Art and culture in mining
The mining industry has existed for many millennia, and in the course of its history it has been subject to a constant interplay of different forces and factors. These include natural conditions, political and economic objectives, societal norms, social aspects, and intellectual matters. The existence of mining has thus had a substantial influence not only on cultural, artistic and intellectual production, but also on significant developments in technological and social history.
Miners are the only human occupational group to carry out their work under the ground, without the natural light of the sun, and exposed to the largely uncontrollable forces of the geosphere. Over the centuries, this unique occupation has given rise to special forms of culture and art, which can now be understood and evaluated as informative documents and sources.
Throughout its history the DBM has therefore collected samples of art and culture influenced by mining. These exhibits – in the “Mining in art and culture” gallery, the “Schatzkammer” (treasure chamber), and the “St. Barbara exhibition” from the Nemitz-Stiftung St. Barbara – explore the different trends and interrelationships which have contributed to their creation.
Our “treasure chamber” is the only one of its kind in the world, and the large number of exhibits makes it extremely impressive. The items displayed here are mainly artworks with a mining background, made out of the precious metals gold and silver, and valuable gifts presented to deserving executives in the mining industry. The “treasure chamber” was created to give the visitor a clear, unified impression of the unique holdings of the DBM, and its layout – a small, intimate space ¬– heightens the effect on the visitor. This mining-related “treasure chamber” gives the DBM a unique point of difference within the museum and culture landscape, and provides striking evidence of the way the mining sector, one of humanity’s earliest areas of production, has influenced cultural development.
The mining saint: St. Barbara
Along with St. Anna and St. Daniel, the most important patron saint of miners is St. Barbara. According to the legend recorded by Jacobus de Voragine (1228/29 –1298), Barbara was a king’s daughter from Nicomedia (Turkey), who converted to Christianity. Her father Dioscorus tried with all his might to make her renounce her faith, locked her in a tower, and finally had her beheaded, upon which he was killed by a bolt of lightning from a sudden storm. Before her death, the martyr is said to have prayed to Christ; this is why she is often depicted with the chalice and the tower. St. Barbara was initially invoked as a patron saint by the bell founders, and later by artillerymen, who were able to summon up “artificial” thunder and lightning with their cannons. St. Barbara originally had the general function of a helper in need, but with the introduction of gunpowder in the mines (17th century) she became more significant, particularly for miners. Today she is the most important patron saint of miners, and is recognized as such worldwide. The exhibition shows the diverse forms and manifestations of this patron saint: along with the sculptures, paintings, icons, coins and medals, the thing that fascinates visitors most is the wide range of forms in which the veneration of Barbara is expressed. The vast majority of the exhibits on display come from the Nemitz-Stiftung St. Barbara. These were collected by a mining executive and transferred to the DBM for preservation, care and research. This part of the collection is located on the ground floor of the annexe (the “Black Diamond”).
Art and culture in mining
We begin with artwork created around 6000 years ago, in connection with the Egyptian copper mining activities near Timna/south Israel; this has to be interpreted as a prehistoric example of art which is causally related to the exploitation of usable mineral deposits. We then move forward in time, looking at representations of clay mining in classical Greece, before arriving at an exhibit which no visitor should miss: a unique 3rd-century stone relief from Linares in Spain, showing miners with their tools on their way to a Roman lead and silver mine.
The copy of the title page of the “Kuttenberger Kanzionale” (created in Bohemia around 1500) is the first comprehensive visual representation of a mining operation in the early modern period, and ranges from the extraction of the ores below ground to the processing, distribution and sale of the silver.
The Annaberger Bergaltar (Annaberg mining altar), created by the Saxon painter Hans Hesse in 1521 (displayed here in an original-sized copy), shows the different areas of work in the clearly structured and organized mining industry. Three decades later, Georg Agricola (1494-1555) produced his “Zwölf Bücher vom Bergbau” (“Twelve Books of Mining”), one of the oldest technical textbooks of the modern period, in which he analyses all the work processes involved with almost scholarly precision. One display case contains the first editions of his work to be printed in Latin, German and English. The “Schwazer Bergbuch” (“Mining Book of Schwaz”), which was produced in Tyrol at around the same time (1556), is a precious manuscript and a valuable source for the history of mining.
Aspects of economic history are addressed in the context of the coins and medals with mining motifs that are on display. The absolutist grandeur which developed in courts such as that of Saxony was largely based on the revenue from silver mining in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge). The engravings of the wedding celebration in the Plauenscher Grund in 1719, the mining parades and the parade uniforms with the corresponding equipment, and of course the numerous porcelain figures and sets of chinaware offer eloquent proof of this.
Precious wooden and porcelain figures from the 18th and 19th centuries, a collection of paintings and sculptures (unrivalled in Germany) by the great, socially critical Belgian painter Constantin Meunier (1831 -1905), and further sculptures by well-known artists from the turn of the 19th to the 21st century, illustrate the subsequent steps in the development of mining-influenced art. From the point of view of social history, the amateur works of miners are of particular interest: these not only show their striking affection for their chosen occupation, but also hint at their social position: art as a cottage industry was an extra source of income.