The Purloined Masterpiece. Images as Time Machines

The Purloined Masterpiece. Images as Time Machines contrasts the conventional practice of collection display with a model that allows the Academy’s historical art collections – the Paintings Gallery, the Graphic Collection and the Plaster Cast Collection – to enter into conversation with contemporary works.

The exhibition draws on these three rich collections, plucking out only a selection of the many possible pictorial programmes, typologies and allegorical formulas in order to loosely interweave these with works from other periods.

The exhibition takes a digressive tour through art history from the 15th century to the present day, as reflected in the art collections of the Academy of Fine Arts. In the process, it addresses 17th-century theories of pictorial representation, such as this of Samuel van Hoogstraten, as well as considerations from present-day media theory that arise from technological transformation, exploring how this has been reflected in image generation and the associated theoretical debate since time immemorial.

In addition to these themes, the exhibition showcases the metaphor of the seascape and its territorial-political representation – the ship and the sea. The period on the cusp of courtly and bourgeois concepts of society, the implications of proto-industrialisation for class relations and living conditions play a key role here along with related ambiguous figures of exclusion and status satires. Nudes and depictions of Mary come into play, as do the contrasting poles of the Dionysian and Apollonian or Gothic transcendence.

Typologies, fluid transitions and subject constitutions are displayed and put up for discussion on a stage replete with surprising correlations and radical juxtapositions in a spirit of viewing art through the prism of “family resemblances” and correspondences or connections despite all the historical conditioning produced and established over the centuries.

The exhibition’s title comes from a commingling of E.A. Poe’s detective story The Purloined Letter about a stolen letter that goes unnoticed in plain sight and Honoré de Balzac’s novella The Unknown Masterpiece (Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu), which explores the imagination and the limits of representability: “The aim of art is not to copy nature, but to express it!” old Master Frenhofer proclaims in the novella. Moreover, the novella features figures such as Peter Paul Rubens, Nicolas Poussin and François Porbus, all of whom play a role in the collection of the Paintings Gallery. Both stories deal with the issues of representation, appropriation, mimesis and (optical) deception, as well as with the definition of “mastery” when it comes to grasping reality, albeit in the opposite sense of excessive imitation and failure in representation.

Albrecht Altdorfer, Philips Angel van Middelburg, Cornelis Bega, Johann Christian Friedrich, Wilhelm Beyer, Abraham van Beyeren, Quirin Boel, Hieronymus Bosch, Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, known as Botticelli, Dieric Bouts, Jacques Callot, Daniel Chodowiecki, Joos van Cleve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Anthony van Dyck, Antonio da Fabriano, Barent Fabritius, Florentine Painter, Jan Fyt, Jan van Goyen, Hans Baldung Grien, Joris van der Haagen, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Jan van Huysum, Johann Kupetzky, Johann Baptist von Lampi the Younger, Claude Gelée, known as Lorrain, Master of the Austrian Forelands, Master of the Von Groote Adoration, Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine (Circle), Netherlandish Master, Martin van Meytens, Michael van Mierevelt, Jan Miense Molenaer, Monogrammist H. P., Jacobea Maria van Nikkelen, Adriaen van Ostade, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob van Ruisdael, Rachel Ruysch, Roelant Savery, Jacopo del Sellaio, Laurenz Spenning, attributed, Pierre Subleyras, David Teniers the Younger, Anna Dorothea Therbusch, Wigerus Vitringa, Simon de Vlieger, Cornelis van der Voort, attributed, after Rogier van der Weyden, Franz Zächerle, Reinier Nooms, known as Zeeman, plaster casts based on antique and classicist models and Gothic architectural drawings
Martin Beck, Anna-Sophie Berger / Teak Ramos, Marcel Broodthaers, Lili Dujourie, VALIE EXPORT, Rodney Graham, Ulrike Grossarth, Albert Paris Gütersloh, Marcello Maloberti, Willem Oorebeek, Jeroen de Rijke / Willem de Rooij, Klaus Scherübel, Allan Sekula, Paul Sietsema, Laurence Sturla

Curator: Sabine Folie

In the format Lektionen / Lessons, a new series of events on the exhibition The Purloined Masterpiece. Images as Time Machines, authors of the catalogue and others as well as artists of the exhibition are providing insights into various thematic areas. 

The catalogue of the exhibition

The Purloined Masterpiece. Images as Time Machines

Edited by Sabine Folie
Texts by Sabine Folie, Rodney Graham, Sandra Hindriks, Claudia Koch, René Schober, Allan Sekula, Bernhard Siegert, Victor I. Stoichita
German/English, 280 pages, 235 colored illustrations, Hardcover

Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Köln
ISBN: 978-3-7533-0370-3

The publication is available in the store of the Paintings Gallery for 38,00 Euros or can be ordered per mail at

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