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Masterpieces – On the Craft of Painting

12.9.2019 - 19.1.2020

The exhibition “Masterpieces” is devoted to a forgotten chapter in the history of art. When an aspiring painter of former times completed his training, he had to submit a piece of his work to the aldermen of the guild and/or the municipal officials for examination to attain the rank of a master, hence “masterpiece”. Until now, art history had the tendency to concern itself with the “masterpiece” in the sense of “an outstanding work”, all too easily forgetting the artists’ roots in the crafts – a category from which they only managed to liberate themselves over the course of the nineteenth century.

Furthermore, the painters felt that the strict guild regulations and the guild training were not up to date: in their opinion, painting should not belong to the mechanical but to the liberal arts. The exhibition also points out the development of education from the painters' guild to the art academy. From the 16th cantury onwards, painters gathered in their studios to form private academies to draw from originials or plaster casts of antiquities and nudes and to discuss theoretical aspects of art.

The exhibition enters new territories by providing insight into the painter’s status as a guild craftsman, his rights and obligations as such and the related concerns of the municipal authorities. Yet it also investigates the painters ambiguous relationship to their guild, from which they expected protection while at the same time, as “autonomous artists”, they were seeking to liberate themselves from the constraints it placed upon them. 

The exhibition “Masterpieces” has surfaced all of the Historical Museum’s masterpieces out of storage and embeds them in the social history of artists of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

In cooperation with the University of Trier, Department Art History, Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Tacke and the Chamber of Handicrafts Frankfurt-Rhein-Main.


Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain
Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung
Kulturstiftung der Länder
Cronstett- und Hynspergische evangelische Stiftung
Georg und Franziska Speyer’sche Hochschulstiftung
Rudolf-August Oetker-Stiftung
Stiftung Giersch
Sparkassen-Kulturstiftung Hessen-Thüringen
Handwerkskammer Frankfurt-Rhein-Main


Andreas Tacke

HMF Exhibition Office

Curator, Project director: Wolfgang P. Cilleßen
Contact: wolfgang.cillessen[at]stadt-frankfurt.de

Curatorial assistence: Aude-Line Schamschula, Danica Brenner
Contact: a.schamschula[at]stadt-frankfurt.de

Press and public relations: Karin Berrío
Kontakt: karin.berrio[at]stadt-frankfurt.de