pair of sceptres (1476) [3] and the rector’s small seal (1592). Following the Prague example, the new university was likewise structured on the principle of four faculties and four so-called “nations” of Meißen, Saxony, Bavaria and Poland. They are reflected in four painted shields of the 17th century, which originally decorated the university hall (“Nationenstube”).

Today, many aspects of the history of the University can only be found in its Art Collection. Practically no trace is left of the early university’s original buildings, as they were continually being rebuilt in more modern styles and on a grander scale. The oldest college buildings were located in the south-western part of the medieval city, between the Schlossgasse and the Petersstraße, where the city council had allocated buildings for the use of graduates even before the official founding of the university. Later expanded to the “Kleines Fürstenkolleg”, these buildings housed the Faculty of Law from 1508 onwards (first called the “Petrinum” and referred to as the “Juridicum” since 1881). The main campus, however, was situated on the eastern rim of the medieval city, in the “Latin Quarter” between the city wall (now the Goethestraße) and the Ritterstraße. The complex of buildings became the seat of the Faculty of Arts (artes liberales). The new campus included the “Großes Fürstenkolleg” complete with dormitories (“Bursen”), a large heated lecture hall (“Vaporarium”), which also served as an assembly hall (“Nationenstube”), as well as various colleges, e.g. the “Kleines Colleg” and the “Rotes Colleg”.

 

 

 

 

 

Reformation and Baroque

The introduction of the Reformation in 1539 entailed the donation of even larger premises. In 1543 Grand Duke Moritz bequeathed the newly secularised Dominican monastery of St. Paul, south of the Grimmaische Straße,
now the area between the Grimmaische Straße, the Universitätsstraße,
Augustusplatz and the Moritzbastei. Numerous important medieval works of art in the collection testify to the wealth and culture of the former
monastery, such as the life-size wood sculpture of St. Thomas Aquinus Teaching [8] and a double-sided painted altar piece, both completed around 1400. The late 15th century high altar of the Paulinerkirche is exhibited in the Thomaskirche as a loan from the University to the church. The close ties between the university and the Reformation movement are documented in numerous portraits of Luther and Melanchton, paintings with Protestant iconography, such as “Christ and the Children” from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder [4] and painted epitaphs such as the one for Johann Goritz dating from 1553.

For the growing University, the acquisition of the monastery library represented a notable improvement in teaching conditions. At the same time the new premises provided the much-needed space for lecture halls, refectories and dormitories. Founded in 1240, the Paulinerkirche was architecturally re-modelled according to Protestant ideas and solemnly inaugurated as the university church in 1545. Its spacious interior served not only for disputations and graduation ceremonies, but also as the burial site for the university elite, a practice that continued into the late 18th century. In this tradition, an important ensemble of epitaphs developed over the centuries, which continued to inspire pride and confidence in later generations. In 1968, however, communist rulers decided to tear down the church to make room for socialist “urban development”. Before the church was literally blown up, many works of art could be saved by dedicated citizens. The current exhibition presents a selection that has been restored, yet a great many pieces still await restoration for display in the new university hall/church on its original site (expected completion in 2009).

The Post-Reformation history of the University is also reflected in numerous portraits of professors. The “Ordinariengalerie” of the Law School [7] includes portraits of department heads from the 16th to the 19th century and is the only systematically planned gallery of professors at the university. From the middle of the 17th century onwards, an increase in portrait donations from private benefactors is to be noted, many of which were gifts to the University Library. Of particular interest to art historians is the late 18th century Gallery of Friendship. The collection consists of portraits commissioned by the publisher and bookseller Phillipp Erasmus Reich of Leipzig. Reich had associated with many famous Enlightenment writers, artists and philosophers such as Moses Mendelsohn, Lessing and
Sulzer from Leipzig or Lavater from Zurich. Predominantly painted by
Anton Graff, the pictures included several university professors, for example C. F. Gellert and J. A. Ernesti.

The so-called “deposition instruments” are of special importance for the history of student life at the university because they are relics of an ancient initiation rite for incoming students. The notion derives from the Latin term depositio cornu, i.e. the “removal of the horns”. An incoming student at that time had to don a hat with horns, symbolic of his uncouth, Dionysian nature, the forcible removal of which symbolised his passage into civilised society. Moreover, the student was “groomed” with oversize combs, razors, axes and planes. After repeated cases of injuries and even death, the initiation was finally abolished in 1719. Similar rites were common at many universities throughout Europe, but the necessary “tools” have only survived in Leipzig.

 

 

 

 

 

The State University

From 1830 onwards the Universität Leipzig began developing into a modern state university. The new beginnings went hand in hand with an ambitious building spree, which is documented in the collection through various cityscapes on paper. Between 1830 and 1836, the first main building named “Augusteum”, based on the designs of A. Geutebrück, was built on the Augustusplatz. Its sculptural decoration by E. Rietschel
(1801 – 1864), for instance the tympanon on the façade and the cycle of twelve reliefs for the university hall, was largely destroyed in 1944, but an important architectural fragment in the shape of the monumental entrance gate called the “Schinkelportal” has survived. The middle of the 19th century also saw the construction of new institute buildings both on the premises of the monastery and in the “Academic Quarter” on the city’s south-eastern periphery, amply documented in etchings and lithographs. The years around 1900 saw the advent of yet another building campaign. Between 1892 and 1898 the original Augusteum by Geutebrück was re-modelled along historistic lines by A. Roßbach [6], adhering to the classical style of his predecessor. In addition to a new façade towards the Augustusplatz, the building was furnished with an impressive foyer and a much larger university hall. In the exhibition, two alternative designs are shown as models. In a second phase, the façade of the church was likewise re-modelled, however in the Neo-Gothic style.

The university collection also contains a large number of works on paper, drawings, engravings and other types of prints, the majority of which date from the 19th century. One group of prints and drawings is of particular importance because it includes works by various members of the Genelli-family, e.g. Buonaventura, Hans Christian and Camillo Genelli. The large legacy of scientifically valuable drawings and watercolours by W. G. Tilesius von Tillenau are documents of early 19th century natural history and ethnography. Made during a journey around the world with a Russian expedition led by A. J. Krusenstern between 1803 and 1806, they illustrate landscape, peoples, as well as flora and fauna mainly of China and Japan. In addition, the holdings include an extensive collection of historical “Bilderbögen” (early printed illustrations in popular publications).

Most of the interior decoration of the “Augusteum” was however destroyed in World War II. The monumental mural painting The Flourishing of Greece (1907 – 1909) in the auditorium by the symbolist painter and sculptor Max Klinger of Leipzig was lost. In the years around 1900, the university had particularly close ties with Klinger and commissioned him to produce several works. In the exhibition this special relationship is attested to by Klinger’s marble bust (1908) of the psychologist and former professor Wilhelm Wundt. Some pieces of the interior decoration of the Augusteum have survived, such as the sculpted portrait bust of the art historian Anton Springer [9] signed by Carl Seffner and dated 1892. Vogel von Vogelstein’s oil painting (1841) of Gottfried Hermann, professor of classical philology, is just one example of a representative collection of painted portraits from the 19th century.

 

 

 

Contemporary Art

After the reopening of the university in 1946, it was re-modelled into a socialist university and renamed the Karl Marx University in 1953. As a consequence, the collection also includes a number of works in the style of socialist realism. After the scandalous demolition of the university church in 1968, the socialist re-modelling of the Augustusplatz entered a new phase. Even the works of art commissioned on the occasion, such as W. Tübke’s mural painting entitled “The Working Class and the Intelligentsia” and the monumental bronze relief entitled “Departure”, both part of the modern complex on the sites of the main building and the church, adhered to ideological precepts. From 1970 onwards, the University commissioned painted portraits of several of its rectors, such as
G. Mayer by H. Wagner [10]. From the District Council (Rat des Bezirkes), an administrative body controlled by the socialist party, the university received works of art as loans that have remained in the collection. After German reunification in 1989, the university inherited the Art Collection of the Athletic College (“Deutsche Hochschule für Körperkultur und Sport” or DHfK) relating to the world of sports, including the “Long Jumper” by W. Sitte. Apart from the bequests of artists, such as H. E. Strüning and
R. Oelzner, a number of works by the protagonists of the Leipziger Schule could be acquired, for example W. Mattheuer, W. Tübke, B. Heisig and H. Zander [12]. Acquisitions presently focus on works on paper, in particular prints by contemporary artists from Leipzig, where such work has a strong tradition.


 



 

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