Fieldtrip to Cologne: Wallraf-Richartz and Schnütgen Museums

In my quest to study relevant artefacts, I visited Cologne, Germany, on Tuesday 18th August, focusing on the Wallraf-Richartz museum (housing several Barthel Bruyn paintings) and the Museum Schnütgen (medieval liturgical vestments).
gudulaI must say, I was rather disappointed by the world-famous Wallraf-Richartz museum. Granted, I only visited their first floor and the “Medieval & renaissance” section, since none of the early modern – modern objects are of research interest to me, but being used to UK museums and their warm welcoming feel, as well as the helpfulness that I encountered in the Landesmuseum Zürich in Switzerland, the less than welcoming attitude (except for the bookshop staff!) at the museum reception and information put me off straight away. Perhaps the museum is too well-known for bothering? But then so is the V&A in London and I have always encountered smiles there.

Anyway, besides my personal unhappiness that shouldn’t have had an impact on the usefulness of the museum, I was struck by the rather useless information panels. It is all very well to add a panel with some fanciful text on an “unsuccessful execution” but there are people like me who would like to know the pertinent data of the object. The latter was scarce and hidden small on the bottom. What annoyed me the most was the information panel in room 9, the display of the Ursula legend panels. I wouldn’t even call it an information panel, because despite its enormous size there was no date, no provenance, no anything. I had to go online and onto their website to find the date of the objects. Sorry, but that’s just not good enough. A museum should not only be entertainment and enlightenment for the general population, but should also give enough information for those who want more. I spent 3 hours in there, photographing what I needed to and don’t think I’ll be necessarily back.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I think disappointment does that to a person. I had such high hopes. Nevertheless, I must not forget that they have a truly stunning array of objects in their medieval section, with Stephan Lochner probably being the most famous artist, and their collection of 14th – early 16th century altar paintings is amazing.

I can highly recommend their museum shop, I managed to find a pile (don’t ask me how much I spent…) of fantastic books on my subjects, which I would have never been made aware according to I came back with kilos of them and just about made the baggage allowance for both suitcase and carry-on.

So, don’t mid my personal gripe too much, but I do find a welcoming and helpful attitude in public arenas very important – especially when it comes to culture and history.
palm procession christThe Museum Schnütgen was in many ways the opposite experience for me. I had not expected too much, which was probably my own fault for never having heard of it. What a mistake! The museum has stunning liturgical vestments and an amazing textiles collection (only some are on display, obviously). As they describe themselves: “The Museum Schnütgen has a valuable collection of medieval art on exhibit in one of Cologne’s oldest churches.(..) A distinctive feature of the museum is its largest exhibition space, which dates back over 1,000 years.”

I have to say, though, that the information panels are also quite poor in the textiles section, but the museum makes up for it by offering a free guide in brochure form, which offered more information and all that I had hoped for.

I enjoyed my stay so much, and was so surprised at the excellent objects that are relevant for my research, I will definitely return. I also find it wonderful to be able to look at artefacts from all angles, and this way of exhibiting reminded me of the Landesmuseum Zürich and their medieval section. The museum shop was small, but quite well stocked and I found an excellent book, the catalogue of their textile collection, which had been published with the help of the Abegg Stiftung, Switzerland – and there we have the explicit link.

Sadly I ran out of battery power for my camera too soon (must buy a second one to swap), and had to head back to the Hauptbahnhof before they closed.

I will be sharing fruits of my photographic labour from both museums on this blog.

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