Pergamonmuseum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum
A number of the Humboldt Forum Highlights could already be encountered at prominent sites on Museum Island and in the Kulturforum. At a total of eight locations in the host ins-titutions – Gemäldegalerie, Neues Museum, Altes Museum and Pergamonmuseum – the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin presented their forerunners for the Humboldt Forum from the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst.
What significance did these artefacts have for the people who accompanied and shaped them? What do they mean to us today? Thanks to their multilayered biographies, some of the objects provide us with insights into complex historical and cultural relations, while others prove more enigmatic. The narratives spanning the histories of culture, nature and the collections will not answer every question. Nevertheless, they invite us to develop new outlooks and find our own answers.
Shiva's mount, 19th century
As if striding down a catwalk, this almost life-sized Zebu bull exudes elegance. This magnificent example is not just any humped bull, but one who served as God Shiva’s mount in a Hindu temple in South India. During major temple festivals a bronze effigy of the god, splendidly decorated in silk clothes and flowers, was mounted on the back of the wooden bull and driven round the temple with great pomp in a ceremonial procession.
Vishnu is an important Hindu god. He is considered to be a preserver: when the world is in turmoil he incarnates himself and intervenes to save the day. Here he appears upright and majestic, his face a picture of serene beauty. Four arms bear witness to his divine nature: the lower right hand indicates protection, while in his rear upper hands he holds a flaming discus as a weapon and a conch shell as a ritual trumpet. Such a large and intact figure of an Indian god is relatively rare in Western collections. Thanks to the durability of the granite material this Vishnu is in perfect condition.
Figure of a deity, before 1877
The life-sized wooden figure of the god Sope has an enigmatic air – simple, faceless and yet at the same time powerfully charismatic, it is reminiscent of a modern work of art. It originally stood in a temple in Nukuoro, a Polynesian exclave in Micronesia. During the month-long harvest festival, along with other figures it was decorated with flowers and presented with fruit and other food as sacrificial offerings. The collector Johann Stanislaw Kubary purchased the figure of the deity Sope in 1877 and brought it to Germany. There are only a few of these figures worldwide – each of them a relict of a past culture.
In many cultures snakes and eagles are animals possessing great symbolic power. In Mexico they are even immortalized on the national flag. By mysterious means they became fused amongst the Aztecs in the mythical chimera cuauhcoatl. The feathered rattlesnake with the beak of a golden eagle is extremely well preserved and so intricately worked that every single feather is visible. According to legend, the Aztecs, in search of a new home, settled where they saw an eagle land on a cactus. The place where this occurred is now called Mexico City.
Mayan War Vase, 700–900
The Maya considered cocoa to be the blood of the corn god. It was only served to the most powerful as a divine elixir. The containers designed for the cocoa were also symbolically charged. This vase from Guatemala, for example, whose surface features a wild battle scene, documents the triumph and defeat of powerful Mayan warriors. The detailed cinematic-like depiction and the unique artistic quality give us an insight into the fascinating cultural history of the Maya.
Quimbayan Cacique, 500–700
This elaborately fashioned example of the outstanding goldsmith’s craft of the Quimbaya from today’s Colombia probably depicts a cacique (tribal chief) or high priest. The elevated status of the man depicted can be discerned by his opulent jewellery. The figure served as a container for shell lime, which to this day is needed for chewing the coca leaves. The stimulating effect is produced by alkaloids which are only released from the leaves by the addition of lime.
Peaceful, at one with himself and, despite his closed eyes, astoundingly present – as if he wanted to say: I am here, whatever happens! The barrigón or small potbelly sculpture, as these obese figures are known, is shrouded in mystery. He takes us back to a very early phase in Central America’s settlement – to a time about which we know very little due to the absence of written records. The 800-kilogram boulder from Guatemala’s coastal lowlands probably represents a deity. However, the meaning assigned to the little potbelly boulder remains unknown to this day. He remains silent on the matter.
Further information on the exhibitions are also available at the website of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Single entry tickets
Altes Museum: 10 EUR, concessions 5 EUR
Neues Museum: 12 EUR, concessions 6 EUR
Pergamonmuseum: 12 EUR, concessions 6 EUR
Museum Island all exhibitions
18 EUR, concessions 9 EUR
Annual membership Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
from 25 EUR
3-days Museum Pass Berlin
29 EUR, concessions 14,50 EUR
The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights were being presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin.