An Oriental Adventure.

Max von Oppenheim and his Discovery of Tell Halaf

30 April to 10 August 2014

In 1899 the diplomat and archaeological explorer Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860–1946), a scion of the Cologne banking family, discovered the residence of an Aramaean ruler of the early first millennium BC at Tell Halaf in modern-day Syria. The find was an archaeological sensation of the first order. Oppenheim had found the ruins of the Old-Testament city of Gozan (Guzana). The celebrated Western Palace was embellished with monumental stone sculptures and fantastical stone reliefs. A tomb yielded over-life-size funerary figures and valuable funerary goods.

«It was one of my greatest joys as an explorer to watch this stone sculpture rise from the ground. Our Bedouin workers referred to her as my bride, because I was unable to take my eyes off her.» Max von Oppenheim, Tell Halaf. London/New York, 1933

From Cologne to Cairo – Max von Oppenheim as Attaché, Orientalist and Archaeologist

The exhibition traces Max von Oppenheim’s eventful biography and his lifelong love for the East which found expression in each and every one of the lavish oriental costumes and accessories he amassed in his private collection. Having studied law in Germany, Max von Oppenheim was drawn to Cairo, where he learned Arabic and immersed himself in the pleasures of an Oriental lifestyle. A relatively undistinguished diplomat, Oppenheim was catapulted into the limelight of German Near and Middle Eastern archaeology by his discovery of the Tell Halaf in 1899 – a time when renowned German archaeologists were excavating Babylon and Assur. During the First World War Oppenheim’s familiarity with the region became a strategic asset, and he – like T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) on the British side – was drawn into the thick of the political conflict.

The Tell Halaf Museum in Berlin, its Destruction in 1943 and the Restoration of the Finds between 2001 and 2010

In 1929 Max von Oppenheim brought numerous Tell Halaf finds to Berlin, where he opened his own museum in 1930. Among the illustrious visitors who signed the visitors’ book were Samuel Beckett, Agatha Christie, Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann. The Tell Halaf finds – destroyed during a night-time bombing raid on Berlin in 1943 and painstakingly restored some sixty years later – tell the story of a 3000-year-old civilisation, but they have also become a poignant reminder of Germany’s recent history.

Tell Halaf – An Aramaean City in the Shadow of the Assyrian Empire

The central section of the exhibition brings to life the long-lost world of the Aramaeans and presents the unique archaeological finds from Tell Halaf which testify to the wealth of the Aramaean city state in modern-day Syria. Visitors will be able to see the recreation of the famous monumental entrance façade of the Western Palace with the original sculptures. This is complemented by a virtual reconstruction of the entire city of Guzana (modern Tell Halaf, Old Testament Gozan). Today, a replica of von Oppenheim’s iconic façade reconstruction of the 1930s frames the main entrance to the National Museum of Aleppo in Syria. The Tell Halaf finds and other important objects of Syria’s cultural heritage displayed there are once again threatened with destruction.

The principal lender to the exhibition, the Max von Oppenheim Foundation, set up by Oppenheim himself in 1929, is supporting the exhibition with the loan of some 450 objects preserved at the Rautenstrauch Joest Museum in Cologne and the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin. Both institutions have in the past presented major exhibitions on Max von Oppenheim: ‘Faszination Orient’ 2001 in Cologne and ‘Die geretteten Götter aus dem Palast vom Tell Halaf’ in 2011 in Berlin. The exhibition in Bonn brings together Max von Oppenheim’s exquisite collection of Oriental objects from Cologne and the impressive Tell Halaf archaeological finds from Berlin in a comprehensive survey show that is complemented by outstanding loans from the Louvre and the British Museum.

Video to the exhibition

A Virtual Reconstruction of TELL HALAF

A Virtual Reconstruction – Clip

Show bibliography

Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Museumsmeile Bonn
Helmut-Kohl-Allee 4
53113 Bonn
T +49 228 9171–200

Opening hours

Mondays closed
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Thursdays–Sundays, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
(including public holidays even those which fall on Mondays)