I will start by mentioning the museum that we did not get to see, although we very much wanted to. It’s the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain which was recommended to us by knowledgeable friends.  Unfortunately the time was too short, we just had one full day to spend in Strasbourg, and we had to give up to this one and a few other in a city which has a lot of fine institutions of art, trying to match its pretensions to be more than the bureaucratic capital of Europe.

Palais Rohan

So we decided to limit ourselves to two of the museums located close to the Cathedral. The First was the Musee des Beaux-Arts, located in the beautiful Palais Rohan built at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, in the period of consolidation of the French rue on Alsace. The history of the museum starts a century later, at a time when after the French revolutions palaces belonging to the aristocracy of the vieux regime were turned into museums and the national collections (including the one at the Louvre) were founded. The collection of the city of Strasbourg was then established and in time its evolution led to one of the finest collection of classical painting that can be found in France.

Raphael - Portrait of a Young Woman

The most interesting section belongs to the period of the Renaissance. A few remarkable portraits are to be found, among which Raphael’s portrait of a young woman, full of freshness, nobility and delicacy.

El Greco - Mater Dolorosa

El Greco’s Mater Dolorosa has a poignant look of a woman who questions the burden of destiny fallen upon her.Having just read Petru Popescu’s Girl Mary I can imagine this woman being the character described by the writer years after the events in the book.

Salvator Rosa - Selfportrait

Salvator Rosa’s self-portrait with its slightly daemonic stare is a remarkable combination of character and mythology painting. The position and angle of observation remind Caravaggio.

Flemish Anonymous - Nightmare

Leaving the Italian painting section, here is one striking and macabre Nightmare belonging to a Flemish anonymous painter and dated around 1530.

Melchior Blocksberger - The Creation

Discovering local artists may be many times rewarding in museums that are out of the very beaten track. A complex composition representing the Creation belongs to a local artist who lived in the 16th century named Melchior Blocksberger.

Quentin Metsys - Portrait of a Humanist

An interesting temporary exhibition was hosted in the last room of the collection. It included 11 paintings that belonged to the Oppenheimer family, one of the richest Jewish family of the city at the beginning of the 20th century. Associated with the German-speaking high classes they were obliged to leave the city after the first world war to find refuge in Berlin.  As the Nazis came to power another exile started, and the family resettled in the United States. Their descendants now returned to Strasbourg with part of the art collection presented in this exhibition among which the Portrait of a Humanist by Flemish 15th century painter Quentin Metsys.

Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame which we visited later in the afternoon is located in an adjoining less impressive building, but its collection matches the value and the beauty of the Fine Arts Museum. The collection is made of donations made for the cathedral, and it includes many treasures related to the cathedral itself, and objects which have once been part of the internal decoration, but also a splendid and probably unique collection of Medieval and Renaissance Alsatian art.

12-13th century stained glass windows

Some of the original 12-13th stained glass windows are exposed in one of the rooms, here is one representing the Jews of the time.

a damned figure

figure d'homme tirant la langue

Sculptured decorations from the Gothic period are characteristic to the French cathedrals. Here are two of them.

Christ and Saint John

Polychrome painted sculptures in wood were a very popular form in the Middle Ages. When the Renaissance shows up as in this sculpture dated around 1430 the genre flourishes for a short time to disappear shortly after. I still love the genre which in its best works combines simplicity and elegance, sincerity and beauty.

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The Adoration

Here is another example, a more complex work representing the Adoration, part of a triptych realized around 1470.

Nicolas de Hugenau - busts of reclined men

bust of monk

Around the year 1500 the altar of the cathedral was decorated with busts of holy monks and saints realized by local masters. Some of these are proofs of an exquisite mastering of the art of portraits, expressive and hauntingly realistic.

altar of Saint Sebastian

As trade developed in the Renaissance period portable altars carried by rich merchants were at high demand. Here is one dedicated to Saint Sebastian combining polychrome sculpture and painting.

Saint Mathew and Saint George

Last here are two splendid paintings on wood representing saint Mathew and saint George. They belong to a local master named Hans Baldung Grien, who was born in Grun but lived and created in Strasbourg. Although painted around 1530 they carry a medieval style and symbolism that give them elegance and an atemporal aura of beauty.