Bernhard Hoetger "Dyonisus riding a leopard" (1911-14). All rights reserved.

One of the places more impressive for me is the Matildenhöhe colony in Darmstadt (Germany). From 1899 to 1914 it was a place of cultural and artistic avantgarde, leading the Jugendstil movement (aka Art Nouveau). The colony was a place to combine living and Art, a place where beauty and design is continuously surrounding you. There, the german Jugendstil artists led by Joseph Maria Olbrich (who was brought from Vienna, member of the Wiener Secession) built this fantastic colony. They design everything: from the town planing to interiors, all the houses, gardens, towers, museums, galleries… Everything yo find in Darmstadt is a piece of Art.

I visited the Matildenhöhe several years ago and I still remember the so impressive artistic landscape. There are many many things to talk about the colony, so I have chosen for this post an sculpture from Bernhard Hoetger that stands in the entrance of the main garden.

Bernhard Hoetger (1874-1949) was a german sculptor from Hörde (Westfalia). He sympathised with stone masonry and from then on entered in a workshop for church furnishings and attended to sculpture classes in Düsseldorf. So he could start working as sculptor in Paris, Darmstadt, Berlin and Beatenburg. He stood in Darmstadt from 1911-1914, the last years of splendor of the colony. There he sculpted many statues, mainly in the colony main garden.

The present sculpture was made in bronze over an stone basement. The figures are a leopard and a child over it. Though many of the elements of the colony have christian roots (for example the russian-style church located in the garden) I think our sculpture belongs to the pagan tradition. The image of a child riding a leopard drives us to the greek god Dyonissus, associated with the ecstasy. This time Dyonissus appears as a child, resting over the leopard back. The composition isn´t classic at all, both are foreshortened figures, doing an strange composition, proper to the Jugendstil. The use of the god Dyonissus could drive us to Aby Warburg Art theory, where across the ages there are two forces: one is linked with Apollo (equilibrium, self control) and the other with Dyonisus (ecstasy, passion). Maybe Hoetger wanted to remark the Dyonisiac character of the Jugendstil in Darmstadt.

Also the basement is an interesting element to analyze, characteristic of Jugendstil: the typography. This element is proper of all Art Nouveau types. Everywhere the Art Nouveau grew, the artists created new typographies. Surely you remember the Paris Metro type and Alphonse Mucha letters, just to remark the most wellknown examples. This time Hoetger has designed a type characterised by the rectangular shape of all the letters, inside which he draws lines to differentiate between each one.

This is only one of the artistic treasures you can find in the Matildenhöhe in Darmstadt. I do recommend to visit this magic place. An experience of ecstasy for the senses.


“Künstlerkolonie Matildenhöhe Darmstadt (1899-1914). The Museum Book”. Institut Matildenhöhe Darmstadt 1999.


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