A fantastically cunning monumental painting

Thuringia’s global art in Bad Frankenhausen

Holidaymakers in Thuringia who are interested in art and culture can hardly miss it – literally or metaphorically: in the centre of the Kyffhäuser Nature Park, the striking building of the Panorama Museum sits enthroned on a solitary, though historically significant mountain and can be seen from far away. On a canvas measuring more than 1,700 square metres, the artist Werner Tübke immortalised his own interpretation of the “Early Bourgeois Revolution in Germany” – with more than 3,000 figures in around 75 brightly coloured key scenes. An art experience that makes a very lasting impression!

The address of the Panorama Museum in Bad Frankenhausen – “Am Schlachtberg 9” (On Battle Mountain 9) – hints at a historical background, but not at all at the fact that a unique art experience, which is now regarded as the “Sistine Chapel of the North”, has been created here in the middle of the countryside, outside the tranquil saltwater spa resort of Bad Frankenhausen. When you enter the round, windowless hall, the painting will take your breath away to begin with – that is how impressive the dimensions and the depiction of the thousands of figures and the real-looking landscapes are. Surrounding the art and culture tourist in a 360° view, there are, believe it or not, 123 metres of painting with a height of 14 metres. The canvas, which was actually produced in a single piece, weighs more than a tonne.

A monument of superlatives in Bad Frankenhausen

To honour one of the most tragic figures of medieval history, the theologian and radical Reformer Thomas Münster, and as a reminder of one of the last battles of the German Peasants’ War in the 16th century, a huge memorial was erected – at the scene of the events and with a monumental panoramic painting as the focal point. In 1976, the graphic artist, painter and art lecturer was commissioned to create this work by the East German Ministry of Culture. From a technical point of view, he was probably deemed to be the only person who would be capable of executing this project, which seemed virtually impossible. The building was opened in September 1989, just before Reunification.

Komplexbild as a basis for Tübke’s intellectual game of hide-and-seek

Bringing the specified subject matter onto the canvas purely as a visual historical narrative was much too easy, judging by Werner Tübke’s own high creative aspirations. Right at the outset, he stated that he would only agree if he were allowed to devise a complex image of the era that did not follow a linear historical development. He made a total of 13 demands, all of which were surprisingly approved.  

“The term ‘Komplexbild’, a form of art that emerged in East Germany in the 1960s, is used to describe paintings that present all kinds of themes of the country in a really complex, contradictory and indeed dialectical way. Overarching affirmative and critical aspects are incorporated.” (A statement by the museum director Gerd Lindner)

 

Werner Tübke researched the subject for three years. As a basis for the scenes brimming with details, he primarily used well-known literary classics, each of which deals with the “fight for freedom” in their own way. In the process, Werner Tübke focused on historically proven events and bible passages, but also incorporated myths, stories and even his own life. He painted the underlying context into the figures and the typical scenes of the 16th century. “He invoked them,” says the art lover – and furnished them with innumerable details that reinforce the expressiveness of the painting, such as the intentionally oversized fox tail, which was seen as a symbol of subservience in the Middle Ages. Werner Tübke arranged every scene in the way that made scene in his head – bit by bit, the amazed visitor can work their way through it mentally. 

Full of life like a theatre performance

The artwork could be regarded as a stage set for humanity’s revolutionary concept of freedom. And for the perpetual battle, which looks apocalyptic in Werner Tübke’s artistic universe, for the fulfilment of often very simple, but fundamental needs – to secure livelihoods, rights and co-determination and to protect life and limb. In this multifaceted pictorial world, the suggestion is made to the audience that they are part of the work. History plays out before you within touching distance. An execution that is particularly sophisticated in terms of both the painting and the structure – in some places using methods that are familiar from the art of the 16th century – makes the monumental painting extraordinarily vivid. And a multi-dimensional impression is created: a ledge can be perceived as such. Simply by mixing and applying paints that have an unfathomable luminosity, it was possible to compose a detailed specialist treatise. They even add realism to the seasons. Snow is made so palpable that you shiver when you look at it. The design of the hall’s floor, the lighting like an church and other tricks of the interior architecture enhance the enormously strong impact.