I must admit, Stuttgart is not one of my favourite cities. It probably can’t help it, since it was badly bombed in WW2 and there will have been some urgency in rebuilding it and wanting it to be “modern” with little regard to taste or aesthetics. I am more disturbed by the general filth in what used to be a country with a reputation for cleanliness, but as ever, I was determined to make lemonade out of my sour lemons and concentrate on the most interesting bits!
In the middle of town, a few older buildings and the old palaces have survived – Stuttgart was the capital city of the Kingdom of Württemberg until 1918 and the Altes Schloss (old castle), which dates from the 16th century, still stands (alongside the new castle from the 18th century). Originally surrounded by gardens and orchards and a number of follies, there is now a very busy road running underneath it and a busy city around it. However, I found the architecture to be quite remarkable and unexpectedly mediterranean, unusual for a German palace, something more associated with Baroque glamour!
The castle houses a fairly large and interesting exhibition of the history of Schwaben (Swabia, southwest Germany) from the very earliest humans up to the end of the monarchy and the death of Wilhelm II and I enjoyed several hours getting acquainted with a region that, to be honest, is on our doorstep and which we don`t really know very well. It’s actually quite as pretty as where we live, much of it an ancient volvanic landscape without the drama of our mountains but with famous and beautiful rivers in the wine-growing areas that are so popular, rolling hilly landscapes all the way down to the northern, German border of Lake Constance and its view over to Switzerland.
Stuttgart itself is built rather confusingly over a number of hills so it’s quite difficult to work out exactly where you are at times – we took a drive around some of the pretty wine villages that often feature half-timbered houses much like the little washhouse, with the bonus that they are surrounded by lush vineyards. I’m sure it’s beautiful in the green season! We also visited the famous television tower up on top of the hill called Bopser, a true representation of German engineering (Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes-Benz and Daimler, among others) and the “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic recovery) of Germany in the 1950s. Even on an icy winter’s day, it was busy with visitors keen to go up to the top for a view over the countryside.
Back in town, there are other cultural offerings – theatre, opera and a series of buildings housing history and art. I decided to take in the Staatsgalerie, the state art gallery. The collection of all periods is rather fine and coincidentally, a new exhibition has just begun (from February 1st) of paintings belonging to Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser-Bühler, a Swiss couple from Winterthur (only 10 minutes from our own little town). “Aufbruch Flora” will be on until mid-June and comprises the post-impressionist collection the couple amassed in the early 20th century – I hope to see this on one of my next visits. On this occasion, I headed for my favourite art period, the German and Dutch masters of the 14-17th centuries.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Albrecht Dürer’s meadow flowers – this garden of Eden is full of equally realistic and recognisable flowers and fruit and is considerably earlier (1416)!
A lot of mediaeval art is religious, and there were several depictions of the Three Kings – in one, they looked like boys with fake beards, but I rather liked this gallant and colourful one with beautiful horses and if you look closely in the middle, a gorgeous, eyelash-batting camel… I fear the artist wasn’t quite as familiar with camels as with horses 🙂
Saint George and the dragon (in the darkness there on the right!) – the sheep in the lower left corner looks rather bored and the expressions on the human faces are amusing, too. They almost call for cartoon speech bubbles – “oh no, he’s off on another dragon hunt…”, “bye then…” – or is it a Gilderoy Lockhart moment as he tosses his curls while mounting his horse?! I like these colours, though.
What about this chap, who looks as if someone had put their face through a hole in a different painting for a photo opportunity?! I love how he is casually putting out a raging fire in a burning house with a bucket of water… (I’ve forgotten who he is and my picture is too blurry for me to read the description, but it’s from the Kirchberger Altar!)
There were very realistic still life paintings, too, which look ready to eat
– this reminded me of paintings we saw at the Ashmolean in Oxford, juicy lemons and oranges like the small painting that hangs on my mother-in-law’s dining room wall!
The highlight (for me) was a family portrait
Initially I was again attracted by the colour palette of black, grey, white and red, which often appeals to me (see The Cholmondeley Ladies below, one of my favourites!), a combination of simplicity and intricacy. I was also fascinated by the skill of the painter in capturing what are surely excellent likenesses of the family and making it obvious that this couple produced these children resembling them. I think the older lady is the paternal grandmother, don’t you? The detail of this painting is incredibly rich, with black-on-black embroidery and the tiniest of brushstrokes making for intimate realism. I could have looked for hours.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cholmondeley_Ladies – Tate Gallery London. Spot the differences!
Following on with the more sombre colour palette, I also enjoy architecture in art, so this depiction of an Amsterdam church (I think!) was very pleasing to the eye. Despite the strictness of the Low Country religious views of the time, I was interested to note that children and dogs were apparently acceptable, even breast-feeding in public, and that the gentlemen are apparently using the church as a meeting place and one has dozed off in his pew ;).
Here are two with that reduced palette, perhaps surprisingly so – sorry they are so blurred, but it’s more about the (lack of) colour here! oops
and to finish, a topical one of clear lines and true colours showing the recent birth of Christ and the care and attention mother and child received – I feel there’s something very satisfying and “finished” about this painting.
Our own tiniest family member has taken her turn in the Christening gown that is a family heirloom, made in 1913 for my great-uncle! We’ve lost count of the number of babies in the family that have worn it… She’s also lying on my mother’s baby blanket…
As I left the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, there was a beautiful shot of the sun going down over the OperaAnd the following morning, the dog and I investigated St. John’s church at Feuersee, in the middle of town and yet surrounded by a pool (frozen over at this point) – just to prove that there are plenty of nice bits in this city, too!!