Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg
Handschrift aus Rajamundry, 1757; Foto: Brigitte Saal


In the 1930s, employees of the museum brought extensive collections of everyday items back from China. Among these were hundreds of wood block prints for domestic use showing Chinese gods. A collection of shadow puppets from Beijing -dating back to the end of the 18th century and consisting of about 1000 puppets and stage props – is one of the most significant collections of its kind worldwide. Among the exceptional art treasures of the collection is the anonymous and fragmentary monumental painting “The battle of Qurman”, commissioned by Emperor Qianlong in 1760. Of the 16 paintings formerly on display in the “Hall of purple glory” in the Chinese Imperial Palace, “The battle of Qurman” was the only one to survive.


The extensive Japanese collection – consisting of more than 5000 objects – also includes many rare treasures. Since 1861, this collection was accumulated and passed on to the museum by merchants, captains, travellers and explorers; renowned names in Hamburg such as Umlauff and Burchard are among them. However, dedicated art collectors – such as the teacher Elsa Marquardt who had lived in Tokyo for several decades – also made great contributions to our inventory. Moreover, these collectors insured that the objects were not selected exclusively according to European aesthetic standards, but also according to Japanese aesthetic values.

The high quality samurai armatures, extremely rare horse masks, Noh masks by renowned carvers, a complete edition of the polychrome woodcuts for the Noh theatre by the painter Tsukioka Kogyo (published 1897-1902) as well as numerous religious – Shinto and Buddhist – artefacts are especially noteworthy. Among the most famous artefacts is a puppet made of copper braid with removable organs in a black-coated box. The puppet gained international fame ever since the extensive examination of the Japanese collection by international experts during our exhibition “Japan – The inner richness of the museum” (2000/01). It was discovered in Japan that the owner of the puppet was the personal physician of a daimyô of Wakayama. The uniqueness of this kind of puppet is its three-dimensional construction; such puppets were exclusively used by physicians of lords. Furthermore, only one other puppet of this kind, originating in the 17th century, exists – in the National Museum in Tokyo. The collection of the Ainu, the Japanese aborigines, includes more than 800 artefacts and is the most extensive one in Germany.


The Korean collection is also the most extensive one of its kind in Germany. Meanwhile, the collection covers 100 years of Korean shamanism and includes our most recent additions- objects that were still in use in 1997. The archive on the new characteristics of religion in Korea is completely unique. The museum also possesses an art treasure of the first degree: a watercolour screen by Ho Yon from the 19th century.


The South Asian inventory focuses on India. Included are extensive collections of Hindu bronze objects for domestic use, wooden figures and cult objects. Special attention is given to the collection of Indian devotional pictures for domestic use. The collection consists of about 2700 sheets and is one of the most extensive of its kind in Europe. The collection of picture scrolls by Bengali narrators is also of great significance. A great treasure is also included in the collection – a miniature album about the Ramayana from Rajamundry / Deccan. The album, painted in 1757, is one of only two preserved works from this painting school. The museum is in possession of another masterpiece of South Asian illumination – the magnificent manuscript of the Bhagavata Purana from Nepal dating back to approximately 1870.


A unique collection originates from Pagan in Burma, the biggest ancient city ruins in South East Asia. During the 12th and 13th century, this city was the centre of the mighty Burman empire with a highly developed Buddhist culture. The artefacts include, for instance, representations of Buddha in stone and fragments of wall paintings from temples dating back to the 11th and 13th centuries.
Although it had been brought to Hamburg through theft at the beginning of the 20th century, the collection was legalized through bilateral negotiation in the 1970s.

Inventory of the Tibetan Buddhist

Among the inventory of the Tibetan Buddhist (Tibet/Mongolia/Nepal/parts of China) collection are 90 sculptures of metal from the 15th to the 20th century as well as 65 Buddhist scroll paintings of exceptionally outstanding character. The Eastern Tibet collection of cult and everyday objects originating from the 1920s is of special significance. In those times, Europeans hardly ever travelled to this region; it was an undisturbed sanctuary for the old Tibetan Bon religion and has only recently been researched.


Dr. Susanne Knödel
Head of the Asia department
phone: 040. 428 879-240