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Prehn’s Paradise of Paintings

Confectioner Prehn’s Paradise of Paintings. A unique collection of images from the Age of Goethe
May, 20th 2021 – Januar, 16th 2022
From about 1780 onwards, Frankfurt confectioner Johann Valentin Prehn (1749–1821) assembled a private Cabinet of Miniatures featuring 812 small-format paintings. In 32 folding display cases he brought together paintings of all schools and genres, from medieval times until the 19th century.

Prehn’s wonderful world of images is a stroke of good fortune for art history. For it has survived in its original structure. Many other painting collections have, by contrast, been reduced or later expanded in a process of museum selection to what were considered important works. Prehn’s Cabinet of Miniatures however offers an undiluted impression of what art connoisseurs around 1800 collected.

The Cabinet of Miniatures presents not only the most different range of techniques, materials and types of paintings. It also opens up the entire qualitative spectrum of artistic output from different epochs. In the densely filled display cases hang aesthetically irrelevant mass goods, leftovers of small house altars and painted cabinets, cheap copies, and fragments of paintings all displayed as equals alongside unique works of art such as the medieval Paradiesgärtlein (Little Garden of Paradise) – whereby the combinations are often as daring as they are amusing.

In 2011, Historisches Museum Frankfurt initiated the compilation of a scholarly catalogue of Prehn’s Cabinet of Miniatures. The results are available in an online database and a catalogue covering highlights of the collection. Structured around 14 themes, the exhibition highlights the new insights by means of eight presentation cases that lean heavily on Prehn’s original displays. Other display cases from the original collection are on show in the gallery next door in the Collector’s Museum.