Glas Bottles from the Diergardt Collection: Inv. F 631 und F 565 (MAKK), on the right D 6391 (Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln), photo: RBA Köln, Marion Mennicken

Two Glass Objects from the Collection of Johannes Freiherr von Diergardt

Among the approximately 400 objects whose provenance is under investigation in the MAKK's current provenance research project (2020-2022) are two small bottles of about 18 and 20 cm in height (Inv. F 565, F 631). Both objects are made of light green glass and have a cylindrical body extending into a tubular bottle neck that widens slightly towards the top. The base of the neck is thickened like a bulge. In the upper half of the body and at the transition to the neck, the vessels are decorated with fused strands of blue glass that wind spirally around the bottles; blue prunts are positioned in between. These objects were made between the 10th and 12th centuries in the Near East, probably in Syria or Mesopotamia.

The smaller bottle (Inv. F 565) was acquired by the Museum of Arts and Crafts in February 1936, the second followed about two years later. As is noted in the MAKK’s inventories, both acquisitions were part of exchange deals that the Museum of Arts and Crafts made with the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. The exchange or transfer of objects between Cologne's municipal collections was common practice in order to strengthen the holdings of the museums with regard to their respective foci. Particularly in the 1930s, far-reaching rearrangements took place that also affected the Museum of Arts and Crafts. The bottles came from the Roman and Germanic Department of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum (WRM) which was still quite new in this orientation. With relevant objects from the collection of Ferdinand Franz Wallraf (1748-1824), the museum had possessed a department for antique Roman objects since its foundation. However, a noteworthy collection of Germanic works of art had only come to the WRM in 1934: In October of that year, the city was able to take over the collection of the recently deceased Johannes Freiherr von Diergardt (1859-1934), thus expanding the holdings of Cologne's oldest museum to such an extent and quality that the department was renamed.1 Later, the department was absorbed into the Roman-Germanic Museum.

Initially, these objects came into the possession of the City of Cologne on loan, but a year later funds were available to purchase them from the baron's heirs.2 The acquisition was the result of protracted and tactical negotiations for one of the largest private collections of works from the Migration Period.3 Following the death of Johannes von Diergardt, Cologne was not the only city to make efforts to acquire this unique collection for its museums. Since the early 20th century, for many years, the Prehistoric Department at the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History that emerged from it had already benefited from donations, numerous loans and other contributions from the collector. Since 1933, Berlin had been negotiating the purchase of the loans because Johannes von Diergardt wanted to sell larger numbers of his artworks. Due to the world economic crisis, he had suffered considerable losses on the fortune he had inherited as the son of the Rhenish textile industrialist Friedrich Heinrich von Diergardt (1820-1887). At that time, the Rijksmuseum in Stockholm was also interested in acquiring the objects. When the collector died unexpectedly in the summer of 1934, an agreement with the Berlin museum had not yet been reached. Ultimately, in negotiations with the executor of the estate, the Cologne archaeologist Fritz Fremersdorf (1894-1983), head of the Roman Department of the WRM since 1923, succeeded in securing the Diergardt Collection for Cologne.


The glass bottles presented here also originate from the collection of Johannes von Diergardt. A third, somewhat smaller bottle is kept in the Roman-Germanic Museum (Inv. D 6391). The bottles presumably belong to the collection that Diergardt kept in his home in Berlin. At the time of the transfer to Cologne, a third part of the collection was located at Bornheim Castle, the family residence in the Rhineland, where the baron had discovered Franconian objects during various excavations, which probably formed the foundation of his collection.

The bottles presented here were given to the Museum of Arts and Crafts because, due to their time of origin, they did not fit in with the collection of the Roman and Germanic Department of the WRM. A total of 31 glass and metal objects from the Diergardt Collection were acquired by the MAKK in this way. In exchange, the WRM received, for example, the "Franconian Grave Find from Mühlhofen."4 There is currently no suspicion that the objects from the Diergardt collection could include cultural property confiscated during Nazi persecution. The baron had already built up his collection before the First World War. When the Nazi regime came to power at the end of January 1933, Diergardt was affected by the consequences of the world economic crisis and planned to sell parts of the collection. There is no evidence that he made any acquisitions during this phase.

Nevertheless, in the case of most of the works which are now at the MAKK, the deeper history of their origin can no longer be traced due to a lack of sources. Exactly when and how they came into Diergardt's possession is not documented. The decorated glass bottles are an exception. They can be traced in literature on the Diergardt Collection, which was published in the first decades of the 20th century. We thus know at least the latest possible date at which they were in the baron's possession. The catalogue published in 1915 for the special exhibition Early Germanic Art from the Diergardt Collection in the Raphael Wallpaper Room of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin lists three glass bottles "with fused blue threads and drops" – in addition to the two bottles at the MAKK, probably also the specimen in the Roman-Germanic Museum.5 The locations where the objects, which served as burial gifts, were found are given as "Southern Russia" and "Gursuff" (Hursuf, Crimea). Whether Baron von Diergardt acquired the objects directly from the excavation teams or via intermediaries must remain unresolved. The larger specimen in the MAKK collection, Inv. F 631, had already been described by Alfred Götze in an essay written in 1907 on the occasion of an exhibition of Diergardt's donations and loans at the Berlin Museum of Arts and Crafts.6 In this essay, various southern Russian burial grounds are named as sites of discovery, unfortunately without assigning the bottle to any of them. Götze emphasises the rarity of the bottle compared to similarly decorated glasses. This could be an indication that the specimen was first in the collection of Johannes von Diergardt. The other two pieces now kept in Cologne were probably acquired by the baron between 1907 and their inclusion in the 1915 catalogue.

Iris Metje (PhD), September 2021



1: Verwaltungsbericht der Hansestadt Köln 1934/35, 1935, p. 76.

2: Verwaltungsbericht der Hansestadt Köln 1935/36, 1936, p. 65.

3: On the Diergardt Collection see: Wemhoff, Matthias [ed.]: Schätze aus Europas Frühzeit. Der Sammler und Mäzen Johannes Freiherr von Diergardt, Regensburg 2017; on the acquisition by the WRM see also: Päffgen, Bernd: ‘Die Sammlung Diergardt und ihr Schicksal in den Jahren 1934 bis 1939’. In: Brather, Sebastian et. al. [eds.]: Historia archaeologica. Festschrift für Heiko Steuer zum 70. Geburtstag, Berlin/Boston 2009, pp. 661-685.

4: The Museum of Arts and Crafts had received the grave find from the Rhenish Museum in the summer of 1933, MAKK register of acquisitions, 1935.

5: Götze, Alfred: Frühgermanische Kunst. Sonderausstellung ostgot. Altertümer d. Völkerwanderungszeit aus Südrussland im Raffael-Tapeten-Saal d. Kaiser-Friedrich-Museums; loan from private collection, exhibition cat. Berlin, 1915, cat. no. 340, 342, 344. No dimensions for precise classification are available.

6: Götze, Alfred: ‘Vorgeschichtliche Abteilung’. In: Amtliche Berichte aus den Königlichen Kunstsammlungen, vol. 29 (1907), pp. 39–43, here: p. 41, fig. 33.