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June 2004

Master Caster

The life and home of sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand

Located on the east bank of the Isar, in prosperous Bogenhausen, close to the Maximilianeum, the Hildebrandhaus holds a special place in Munich’s history—a city renowned for its many artists and writers. Built in 1897/98, the house has been home to a unique library, the Monacensia, since 1977. Although, officially, the library is just one of the municipal Stadtbibliotheken, whose headquarters are at the Gasteig, the Monacensia is, in fact, a reference library that stocks only literature about the city of Munich—the founders of the library created the word Monacensia from the Latin, meaning “of Munich.”

The history of the house is not dissimilar to that of the other “artist villas” in Munich, among them the Lenbachhaus and the Villa Stuck (see the April and May 2004 issues of MUNICH FOUND). Originally owned by a prominent figure in the local art scene, Adolf von Hildebrand (1847–1921), the house was a lively meeting place for artists and writers at the end of the 19th century. The house, designed by Hildebrand himself, is in a style that might be described as southern German Baroque. Today the era of Hildebrand is best evoked by visiting the lovely south-facing terrace, where, in the summer months, library-goers can relax in the sun and look out across the grounds.

Like many German artists of this period, Hildebrand, a self-taught sculptor, was greatly inspired and influenced by Italian art and spent several years living first in Rome and settling in Florence in 1873. After marrying a well-to-do Florentine woman, their house in San Francesco quickly became a meeting place for a wide swath of “celebrity” personalities of the time, including Richard and Cosima Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Werner von Siemens and Franz Liszt, to name a few. Then, in 1889, Hildebrand took part in a competition to design a fountain for the city of Munich. However, one of the rules of this contest was that the prize could only be given to an artist residing and working in Munich. When Hildebrand won with his design for what later became known as the Witteslbacher Brunnen—still the centerpiece of the Maximiliansplatz and a masterpiece of late 19th-century sculpture—he and his family were obliged to return to Germany.

It was then that Hildebrand became intimately involved with Munich’s art movement. After the Wittelsbacher Brunnen project was completed in 1895 and subsequently recognized as one of Munich’s sculptural masterpieces of the 19th century, he went on to become a member of the city monument construction commission, in 1901. His contracts then ranged from fountains and equestrian sculptures of Prince Regent Luitpold to tombs and monuments of all shapes and sizes. Probably the best known of these is the Hubertus Brunnen in Neuhausen (1907), located at the eastern end of the Schlosskanal facing towards Nymphenburg Palace. It is said that between 1895 and 1910 no other sculptor in Europe aside from Auguste Rodin, in Paris, could even come close to the abilities and designs of Hildebrand.

As a result of his good standing with the royal family in Bavaria (Prince Regent Rupprecht was a close friend), Hildebrand was knighted in 1904 and became “von.” In 1906 he was offered a professorship at the Art Academy, but after a mild heart attack in 1910 he was forced to give up the strenuous work of stone sculpture. Following his death in 1921, the house went through a period of turmoil and decay and when the National Socialists came to power Hildebrand’s children, who were fervent anti-fascists, were forced to emigrate and abandon the house altogether. It wasn’t until 1977 that the city eventually saved the house from destruction and decided to turn it into a library.

The Monacensia is something like a living memory of Munich’s literary past. The collection it houses consists of not just books but also manuscripts, hand-written letters from famous authors, signatures, journals and various inherited private “libraries” from notable writers and poets. Among the recognizable names represented is Thomas Mann, who lived nearby in the Poschingerstrasse with his family from 1914 until 1933 and whose children, Erika and Klaus Mann, after emigrating during the Nazi period, donated copious volumes from their private libraries to the Monacensia. Today an entire section of the building is given over to their books.

The library is continually holding events, including an upcoming exhibition called “Poet / Hand / Script” that takes a look at the “art” of writing (handwriting, that is) in the digital age. And, if your German isn’t good enough to read Thomas Mann, you can still take a bike ride along the Isar to the villa, sit out on the balcony in the sun and catch up on some of the MUNICH FOUND back issues that they have been dutifully archiving over the last few years.

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