FROM CHAPTER OF CANONS TO ART MUSEUM
It was Archbishop Gero of Magdeburg, who held office from 1012 to 1023, who founded the collegiate church, to the north of the cathedral. Dedicated to Mary, Mother of God – “Unser Lieben Frauen” –, it was richly endowed. A founding deed from 13 December 1015/16 is now regarded to be a medieval forgery, with the actual date of founding thought to be 1017/18. Nothing remains of the monastery buildings subsequently erected, as from 1063/64 a what was then state-of-the-art new church was erected under Archbishop Werner von Steußlingen (in office 1063–1078), brother of Anno, Archbishop of Cologne (in office 1056–1075). The cross-shaped columned basilica, completed in 1078, features nine bays with central and western pillar pairs and a three-aisled choir crypt and still forms the centrepiece of the now secular church, which has been used for concerts since 1977 (1977 to 2020 Konzerthalle Georg Philipp Telemann).
The 11th century also saw work carried out on the cloister. It is known that the foundation walls of the west wing, still present today, were originally the site of two large, twin-aisled halls supported by sturdy pillars, which flanked the entrance bay.
REFORMATION AND COUNTER-REFORMATION
Lutheran preaching was first recorded in Magdeburg in 1521, in 1525 the council confiscated the valuables of the monastery with the excuse of protecting them, from 1547 use of the collegiate church (and also the cathedral) for church services was prohibited for a number of decades, with the monastery also losing all of its patronages. Despite this, this did not signify the end of the monastery. Although the number of conventuals decreased continuously over the course of the 16th century, in addition to a number of old believers, reinforced by outside members, the monastery also included canons who had joined the new doctrine of faith.
Although church services were prohibited during this time, the church, damaged during the Siege of Magdeburg 1550/51, was renovated under Provost Johann Meyer (in office 1576–1589) and even received a new organ and new windows. This time also saw the canonisation of Norbert von Xanten. This was instigated in 1582, in the course of the Counter-Reformation, by Pope Gregory XIII (in office 1572–1582) at the urging of Prémontré-based Abbot General Jean Despruets (in office 1573–1596), although St. Norbert was not added to the General Roman Calendar until 1621.
THE MONASTERY FROM THE 17th CENTURY ONWARDS: FORMATION OF A SCHOOL
In 1650 the monastery, which until then had belonged to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, was transferred to Elector Friedrich Wilhelm von Brandenburg. There were now a number of Protestant conventuals living in the monastery again, who founded a school for boys here in 1698, one purpose of which was to prepare the scholars for theological studies. The growing popularity of the educational establishment was accompanied by an increasing need for space, with the result that numerous conversions occurred within the area of the inner and outer cloister over the course of the approximately two and a half centuries that followed. In 1780 the refectory was divided up with the addition of separating walls, with 1805 even seeing the addition of a suspended ceiling. More radical was the construction work undertaken in 1848/53 under the guidance of the building officer Johann Heinrich L'Hermets (1806–1848). This saw the removal of the rest of the dormitory, which was replaced by a boarding facility. Today, this is home to the administration and workshop operations of the museum. The west and north wings were raised and the medieval brewery building with timber-framed upper floor that had adjoined the east wing of the cloister until that point was replaced by a new school building in the Neo-Romanesque style. The upper floor of the cloister also received its current appearance at this time; although an upper floor already existed in the 12th century, there are no records of its design.
THE MONASTERY BECOMES ART MUSEUM
The future of the ensemble was assured in 1959 with the resolution of the city in the course of the reconstruction plans to use the monastery for cultural purposes and not tear it down - the fate of other churches in Magdeburg. From 1960 onwards the cloister was reconstructed, an auditorium erected above the refectory in the mid-19th century demolished and the west wing, destroyed in the second world war, rebuilt in its Romanesque dimensions, albeit with a more modern exterior, to plans of the Bauhaus-trained architect and heritage conservationist Hans Berger. In 1966 the monastery was officially transferred to the legal ownership of the city of Magdeburg by the city council, with the intention of establishing a museum on the premises.
In October 1974, the north and west wing were opened as an art museum, which in 1976 became the site of the newly-established “National Collection of Small-scale Sculptures of the GDR”. In 1977 the church was handed over to the public as the Konzerthalle Georg Philipp Telemann, with a monumental concert organ added to the former choir space in 1979. In addition, a peal of ten bells was installed in the tower.
The rooms of the former cloister have since been successively converted and modernised for museum use. In 1989 the national collection was expanded to include large-scale sculptures, with a sculpture park laid out in the vicinity of the monastery. Following the political transition in 1989 the national sculpture collection passed into the possession of the city of Magdeburg, the range of the collection was broadened considerably, with the consequence that the collection, oriented towards post-1945 art, now also includes numerous paintings and illustrations as well as a comprehensive body of photographs, videos and installations from artists all around the world, including an enormous light installation by the Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci that spans the River Elbe on the Hubbrücke, a former railway bridge. Today, the Magdeburger Kunstmuseum is the leading exhibition site for national and international contemporary art in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.