Herzog & de Meuron’s extension of the Musée Unterlinden, with the addition of a resolutely contemporary new building that integrates with the medieval architecture, constitutes a remarkable episode in the museum’s history.
When visiting the convent and the museum’s collections, visitors can see the successive stages of its history spanning over 150 years. The walls and the artworks bear witness to the dynamic work of the Société Schongauer, the association that has run the museum since 1853.
The Musée Unterlinden officially opened its doors on 3 April 1853. In addition to the 3rd-century mosaic discovered in Bergheim in 1848 and plaster casts of ancient sculptures, it presented artworks confiscated during the French Revolution, such as Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpieceand Martin Schongauer’s Altarpiece of the Dominicans.
When it opened, the museum occupied only the chapel, where a large proportion of its collections were presented. The works soon outgrew the high walls of the nave, however, and gradually spread into the whole of the Unterlinden Convent from the second half of the 20th century.
In the late 19th century and over the course of the 20th century, refurbishment work was undertaken in order to make the spaces suitable for the presentation of artworks and to provide a comfortable environment for the increasing numbers of visitors:
- creation of the room known as the “Salle de la Cheminée”, displaying “Alsatian curiosities”.
- creation of the Salle Théophile Klem for the works from the collegiate church of St Martin.
- creation of the Salle Fleischhauer for the archaeological collections, in tribute to the president of the Société Schongauer.
- a major underground extension with an area of 450 m2 was undertaken in 1973-1974 to create space to display the modern art collections.