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The Lost Museum: The Berlin Painting and Sculpture Collections 70 Years after World War II

Julien Chapuis, deputy director of the Sculpture Collection and Museum for Byzantine Art, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In this lecture, delivered on October 6, 2016, Julien Chapuis reflects on The Lost Museum, an exhibition organized at the Bode Museum in 2015. Most of the visitors to Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie, he contends, are so impressed by the many masterpieces on the walls that they probably do not realize that more than 430 paintings that belonged to the collection before 1945 are missing: works by Rubens, Veronese, Van Dyck, Caravaggio, and others. Similarly, the sculpture collection lost about a third of its holdings, including important examples by Donatello, Verrocchio, and Riemenschneider. Since 1945 most of these paintings and sculptures have gradually disappeared from the awareness of art historians and the public. The exhibition shed light on the historical circumstances of damage and destruction by fire in 1945, the subsequent recovery of numerous works by the Allies, and the return of recovered art to the divided city of Berlin in the 1950s. With plaster casts and photographic reproductions at original size, the exhibition sought to bring masterpieces of the Berlin painting and sculpture collections back into the public consciousness. It also explored the ethical and practical problems behind the restoration of art damaged by war. Every approach to this legacy expresses a particular view of the past as well as the prevailing political zeitgeist, and addressing it has meant something different for each generation as well as for each individual.