Harboring some of the world’s greatest examples of European art, the Gemäldegalerie belongs to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, an affiliation of 19 museums found in five locations throughout Berlin. It forms part of the Kulturforum, a multi-faceted cultural center that was largely built in the 1960s before the Berlin Wall came down. Today the Kulturforum also encompasses the Philharmonie and Chamber Music Hall, home to the Berlin Philharmonic; Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie, which showcases contemporary art; and the Kunstgewerbemuseum, home to Germany’s premier decorative-arts collections.
The present incarnation of the Gemäldegalerie was not completed until 1998, almost a decade after German re-unification in 1989, and was the work of Berlin architectural firm Hilmer and Sattler. Its boxy, contemporary design hides a surprisingly traditional interior, in which over 1,000 art treasures from the Middle Ages to the 18th century are beautifully hung in a spacious suite of galleries. Arranged chronologically, the displays present the very pinnacle of western art, from the gilded religious works of Giotto through the fine animal etchings of Albrecht Dürer and portraits in oil by Hans Holbein to the world-beating 16-strong collection of sublime paintings by Rembrandt. Along the way there are world-beating artworks to discover by eminent artists such as the Flemish Primitive Pieter Bruegel, fine Venetian landscapes by Canaletto and rococo portraits by Thomas Gainsborough.