Category Archives: Art, Artists & Artisans

Featuring art, the arts, artists, artisans, craftspeople and makers.

Rietberg Museum: Ars Una

Relatively close to my home, is a museum dedicated to artworks from afar. Zürich’s Rietberg Museum is one of my favourite places to explore when in the city. Don’t be misled by the reference to “ars una,” (a new phrase to me – one I came across when researching the Rietberg’s history, which lead to — more research). The museum’s collection is wonderfully diverse. I stopped in one recent rainy Saturday and took some photos to share with you. I’ll tell you about a little scandal, too.Rietberg Zurich Street Entrance - photo Sara Lynne Moffatt


Originally opened in 1952, the museum’s foundation is a collection donated to the city of Zürich by Baron Eduard von der Heydt (1882-1964). The Baron, born in Germany and later became a Swiss national, was a banker with a passion for visual art. To him, “ars una” (or one art) meant all art – art embodying the diverse expressions created by people from around the globe.

The Rietberg complex consists of several buildings. Villa Wesendonck houses Indian sculpture, pre-Columbian art, works from Tibet, South East Asia and Oceania, and a collection of Swiss Carnival masks. The Remise Atelier, seen in the photos above, contains a Japanese tearoom and craft studio. Villa Schönberg holds a reference library. Park-Villa Rieter, a short stroll from the other buildings, displays paintings from India.Rietberg Museum Blossoms and a Cyclist Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Villa Wesendonck, the main building, is a grand neo-classical structure, built for Otto Wesendonck and his wife, Mathilde in 1857. Both were originally from Germany. He was a silk merchant and she, a poet and author. They enjoyed hosting artists in their home. Among them was Richard Wagner. For a time, Wagner and his wife, Minna, stayed in the Wesendonck’s Villa Schönberg, located across the street from the house Otto and Mathilde lived in.

You enter the museum through a modern green glass pavilion, suitably named Emerald. The triangle pattern decorating the glass is reminiscent of the lush hill the complex sits on. This greenhouse-like cube is the only visible marker of the substantial museum expansion completed in 2007. Its architects, Alfred Grazioli (Berlin) and Adolf Krischanitz (Vienna/Berlin), cleverly created a spacious, two-level subterranean display area; leaving the original character of the villas and grounds intact. The underground section houses artworks from Africa, China and Japan, along with special exhibitions.

Looking Out Rietberg Museum Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Ready to go in? Before we get to the artwork, I’ll fill you in on the scandal. The entrance way is a discrete nod to it.

During his stay with the Wesendonck’s, Richard Wagner became enamoured with Mathilde. He wrote many letters to her professing his love. It’s said, that his affair with Mathilde inspired him to compose Tristan and Isolde. The opera includes five poems written by Mathilde, one being “Im Treibhaus” (“In the Greenhouse” or “In the Hothouse”). You can read an English translation of the poem here. Including the writing of others in his work was uncharacteristic for Wagner. Does it suggest that they had an illicit liaison? More certainly, Wagner thought highly of Mathilde’s writing. Affair or no affair, Tristan and Isolde is considered a magnificent opera. Now let me show you some of the Rieteberg’s magnificent artworks.

Rietberg Japanese Watercolour - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Japanese watercolour, Woman with Brush and Poem Card. Japan, Edo period, 1832. By Totoya Hokkei (1780 – 1850).

Top detail of a carved wooden mask from the Baga area of Guinea, Africa, ca. 1900. The expertly carved patterns add a wonderful texture to the mask.

Top detail of a carved wooden mask from the Baga area of Guinea, Africa, ca. 1900. The expertly carved patterns add a wonderful texture to the mask.

Sculpture Rietberg Museum Photo Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sculpture of the Hindu Goddess Durga Fighting with a Demon. Indian, Karnataka, probably Mysore, Dynasty, 11th century. The Goddess protects her believers from evil.

Rietberg Maori Carving Detail - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Detail of a carved wooden house post depicting a tattooed figure. Of Maori origin, New Zealand, pre-1900.

Rietberg Chinese Silver Box Detail - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Silver melon-shaped box with a mouse. China, Tang Dynasty (618-907). This intricately detailed box is about 5 centimetres tall.

Amorous Couple Rietberg Museum Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sandstone relief sculpture of an amorous couple. Central India, Chandella Dynasty, 11th century. The Rietberg’s literature notes, “according to the shilpashastras (ancient art manuals), the main purpose of an artwork is to create emotions (rasa). In this context eroticism, the queen of all rasas, plays a central role.”

Rietberg Ganesha Sculpture - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sculpture of Ganesha, the Hindu deity of beginnings. Ganesha also aids believers in overcoming obstacles. India, Bundelkhand, Chandella Dynasty, 11th century.

I hope that you enjoyed the mini-tour. Do you have a favourite piece? As a collector of boxes, I’d love to add the silver melon-shaped box to my stash. Better yet, wrap them all up, please! A little something did make its way home with me. I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

You can view more of the Rietberg’s wonderful collection online. Throughout the year, the museum also hosts a number of special exhibitions. Until June 1, 2014, you can see a wonderful display of carvings, sculptures and masks by artists from the Ivory Coast. The works span 300 years and include a number of contemporary pieces.  From mid-May through early August, works by the Zen master and painter Sengai will be on display.

If you visit, allow time to stroll through Rieterpark, a picturesque park overlooking Lake Zürich. On sunny days, pick up a bite to go from the Rieterberg’s café, head into the park, choose a shady spot under one of the majestic trees and enjoy a picnic. It’s almost as lovely to visit the park on rainy days.
Magnolia Blossoms Rietberg Museum Photo Sara Lynne Moffatt

Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees

Observing leaves: at first, I doubt they are persimmon—
looking at the blossoms, I doubt they are lotus.
How fortunate there are no fixed forms—
this tree has no comparison.

-Chin’gak Kuksa Hyesim (1178 – 1234)

Photographs by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Additional Articles of Interest
Museum Rietberg Press Release: From Buddha to Picasso: The Collector Eduard von der Heydt
Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim (

Transformed Traditional – Studio

Decorating with upcycled and refurbished objects, once considered trendy, is now a design style.  One which I happily embrace. In my home, Victorian-era pine floor boards, saved from a long-gone St. Louis hospital, form a pedestal and discarded steam gauges are now an art installation. Sometimes a few coats of lacquer turn “old” into “new.” At other times it’s a new use. What should we call this style? It’s neither Shabby Chic nor Industrial. Perhaps Redux? At Studio, the approach to upcycling and refurbishing is a bit more radical.

Concrete Cabinet

Concrete Cabinet

Rolf works with objects that have sentimental value, but no longer fit with today’s design aesthetic. He slices, encases and reshapes them into contemporary pieces, while honouring the memories of the past. The Studio design style could be called Transformed Traditional.

Rearrangements bench. Resin with sliced balusters.

Rearrangements bench. Resin with sliced balusters.

Extended Cabinet

Extended Cabinet

Rolf began transforming things as an architect. He studied architecture and urban planning at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. In 2003, along with architect Marnix van der Meer, he founded Zecc Architecten. Among the firm’s projects are the  Water Tower of Living and Church of Living. As the names imply, these living spaces were once a water tower and a church.

His own home is the award wining The Black Pearl. Located in a revitalized neighbourhood of Rotterdam, the house, once a crumbling relic, is an outstanding transformation. From the link, you can also watch a short video (Rolf speaks Dutch in the video, even if you don’t understand Dutch, it’s interesting to watch) and take a 360 tour.

In 2009, Rolf formed Studio and now dedicates his time to designing and creating furniture and products. The photos below are of his Cutting Porcelain series. By covering the exterior and slicing the tea pot and vase apart, he reveals the simple, elegant lines of the hidden inner structures.

From the Cutting Porcelain series.

From the Cutting Porcelain series.

From the Cutting Porcelain series

From the Cutting Porcelain series

When I first saw Studio’s Concrete Cabinet (top photo) in Amsterdam at Woonbeurs 2013, it seemed familiar (minus the concrete). It reminded me of my maternal grandmother’s sewing cabinet. As a child, I adored rummaging through it. The drawers yielded bits of lace and spare buttons that I crafted into bracelets and hairbands. I asked to have the cabinet after my grandparents died. It became my daughter’s bedside table. She still has it in her home today. Although she likes it just as it is, perhaps a concrete remake is now under consideration. (Update: I’ve been assured the treasured cabinet will remain as is).

In the photo, my grandmother is wearing a silk dress created by my mom. I love seeing how my family dressed for casual strolls in the park. Perhaps not practical, but definitely chic.

Photo credits: 2, 3, 4 & 5 Studio

Lighting Up with Dutch Design – Sander Mulder

Being somewhat focused when I’m working at my desk (and perhaps a smidgen lazy), as the day approaches dusk, I find it annoying to have to get up, walk across the room, and turn on the overhead light. If I had one of Sander Mulder’s Cyclops pendant lamps in my office, then I could simply reach up, give the “eye” a little upwards flick, and light up the room.

Cyclops Light Sander MulderThe Cyclops Pendant Lamp is another light fixture design that caught my attention at the Woonbeurs 2013 show in Amsterdam (in an earlier post, I showed some of Stef van der Bujl’s unique creations). The lamp is an environmentally friendly 39 watt LED.  While minimalistic, the fixture is available in several standard anodized finishes as well as custom RAL colours. It’s also possible to order custom cable colours.

My “annoyance” at having to get up to turn on an overhead lamp is not the problem Sander Mulder set out to address with his Cyclops lamp. He conceived the innovative design as a solution for impractically placed light switches. Through the form of the lamp, aided by technology, a light switch becomes unnecessary. Push the “eye” upwards and the lamp turns on, pull it downwards and it switches off. For me, the beauty of the design is the surprise of realizing what’s not there.