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The Solly Collection at the Gemäldegalerie

Edward Solly, a British merchant based in Berlin, collected some key treasures of art history

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The Merchant Georg Gisze. Photo: The Letter 2008 / VG Bildkunst

Last year marked the 200th anniversary of the acquisition of the Solly Collection, a treasure trove of around 3,000 works, which formed the basis of the Gemäldegalerie’s vast collection of European paintings.

The man behind it, Edward Solly, a British merchant based in Berlin, had made a fortune trading in grain and wood and spent a large chunk of it on amassing masterpieces from the 13th to the 18th century. In 1821, due to mounting debts, he was forced to sell most of it to the Prussians.

The story of that purchase, including the original contracts, is laid out alongside many of his most treasured works, including an early Raphael, Virgin and Child, with a perfectly plump Jesus nestling a goldfinch between the sumptuous blues and reds of his mother’s gown.

A little further on is Hans Holbein’s The Merchant Georg Gisze, one of the absolute highlights of the Gemäldegalerie’s entire collection. On the office wall behind him is the Hansa merchant’s personal motto in Latin, “No joy without sorrow”.

The museum’s remaining exhibition rooms not given over to the Solly Collection are dotted with paintings from the collection and can be identified by their small white plaques. One of them is Botticelli’s first male nude, Saint Sebastian, and you’ll be amazed by what else you find.