Megaliths in Art

During their life-histories, megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have frequently been appreciated by artists and others for their art-value, for instance in Demmin. Elsewhere, too, megaliths, and other prehistoric monuments, have been depicted by some artists in different ways and inspired others to produce art around them or out of them (see Smiles 2004; Lippard 1983).

The oldest representations of Northeast German megaliths in art reach back to the 16th century (Wollf 1995). During the following centuries they have frequently been depicted in drawings by antiquarians and travellers in order to document their architecture and character (see e.g. in Lisch 1868).

During the 19th century, megaliths also became the focus of the larger Romantic and Classicist art movements. The preference of Caspar David Friedrich for including prehistoric monuments and in particular megaliths in his paintings is well known. Other contemporary painters who depicted megaliths, especially those on Rügen, include Friedrich Preller d.Ä. (e.g. Hünengrab unter Eichen auf Rügen, c.1837), Friedrich Preller d.J., Carl Gustav Carus, Edmund Kanoldt, Wilhelm Riefstahl, Ferdinand Bellermann (e.g. Eichen und Hünengrab am Strand von Rügen, n.d.), and J.H.W.Tischbein (e.g. Megalith-Grab, after 1808) (Bock 1927: esp. 68-85; Vogel and Lichtnau 1993: esp. 34, 45).
Identifiable megaliths drawn or painted during the 19th and early 20th century include
  • several depicted by Caspar David Friedrich;
  • Forst Everstorf (46), Kreis Grevesmühlen: C.Schuhmacher 1837, A.v.Bonstetten 1865;
  • Stormsdorf (128, 129), Kreis Rostock: anon. c. 1898;
  • Teutendorf (131), Kreis Rostock: anon. c. 1898;
  • Thelkow (136), Kreis Rostock: anon. c. 1898;
  • Zarnewanz (141), Kreis Rostock: anon. c. 1898;
  • Nobbin, Kreis Rügen: C.G.Carus 1820;
  • Pöglitz (407), Kreis Stralsund: Hagenow (?) c. 1849;
  • Lütow (443), Kreis Wolgast: Stubenrauch 1897/8;
  • Katelbogen, Kreis Bützow: C.Schuhmacher 1837 (see image right, bottom);
  • Benzin (498, 499), Kreis Gadebusch: F.W.Zinck 1804;
  • Plaaz, Kreis Güstrow: anon. 1841 (see image right, top);
  • Kossebade (655), Kreis Parchim: F.W.Zinck 1804;
  • Neu Ruthenbeck (663), Kreis Parchim: A.v.Bonstetten 1865;
  • Klein Görnow, Kreis Sternberg: wall-painting 1914;
  • Schwinge (827), Kreis Demmin: Hagenow (?) c. 1824;
  • Vorbein, Kreis Demmin: Hagenow (?) c. 1824.

Many of these drawings and paintings were reproduced by Sprockhoff (1967). In addition, Ludwig Krause did several fine colour drawings of megaliths in the area of Rostock towards the end of the 19th century, for example in Alt Stassow and in Wohrenstorf, Kreis Rostock. Like numerous old photographs, these drawings too are today part of the respective Ortsakte in Lübstorf.

Some of the most impressive representations of megaliths from the 20th century are those in Haye W. Hansens linocut series "Denkmäler der Vorzeit" from 1926–1930 (see the reproductions in Gottwald 1991, for example one megalith in Lonvitz [312 or 313], Kreis Rügen: see image left).

Among the professional drawers and photographers of megaliths who worked for archaeologists in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, K.-J. Seiffert and K. Nitsche stick out as very fine artists; superb examples of their work can be found in the many excavation reports published in Jahrbücher, Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg as well as in Ewald Schuldt's monograph from 1972.

In 1978 Johannes Richter painted "Hünengrab/Saßnitz, Rügen", which is now in the Stadtmuseum Güstrow. Another modern painting is of the megalith in Neu Ruthenbeck (663), Kreis Parchim, and was on display in the Staatliches Museum in Schwerin (after Ortsakte).
In 1994 and 1995, international artists symposia (Expeditionen) took place at Kap Arkona. Among the art produced in this context is a megalith under a symbolised pyramid by Pawel Chawinski, entitled "Visuelle Feststellung der Dinge. Holz, Metall, Steine" (1995).

In the present, megaliths are also popular subjects for photographs, postcards, and are found in tourist brochures, especially where tourists are frequent visitors as in Lancken-Granitz and Nobbin. In 1995, historic monuments formed the stage for rock concerts, during the campaign Rock'n'Ruins.

In July 1996, the local sculptor Jan Mende organised a German-Japanese art project under the title "Erdwall–Hünenstein". Eight artists from both countries were invited to create a temporary "archaeological art trail" by engaging with various archaeological sites near Groß Raden, including a Slavic castle, a barrow, and the megalith of Klein Görnow (see map; Mende 1997a). The artwork created during the symposium expressed themes such as christianisation, monumentality, time, and myth—often as an 'emotional' rather than 'rational' response to the archaeological monuments in the neighbourhood (Schülke 1997, 2000).

Jan Mende: Riesenstube (From Mende 1997: 37) Chiaki Kurumizawa: Silence (outside view; photo by Almut Schülke)

Interestingly, the local population did not appreciate the art produced and in fact demolished some of the installations shortly after they had been erected. Such negative receptions of the art may have been due to a feeling that it desecrated the ancient sites and diminished their aura (Mende 1997b).

Arguably the sciences are 'arts' too, after all, I was originally writing this in the Arts Building of my (then) University (see also Feyerabend 1984). In some way, we can probably all relate to John Piper's statement that to "archaeologize" can mean to "de-beautify" ruins (Piper 1948: 96; see also Smiles 2004: 88-91). But it has, to my knowledge, only once in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern been put on record that regular scientific excavations at megaliths were in fact desecrations of burials and should be stopped (with reference to a megalith at Forst Mönchgut, Kreis Rügen). Most people still appreciate (and admire?) the art of excavation and archaeology.


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Feyerabend, Paul (1984) Wissenschaft als Kunst. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.

Gottwald, Josef Rudolf (1991) Sehenswerte Großsteingräber im Nordsee- und Ostseeraum: Jütland/Dänemark, Norddeutschland, Östliche Niederlande. Ein Bilderbuch-Wegweiser in jungsteinzeitliche Vergangenheit vor 4000–5000 Jahren. Troppau-Gerasdorf: self published.

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Mende, Jan (1997b) vernünftig aufgeräumt und sauber. In: J.Mende (ed.) Erdwall—Hünenstein. Ein Kunst- und Archäologieprojekt mit japanischen und deutschen Künstlern, pp 20-1. Klein Görnow.

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Schülke, Almut (1997) Großsteingrab–Grabhügel–Burgwall. Das Projekt "Erdwall–Hünenstein" aus archäologischer Sicht. In: J.Mende (ed.) Erdwall—Hünenstein. Ein Kunst- und Archäologieprojekt mit japanischen und deutschen Künstlern, pp 10-19. Klein Görnow.

Schülke, Almut (2000) Archaeology and Art (with a comment by H. Swozilek). In: C. Holtorf and H. Karlsson (eds) Philosophy and Archaeological Practice, pp. 261-76. Göteborg: Bricoleur Press.

Smiles, Sam (2004) Antiquity and Modern Art in Britain c. 1930-1950. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 19.1, 81-98.

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Vogel, Gerd-Helge and Bernfried Lichtnau (1993) Rügen als Künstlerinsel von der Romantik bis zur Gegenwart. Fischerhude: Galerie-Verlag.

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© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 23 February 2005