Laurenz Heinrich Hetjens 1865 (© Hetjens-Museum)

We are the DDB: Düsseldorf’s Hetjens Museum with the world’s largest collection of ceramics


Many cultural and scientific institutions are already a part of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek and the number is growing every day. Famous museums and research facilities are on board, but also many smaller institutions that are certainly worth discovering. We would like to introduce, in no particular order, the institutions that are participating in the DDB and give you and impression of how varied and exciting Germany’s cultural and scientific landscape is. Our very first in this series is the Hetjens-Museum in Düsseldorf.

Laurenz Heinrich Hetjens 1865 (© Hetjens-Museum)

When we think of important ceramic collections, we tend to think of the world's large arts and crafts museums, for example, the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in the Italian city of Faenza, the Musée Nationale de Céramique in the French town of Sèvres or the Museo Nacional de Cerámica in Valencia, Spain. However, even in museum metropolises like London or Paris, you would have to visit several museums to gain an overall view of the world of ceramics.

In Düsseldorf, this is something you can achieve and enjoy in one single museum. The Hetjens Museum is worldwide the only institution that has brought together the universal history of ceramics from its beginnings to contemporary times through all cultures and epochs in one collection, presenting its items in educational exhibitions. The museum’s collection displays more than 8,000 years of ceramic history ranging from early Anatolian vessels to antique vases and tile pictures right up to porcelain from East Asia and industrially manufactured ceramics of today.

The museum has existed for more than 100 years and was established with the bequest of Düsseldorf collector Laurenz Heinrich Hetjens (1830–1906) and opened as a public museum in 1909. Hetjens had become wealthy as the technical director of a gas factory in Aachen, but his main passion was for collecting fine ceramics, in particular, Rhenish earthenware from the Gothic, Renaissance and baroque periods. He soon gained a reputation as a respected expert. Universal beneficiary of his considerable fortune and the impressive collection was the city of Düsseldorf.

Since then, the museum has built up its collection – one that the museum is envied for throughout the world - in the form of selective purchases and gifts. The collection is divided into the sections  Middle East, East Asia, Africa, pre-Columbian America, Antiquity and the Middle Ages. All ceramic materials from crockery to earthenware and faience to porcelain are represented on the more than 2,500 square metres of exhibition space. One of the museum’s focus is contemporary ceramic art.

Special exhibitions, a dedicated academic programme of lectures and guided tours, the museum’s educational work and an excellently equipped pottery room where children and adults can practice their ceramic techniques are testimony to the museum's lively atmosphere. The valuable treasures of the Hetjens Museum are often on tour and are regularly exhibited as items on loan both in Germany and abroad. Have a look the next time you visit a large arts and crafts museum - and you will no doubt find an object from the Düsseldorf collection. Or, better still, come and visit the Hetjens Museum, a collection absolutely worth seeing.