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1852 – 1905
Foundation and location of the museum
Johann Baudri and Alexander Schnütgen
On 14 February 1853 the “Christlicher Kunstverein für das Erzbisthum Köln” (Christian Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts in the Archbishopric Cologne) was founded at the instigation of Cologne Suffragan Bishop Johann Baudri and his brother, the painter Friedrich Baudri. The art society was one of many Catholic associations with whose help the Church had hoped to obtain a certain independence from the state after the secularisation at the beginning of the 19th century. On the one hand, its members were interested in the preservation of old works of art that had been endangered, not properly restored or sold off. On the other hand, impulses were to be provided for new works of art. And for these new works, especially the Gothic period was to serve as stylistic model. This notion, born of the spirit of the Romantic movement, was even laid down in the rules of the association. Apart from having their own magazine, the society was of the opinion that the founding of their own museum would be an established means for accomplishing their goals. Very early then, on 2 April 1853, Cardinal von Geissel approved the founding of a museum for the Diocese of Cologne. He stipulated that the director of the museum was always to be the incumbent president of the art society. The first 500 objects of the collection were temporarily / provisionally stored on the premises of the former Jesuit college. In 1854 the museum presented its first public exhibition in the Gürzenich. Amongst the paintings shown there was also the “Virgin with the Violet” by Stefan Lochner. Shortly beforehand, it had been rediscovered in the seminary by one of the committee’s members, Christian Vosen. After being cleaned by the painter Anton Brasseur and rid of later overpaintings, it has been housed in the museum as a permanent loan by the seminary ever since.
In 1855 the Diözesanmuseum was opened in the renovated rooms of the innkeeper Harff on the northern corner of the Domhotel. It was now Cologne’s second oldest public collection after the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. In 1858, the society bought what had formerly been the Horst Sugar Factory on the south side of Cologne Cathedral. The building consisted of parts of the old archbishop’s palace, and for a long time it had served as the seat of the Officiality and later of the Prefecture. Up to the opening on 14 May 1860 rebuilding works were carried out according to plans by Vincenz Statz. The character of the collection during the first fifty years was very heterogeneous. In addition to cast-off and no longer needed church property, it was, above all, donations and loans which made up the inventory because there was no money for purchases. Thanks to the Aachen canon and member of the museum board Franz Bock, who was given the title of “conservator” for his commitment, the museum owns a whole range of textiles. In so-called “permanent exhibitions” artists and craftsmen were allowed to sell their works if the rented a stand. During the struggle between the Church and Bismarck from 1872 to 1887, the museum – when compared to other Catholic institutions – was spared any serious interventions. In this context, the director of the museum emphasised the museum’s independence from the Archbishopric of Cologne. On 30th November 1891 Cologne Canon Alexander Schnütgen, who owned one of the most extensive collections of sacred art of the time, followed Suffragan Bishop Johann Baudri as president of the society’s association and director of the museum. In order to finance a new building for the museum, there were attempts to sell the old building, but to no avail. They were able to obtain additional income by letting the lower rooms of the museum.
Literature: Wilhelm Neuß, Hundert Jahre Verein für christliche Kunst im Erzbistum Köln und Bistum Aachen, Mönchengladbach 1954; Ulrike Surmann, Zur Geschichte des Kölner Diözesanmuseums (series „wortwörtlich“, no. 3); 150 Jahre! 1853-2003 (Kolumba – Werkhefte und Bücher, no. 15), Köln 2003; Wolfgang Schmitz, Geschichte des Vereins für christliche Kunst, in: Himmel auf Erden? Festschrift zum 150-jährigen Jubiläum des Vereins für christliche Kunst im Erzbistum Köln und Bistum Aachen e.V., Köln 2003, S. 18-175.
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