The Alte Pinakothek, built by the architect Leo von Klenze in 1836 and opened by King Ludwig I of Bavaria, houses one of the most important collections of old masters in Germany, and indeed Europe: works range from Durer to Rubens and from Raphael to Boucher. Such a rich collection, which also includes works in numerous associated galleries across Bavaria, from Augsburg and Aschaffenburg, through Bamberg and Bayreuth to Wurzburg, can justifiably be described as a treasure trove.

The gallery is the perfect place to study the history of painting with all its ramifications, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, taking in the Renaissance and Baroque periods en route. The traditional commissions of official altarpieces, private devotional painting, individual or society portraiture, landscapes and still lifes are all represented, so visitors are sure to find something to suit their personal tastes and interests. The series of large halls and small cabinets offers many surprises, including large-scale works like the monumental paintings of Sir Peter Paul Rubens. These are exhibited in the central hall due to their enormous size and their permanent position among the greatest treasures of Bavaria. This painter of impressive and dramatic scenes put his work at the service of the Church, and the Counter-Reformation in particular.

Many items from churches within the domain of the House of Wittelsbach found their way into the collections of the Alte Pinakothek, along with works held by branches of the family in their galleries in Dusseldorf and Mannheim, which came to Munich due to various changes in dynastic rule. In this way, the most exquisite body of works was brought together here and, to this day, is on display in 13 branch galleries throughout Bavaria, following a timehonoured and ongoing tradition. Yet the jewel in the crown has always been the Alte Pinakothek itself, whose impressive entrance suffused with light was created in 1957 in the form of a double staircase designed by Hans Döllgast as part of the post-Second World War reconstruction; and with its coffee-house it offers visitors a perfect place to relax.

The Neue Pinakothek is equally striking, the harmony of both the building and the collection it houses making it a memorable place to visit. It is a newly built structure, however, rather than part of the original nineteenth-century building which was destroyed during the Second World War and removed. Following a lengthy design phase, the new museum by Alexander von Branca was completed and opened in 1981. Seen from the outside, the building is a play on historical forms and to this extent it is an example of early post-modernism, with echoes of fortified castles, crenellations, arched windows and a moat which is overlooked by the café. The interior, by contrast, is in the modern idiom, conceived in democratic and excellent proportions, light and spacious, varied and surprising to visitors as they walk around.

It provides a journey through the art of the French Revolution to the turn of the twentieth century, from Classicism and Romanticism to impressionism and symbolism. The tour includes a few sculptures in the small rooms and large halls, as well as a cycle of murals by Carl Rottmann, who illustrates the cultivation of art and passion for Greece under King Ludwig I in the early nineteenth century. Since then the Neue Pinakothek has acquired a stunning collection of European art from Caspar David Friedrich to Monet, Manet and Van Gogh. It was not only the efforts of artistically inclined monarchs like Ludwig I that contributed to this collection, however, but also the commitment of numerous private individuals; it includes acquisitions by Friends of the Museum as well as many collectors and art lovers who realised that such a collaboration between the state and its citizens was essential in order to maintain the glory of the princely collections in a democratic age.

Text by Bernhard Maaz