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Munich’s Art Gallery, Reflecting German History

Munich, Germany

Munich’s Alte Pinakothek (“Old Painting Gallery”) displays Bavaria’s top collection of European masterpieces. Works by Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Dürer, and Rubens are considered in the context of the Reformation, Renaissance, and Counter-Reformation.

Complete Video Script

As the capital of Bavaria for centuries, Munich was able to amass lots of great art. And a cluster of museums shows off masterpieces through the ages: Got 19th-century art just over there, a wonderful collection of modern art across the street, and we’re heading for the old masters at the Alte Pinakothek.

The Alte Pinakothek — or "old painting gallery" — shows off Bavaria’s best collection of European masterpieces from the 14th through the 18th centuries, featuring work by many of the greats. Botticelli’s Lamentation shows the early-Renaissance ability to show spirituality through human emotions.

Leonardo’s Madonna with a Carnation was done when the artist was only 21 — well on his way to Mona Lisa greatness. And in this marvelous holy family, Raphael is clearly the master of grace.

Paintings give a peek at the tumultuous events as Germany woke from its medieval slumbers and entered a new epoch.

In this self-portrait, Albrecht Dürer — one of the "Class of 1500" — heralds an optimistic new age. Dürer brings the humanistic spirit of Italy’s Renaissance to the medieval north. Recently returned from Italy, Dürer portrays himself — the artist — with unprecedented self-esteem. When this individualism met church authority, sparks flew.

Dürer’s Four Apostles seem to reflect the turbulent times when the Reformation swept through Northern Europe. With the rugged features of everyday people — they take the Bible into their own hands — a humanist coup that ignited an all-Europe war. Looking around suspiciously, they clutch a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other, prepared to defend their beliefs.

In 1517, the German monk Martin Luther broke with the Church in Rome. Suddenly people had to choose — am I Protestant or Catholic? Albrecht Dürer actually met Martin Luther, he was impressed by his ideas, and became one of his supporters.

The Catholic Church responded with the Counter-Reformation — and also used art as a weapon. The Church hired Rubens to show the epic battle: St. Michael hurling Lucifer out of heaven. The lesson? Those who oppose God’s will shall loose. Believers had the entire Mass to ponder these scenes.

All these heavenly battles mirrored what was going on in Europe. After 30 years of religious wars, a third of Germany was dead. Finally, in 1648, an exhausted Europe made a treaty enabling Protestants and Catholics to co-exist.