Alexander Minutoli’s collection

Published on: 13 / 12 / 2009

Authors of this entry:
  • Magdalena Palica

Alexander Minutoli, coming from a family of art collectors, revealed his interest in art objects as early as in his early youth, when he authored professional publications, e.g. an inventory of medieval monuments of Brandenburg (1836). For his research projects he acquired interest and financial support of Friedrich Wilhelm IV and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, both of whom Minutoli stayed in contact with for years, reporting the status of his ever new successive undertakings.

In 1839 Minutoli was assigned to a clerical post in Legnica (Liegnitz). At that time he commenced collecting various items of handicraft which he intended to be used as templates for contemporary craftsmen. At first the collection was located in his apartment in Legnica, which is where the first public exhibition of the objects from Minutoli’s collection was organized in 1844. But the flat soon became too small to contain the growing number of items. One year later the king granted Minutoli the permission to exhibit the collection in a part of the southern wing of the castle in Legnica, in order to make it accessible to the public. Over 3.000 objects were divided into several theme groups to facilitate exploring the museum. The items, displayed in an enfilade of 18 rooms, were divided into three main categories: collection of art, historical artifacts and technical objects.

Within the last category the objects were systematized according to the material of which they were made while the historical and artistic parts were arranged chronologically. There was, for example, a so called “chapel” containing medieval objects and a rococo room. The permanent exhibition was entitled “Ausstellung einer Vorbildersammlung für Handwerker und Gewerbetreibende” and it is considered the first museum of handicraft in Germany (the one in Berlin was opened in 1867). In the years to follow Minutoli organized also temporary expositions, e.g. the one in 1857, simultaneous with the Industrieausstellung in Wroclaw. Of particular interest to the viewers were the exhibitions presenting local design and works of art. But the exposition in the castle of Legnica apparently seemed to Minutoli to be still insufficient in terms of reaching the wide audience, since between the years 1845 and 1855, together with the photographer Ludwig Belitski, he edited a publication entitled Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker. Initially it was planned to be illustrated with etchings, but Minutoli quickly realized the possibilities of duplicating an image offered by a new medium – photography. The results of continuing this initiative in 1857 were a few volumes including 4.500 photos taken by Bielitski.

Beside the above mentioned works, catalogues of the collection were also printed. Minutoli amassed his collection during his European travels; he was also an active participant of auctions. From his father, Heinrich Minutoli, who took part in expeditions to Egypt, he inherited a collection of antiques, a part of which belongs now to the National Museum in Warsaw. Alexander Minutoli participated in archeological excavations in Silesia and it is possible that also there he acquired “antiquities” for his collection. In 1860 it was estimated to count 28.000 items, and it is worth noting that Minutoli sold a part of it to the royal Kunstkammer a year earlier. That part, along with other objects sold in 1869, formed the basis of Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin (in total 7.200 items were acquired from Minutoli). In 1875 the collection had to be removed from the castle in Legnica. Minutoli moved it to the palace in Biedrzychowice, which he bought over 10 years earlier. A part of the exhibit items was stored in two other buildings, also located at Minutoli’s estate. The first one was a tower called Woldeck (after the second part of the owner’s surname), the second - a castle named Rajsko, where the art collection (including European paintings and sculptures) was stored until World War I. The painting gallery consisted of several hundred objects, 199 of which were auctioned in 1899. Gemäldegalerie in Berlin acquired seven of those, among them e.g. Still Life with a Basket of Fruits by Balthasar van der Ast, a portrait by Jacob Claesz van Utrecht or The Lute Player, a copy of the painting from Ambrosiana museum in Milan, painted by the follower of Bartolomeo Veneto. A portrait of Eleanor of Austria by Joos van Cleve, sold during the same auction, belongs to Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna today. One of the landscape paintings once displayed in Biedrzychowice found its way to Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin. Among the works of art offered in that auction there were also examples of Silesian art from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, including one painting attributed to Michael Willmann. . A few of medieval artifacts from Minutoli’s collection are now in Polish museums, for example a Gothic altar by Michael Obilman from the church of St. Peter and Paul in Legnica (painted parts in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw and the District Museum in Toruń, sculptures in the National Museum in Wrocław) and the painting Madonna in a Chamber by a painter of the workshop of the Master of St. Barbara Polyptych. (today in the National Museum in Wrocław). One sculpture is owned by Kunsthistorisches Museum in Görlitz. Several glass dishes of historical value from the collection in Biedrzychowice can be seen in the National Museum in w Poznań.

A part of Minutoli’s collection of stonework was built in the walls of the buildings in which they were displayed, examples of which can be seen in the western portal of the garden façade of Biedrzychowice palace today. Those were also objects brought by Minutoli from his travels in Silesia, often having saved them from destruction. He used to buy old elements of the churches’ furnishing which were replaced by new ones, e.g. parts of the Gothic altar of the church of St. Peter and Paul in Legnica.

The exhibitions of Alexander Minutoli which were just a part of his numerous activities in Silesia, can be considered a pioneer attempt of making private collections available to the public. Thanks to the photographical recording of a big part of the collection we can admire it still today.

The text includes fragments of the article: M. Palica, Zbiory sztuki dolnośląskiej szlachty w czasach pruskich [in:] Materiały międzynarodowej konferencji "Szlachta na Śląsku: władza - kultura - wizerunek własny", J. Harasimowicz, M. Weber (eds) – in press

Project co-financed by Ministry of Labour and Social Policy under Government Project – Civic Benefit Fund.
All information published under license: Creative Commons