In Focus: Adolphus Busch Hall

October 19, 2016
Index Magazine

In Focus: Adolphus Busch Hall

Adolphus Busch Hall, former home of our Busch-Reisinger Museum, has served as a site for teaching and learning for Harvard students since the early 20th century. Visitors are welcome to view works of art, take in an organ concert, or discover more about the rich history of this magnificent hall during public hours.

Named after its principal donor, a German-American brewer based in St. Louis, Adolphus Busch Hall was built between 1914 and 1917. The hall originally housed Harvard University’s Germanic Museum, now the Busch-Reisinger Museum and part of the Harvard Art Museums.

The Germanic Museum was intended to illustrate the development of northern European art. In its early years, the collection included only reproductions—primarily plaster casts of medieval and Renaissance sculptures and architectural stonework. A gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1903 included 22 plaster casts, among them replicas of the Golden Portal from the Church of Our Lady in Freiberg, Germany; the Naumburg west choir screen; and the bronze doors from the Hildesheim Cathedral (all remain on view today). Such reproductions, commonly used for study in the early 20th century, provide students the opportunity to examine masterpieces without having to travel abroad.

In his 1910 plan for Adolphus Busch Hall, Munich architect German Bestelmeyer aimed to evoke the settings of the original artworks. Thus, the building’s cavernous main hall resembles the nave of a medieval church, complete with a barrel vault, massive pillars, and chapel-like spaces. The northwest wing of the building, currently the home of the renovated Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, was conceived in a Renaissance style. The adjacent and secluded Busch Courtyard is reminiscent of a cloister. At its center stands a bronze replica of the 12th-century Braunschweiger Löwe, or Brunswick Lion, an early example of monumental sculpture in the round.

The Germanic Museum was housed in Adolphus Busch Hall for almost 70 years. Today, some of the foundational plaster cast collection is still represented in Adolphus Busch Hall, while the majority of the Busch-Reisinger Museum collection—nearly 40,000 original works of art, dating from the seventh century to the present—is at the Harvard Art Museums’ main facility at 32 Quincy Street. The Busch-Reisinger remains the only museum in North America devoted to the arts of the German-speaking countries of central and northern Europe in all media and from all periods.

Besides displaying masterful sculptural replicas, plaster casts, and other works of art, Adolphus Busch Hall is home to Harvard’s 1958 D. A. Flentrop organ, made famous by concert organist E. Power Biggs. The influential Cambridge resident made several recordings and live radio broadcasts on the organ, which has a mechanical connection between its 1,600 pipes and keys. During the academic year on Thursday afternoons, Harvard students and the public can attend free organ concerts, as part of a recital series hosted by the Harvard Organ Society, Harvard’s Memorial Church, and the Harvard Art Museums.

Adolphus Busch Hall, located at 29 Kirkland Street in Cambridge, is open to the public Wednesdays, 1–5pm, and Saturdays, 10am–2pm. It is closed on major holidays. The courtyard is open during the summer months, Monday to Friday, 10am–5pm. Admission to the hall and courtyard is free.

There is a wheelchair-accessible entrance to the courtyard located on Cabot Way, 27 Kirkland Street.

See the Harvard Art Museums calendar for details about the midday organ recital series.

Adolphus Busch Hall is available for private event rentals, providing an enchanting atmosphere for intimate weddings, parties, and corporate events. See our rentals page for more information.

Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture at Harvard University, discusses the rich history behind the Harvard Art Museums’ Adolphus Busch Hall.