Unconfined Horizons. Jewellery from Humboldt’s Travel Routes

Exhibition  /  13 Apr 2019  -  08 Sep 2019
Published: 28.09.2018
Arm ornament. Kayapó people, Pará, Brazil..
Arm ornament. Kayapó people, Pará, Brazil.

© By the author. Read Copyright.

Born 250 years ago, the scientist Alexander von Humboldt is regarded as one of the last universal geniuses, whose thinking and actions laid many foundations for our modern worldview. During the 90 years of his life, this world citizen set out on two major expeditions: through South and Central America, and through Russia as far as the Chinese border. Influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, he was convinced that people differ from one another only in terms of their education or culture, and that they are all equally destined for freedom. The horizons of his mind were unconfined, as the Humboldt expert Ottmar Ette emphasizes. For Humboldt, genuine education was synonymous with being able to perceive the interrelationships between things. Correspondingly, his fields of research were widely diversified. The exhibition will be showcasing a wide variety of artefacts and jewellery created along his travel routes, complemented by texts and illustrations from the scientist’s oeuvre.
The focus will be not so much on the individual objects or jewellery creations on view, but rather on the zeitgeist and a new dimension of research. Featuring objects of his era, the show will be presenting Alexander von Humboldt as a remarkable personality and highlighting his ability to see the big picture, as is reflected in his extensive oeuvre. The exhibition has been curated by Cornelie Holzach, the museum’s director, and the art historian Dr.Martina Eberspächer.

Jewellery, minerals, measuring instruments and maps

Following a large wall installation in the entrance area, showing Humboldt’s travel routes and providing insights into the conceptual context involved, the exhibits will be taking visitors on a journey to the places where he lived and travelled, conveying an idea of his youthful years at Schloss Tegel and elucidating how this offspring of a noble family became the open mind he was when he travelled the world. An encyclopaedia for children from the 18th century will also illustrate how students learned back then. Other objects originate from Paris, where he lived for 20 years altogether and first met his travel companion, the physician and botanist Aimé Bonpland. The items on display will also comprise artefacts that Humboldt might have encountered on his expeditions to South America, including ethnographic or rustic jewellery, as well as exquisite treasures worn by wealthy citizens or officials, such as earrings, necklaces, brooches or rings, plus brightly colourful feather adornments, because the researcher was repeatedly invited to the urban salons of his time, called on the American president, and was moving in the most distinguished circles at the places he visited. Another link between Humboldt and the Jewellery Museum are precious metals and minerals (the raw materials used to create jewellery), which will also be spotlighted in this special exhibition. 

Alexander von Humboldt concerned himself intensely with mineralogy; he had studied at the Freiberg Mining Academy and worked – until he inherited money from his deceased mother when he was 27 and was able to finance his expeditions– as Chief Inspector for the Prussian Department of Mines. He brought back large quantities of minerals from his journeys. He had even been explicitly tasked with searching for and researching natural resources, precious metals and diamonds in Russia. He also received specific inquiries, for example whether platinum could be used to make coins. Humboldt was keenly interested in minerals, in how they were used and processed, and in their market value.

The measuring instruments so important to Humboldt will also be on view, i.e. examples similar to those he himself used, including sextants, microscopes and a theodolite (an angle measuring device). One exhibit from Humboldt’s personal possessions, an artfully painted Chinese fan, will also be showcased. And finally, the maps on display will reflect the fact that the researcher himself drew many maps. As much as atlases and world maps are a matter of course for us in our day and age, remote areas were far from being charted completely back then.

Parallel exhibition: »Expedition« | Vocational College for Design, Jewellery and Utensils
13 April through 23 June 2019
Within the context of the Unconfined Horizons exhibition, the Vocational College for Design, Jewellery and Utensils at Pforzheim’s Goldsmithing School will be exhibiting new works, inviting visitors to take an excursion of creativity. Taking inspiration from the great explorers of the world and their travels, some 70 students from the three class levels embarked on their own individual expeditions, translating their creative ideas into imaginatively designed objects.


Friday, 12th of April, 7 p.m.


Tue–Sun and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(except for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve)
Andrea Leuschner. Necklace: Entstehung der Sterne, 2018. Blackened copper, enamel.. Andrea Leuschner
Necklace: Entstehung der Sterne, 2018
Blackened copper, enamel.
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Eduard Hildebrandt. Painting: Alexander von Humboldt in his study at Oranienburger Strasse 67 in Berlin, 2019. Lithograph from 1856 after a watercolour by Eduard Hildebrandt.. © bpk/ Kufperstichkabinett, SMB / Volker-H. Schneider.. Eduard Hildebrandt
Painting: Alexander von Humboldt in his study at Oranienburger Strasse 67 in Berlin, 2019
Lithograph from 1856 after a watercolour by Eduard Hildebrandt.
© bpk/ Kufperstichkabinett, SMB / Volker-H. Schneider.
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Friedrich Georg Weitsch. Painting: Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland at the foot of the Chimborazo volcano, 1810. Oil on canvas.. © bpk / Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin- Brandenburg / Jörg P. Anders.. Friedrich Georg Weitsch
Painting: Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland at the foot of the Chimborazo volcano, 1810
Oil on canvas.
© bpk / Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin- Brandenburg / Jörg P. Anders.
© By the author. Read Copyright.