The Collections of the RJM

The 3,400 objects from the anthropological estate of the geographer and ethnologist Dr Wilhelm Joest (1852-1897) formed the foundation of the collections of the RJM. His sister Adele was married to Eugen Rautenstrauch. In 1899 the couple donated the estate of Wilhelm Joest to the City of Cologne.


Two leather Zulu dolls from South Africa, one of the regions explored intensively by Wilhelm Joest in the year 1890, have inventory numbers 1 and 2. His collection contained numerous rare pearl artefacts of the Zulus and important craft objects of the Nguni peoples. Until well into the 1980 s the Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (Ethnographical Society) continuously increased the size and quality of this part of the collection by acquisitions of further important objects from southern Africa and by taking over the collection of the Africa expert Oswin Köhler with objects of everyday use from Namibia, Botswana and Angola. Precious metal and ivory objects from the Kingdom of Benin in present-day Nigeria represent an important part of the early Africa collection. They were purchased by the Rautenstrauch family in London after a punitive English expedition in 1897 had plundered Benin. It was intended to cover the costs of the military operation by the sale of the metal and ivory objects seized. In the years between 1906 and 1914 as a result of numerous acquisitions, for example from Oldman in London, and further gifts from the Joest and Rautenstrauch families and enthusiastic private individuals in Cologne, the collection grew to include c. 5,000 objects.

With the end of German colonial rule in Africa objects above all from Cameroon, Togo, and East Africa were added after 1915 to the collection under the then director Wilhelm Foy. After the First World War artefacts were acquired systematically or exchanged with other museums to close gaps in the collection. Contact to the Museum of Anthropology in Berlin was especially close, from which in 1921/22 alone almost 1,000 objects were either bought or exchanged. Towards the end of the Second World War valuable individual objects came via intermediaries, such as Gurlitt from Dresden, whose exact provenance has still only been traced in individual cases.

War-related losses were limited thanks to early evacuation of the collection and were later made good both by the acquisition of further ethnographical collections such as that of Hans Himmelheber and Enno Beuchelt as well as via the art trade. In 1966 the City of Cologne bought 550 African objects, mainly masks and sculptures, from the collection of the Düsseldorf artist Klaus Clausmeyer. This represented a decisive enrichment of the permanent collection from the point of view of artistic quality. Most of the loan requests received from other museums for special exhibitions have since that time involved famous pieces from the Clausmeyer collection.
In 1989 Ellen Doetsch-Amberger continued the tradition of gifts made by citizens of Cologne when she donated c. 100 objects mainly from Nigeria. The museum also owes its ancient Egyptian collection to her.
The overall Africa collection today comprises c. 11,000 objects.

Dr Clara Himmelheber is head of the Africa Department.


The massive bronze figure of the meditating Buddha Amitabha from 19th century Japan, which for decades was placed in the arcade next to the museum entrance and later acted as an eye catcher on the staircase of the old Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum on Ubierring, comes from Wilhelm Joest's collection (1852-1897).
For a long time, however, the figure was something of a solitaire in the Asia collection to which a small number of objects were added during the first few years, some them of high quality. In 1914 there were, however, two special collections in the Asia section whose importance has only been fully appreciated in recent years - these are the collection of artefacts from the Japanese Ainu culture and the collection of ritual masks from Sri Lanka.

The high-quality collection of 200 relatively well-documented objects from the Sachalin-Ainu and Hokkaido-Ainu cultures, some of which are unique specimens, exemplify the Japanese Ainu culture in a representative way. Most of the objects in the collection were acquired in 1910 and 1914 from the Hamburg ethnographic dealer J.F.G. Umlauff. From 1889 onwards this firm was managed by Christine Karoline Umlauff, a sister of Hagenbeck, the founder of the Hamburg zoological gardens. The Umlauff'sche Weltmuseum (world museum) presented so-called Völkerschauen (ethnographic spectacles) which enjoyed huge popularity. The collection of 275 colourful ritual masks from Sri Lanka were, with few exceptions, also acquired from Umlauff. These masks were used in healing rituals on the south-west coast of Sri Lanka. The rituals have their roots in Buddhist traditions.
The advanced culture of India was represented for the first time in 1937 by a work on permanent loan from Eduard Baron von der Heydt (1882-1964), from Ascona, banker to the last German emperor and later founder of the Museum Rietberg in Zurich. This permanent loan comprising ten Indian stone sculptures became a gift in 1954 together with other works of art from India, Indonesia and the South Seas. In 1940, the carved tripartite portal complex of a Jain temple from Gujarat was added and was displayed at the Museum of Natural History in Wuppertal. This field of collecting was also supported by Peter and Irene Ludwig from the city of Aachen. They presented the museum with a Vishnu stele as a permanent loan in 1967. At the same time the museum acquired numerous figurative wood carvings of Indian architectural elements from London art dealers, among them a comprehensive ensemble of celestial musicians.

The Asia collections of the museum experienced a decisive revaluation thanks to the art patron Hans Wilhelm Siegel (1903-1997), from Ronco, sopra Ascona, who had long been on friendly terms with the Cologne Museum of East Asian Art and had spent most of his life in China. In 1984 the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum presented the exhibition "Das zeitlose Bildnis - Plastische Kunst der Mon, Khmer und Thai" (The Timeless Image - Sculptural Art of the Mon, Khmer and Thai) with stone and bronze sculptures from the collection of Hans Wilhelm Siegel. Siegel's collection was acquired by the museum in 1986. This formerly private collection of mainly small-scale sculptures was complemented by a number of large-scale Khmer sculptures in the following years as a result of a targeted acquisition policy which was partly funded by the state of North-Rhine Westphalia. Among these objects are an 11th century door lintel (acquired 1988), a 9th century Shiva statue (1991), and the figure of a female deity from 1150-1177 (1994). The collection of Thai art, which consists of objects from the Siegel collection and a donation by Georg Küppers-Loosen, Cologne, from 1908, was given a new focal point in 1992 with the large 15th century bronze figure of a walking Buddha. This sculpture was bequeathed to the museum by Wolfgang Kühns-Bernsau, Düsseldorf. Southeast Asian ceramic art is also represented by a comprehensive collection from the estate of Hans Wilhelm Siegel and was given to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum by the Cologne Museum of East Asian Art in 1991. Among these objects are Ban-Chiang ceramics and bronzes from the prehistoric Thai culture, donated in 1982 by Karl-Heinrich Müller, Düsseldorf.

The museum showed its interest in the cultures of the Middle East when it bought 8th century bronzes and ceramics from Lorestan in the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1988 and 1989, a vast collection of everyday objects and textiles from Syria and Turkey were added which were mostly acquired in-situ. The Middle East Islamic section gained in importance as a result of the acquisition of the Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860-1946) Collection as a permanent loan from the "Max-Freiherr-von-Oppenheim-Stiftung", Berlin. The explorer Oppenheim excavated the Hittite hillside settlement of Tell Halaf in Syria and established his own museum in Berlin to display his finds. His Islamic objects decorated the rooms of his apartments on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. A total of roughly 1,500 objects, including the textile collection, survived the Second World War and were given to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in 1989.

Dr Annabelle Springer is head of the Asia Department.

The Islands of Southeast Asia

The first objects of this part of the collection comprising roughly 8,500 inventory numbers were collected by the explorer Wilhelm Joest (1842-1897) who came from a wealthy Cologne family of merchants. The objects come from the Greater and Lesser Sunda Islands, the Moluccas, Sarawak, Sabah - the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo - the sultanate of Brunei, the Philippine archipelago, Taiwan, Botel Tobago and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In 1879 Joest embarked on his third major voyage which took him, among other places, to Ceram, Celebes (Sulawesi), Sumatra and the Philippines. He bequeathed his private collection to his sister Adele who was married to the Cologne Kommerzienrat (honorary title for a distinguished merchant) Eugen Rautenstrauch. She donated the collection, which was sadly rather poorly documented, to the City of Cologne. A few hundred objects collected by Joest form the basis of this part of the museum's collection.

By contrast, a group of objects comprising more than 200 inventory numbers that were compiled by the British colonial administrator Charles Hose (1863-1929) are very well documented. This collection includes objects from the Kayan and Kenyah, two peoples from the upper and middle reaches of the Baram River in Sarawak and Kalimantan. Hose spent 24 years of his life (1884-1907) in the north-western part of the island of Borneo which was at that time under British administration. He devoted his life to researching the cultures of the Dayak peoples, and his ethnographical work "The Pagan Tribes of Borneo" in two volumes is still valued by experts. In 1907 and 1909 the museum managed to acquire more than 300 objects from his collection from the London dealer Eduard Gerrard.

A collection of more than 500 objects from the Lesser Sunda Islands were amassed in 1907/08 for the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum by Theodor Heinrich Thomann. One year earlier, Georg Küppers-Loosen from Cologne donated almost 200 ethnographic artefacts to the museum which he had acquired in the Philippines. Worth special mention is the comprehensive collection acquired by the Berlin zoologist Albert Grubauer in the first decade of the 20th century while travelling in Java, Sumatra and Borneo. In 1911 he stayed in Celebes (present-day Sulawesi) for three and a half months. Two years later he published his travelogue under the sensationalist title of "Unter Kopfjägern (among headhunters) in Central-Celebes". The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum owns more than 500 objects from Grubauer's collection. 235 early objects are from the Moluccan islands of Ambon, Ceram and Misol which Odo Deodatos Tauern visited in 1911/12. His book "Patasiwa und Patalima. Vom Molukkeneiland Seram und seinen Bewohnern" (on the Moluccan island of Seram and its inhabitants).

The roughly 1,500 objects from the important Müller-Wismar Collection are likewise from the Moluccas - 600 each from the Tanimbar and Babar archipelagos and less numerous groups of objects from a smaller archipelago of islands which were at that time referred to as "Südwesterinseln" (south westerly islands). The ethnologist Wilhelm Müller (b.1881 in Wismar, d.1916) went on a journey of exploration and collection to eastern Indonesia between 1912 and 1914. Most of the objects from his collection are meticulously documented and quite a considerable number of them were photographed in-situ. The collection, which was donated to the City of Cologne, was integrated into the museum's collection in 1924.

The 1950s and 60s saw large-scale exchanges with other anthropological museums and museums of natural history. Duplicates from the museum's own collection were generously relinquished in order to fill gaps with objects received in exchange. This practice has had a lasting influence on the historical development of the collection's profile.

Numerous ethnographical objects owned by missionaries who had been formerly deployed in Sumatra, Nias and Borneo enriched the collection in the 1960s and 70s. In 1966 the museum acquired the ethnographical collection of the Düsseldorf artist Klaus Clausmeyer (1887-1968) who had decorated his home and studio with ethnological artefacts, above all art objects from Africa and Oceania. Roughly thirty ancestral figures from Nias (formerly in the possession of the Missionsmuseum in Wuppertal-Barmen) and more artefacts from Leti, Sumatra, Java and Borneo were added to the museum's collection. In addition, the Batak collection was considerably enlarged.

In 1984 the museum succeeded in acquiring a complete rice barn from the Sa'dan Toraja who live in southern Sulawesi. Two wooden coffins in the shape of buffaloes with ornamental carvings and a complete suit of armour are from the same region and were donated to the museum. As a result of the support of numerous sponsors, the jewellery and Wayang collections have been systematically enlarged in the last few years. The latest, spectacular acquisition is a complete historical ensemble of Gamelan instruments from central Java.

Sonja Mohr is head of the Insular Southeast Asia Department.


The largest section of the museum is the Oceania collection comprising roughly a third of the museum's total number of exhibits. The first roughly 900 objects of the collection came from the estate of Wilhelm Joest (1852-1897) who had collected the objects - with the exception of a few artefacts he had bought from dealers - during his world trip in 1896/97. More than half these artefacts were acquired during the last stage of his journey on the Santa Cruz Islands, the material culture of which Joest documented extensively through his collection and photographs.

The valuable contribution of the Cologne patron Georg Küppers-Loosen (1860-1910) to the Oceania Department deserves the highest praise. The museum owes more than 20% of its objects currently in the Oceania collection to Küppers-Loosen who became a donor in 1905. In the previous year he had travelled the South Seas and had committed himself to acquiring private collections for the museum and to encouraging potential patrons to make gifts. As a result of his commitment, a number of important private collections were given to the museum, among them the Melanesia collection of Paul Lückers, master of a trading post of the German New Guinea Company. This collection comprises more than 1,000 objects. Another important collection donated to the museum is that of Hans Rodaz who took part in the German Ramu expedition in 1898. Members of the founder family Rautenstrauch also supported the museum with numerous donations. Julius Rautenstrauch, for instance, acquired for the museum the comprehensive and meticulously documented South Seas collection of Curt Danneils who worked as a physician for the German New Guinea Company in the Bismarck Archipelago around the turn of the century.

Compared with Melanesia, the source region of a good three quarters of all the objects in the section, the other Oceania regions are less important from a quantitative point of view and contribute less than 2,000 objects each to the department's collection. Yet, the Micronesia collection has a sufficiently representative range of everyday objects, textiles and jewellery to illustrate the most important aspects of the material culture of these low-lying coral reefs and mountainous volcanic islands. The collection of the German Captain C. Jeschke, who travelled in Micronesia from 1910 to 1913, is particularly noteworthy and includes a remarkably expressive figure of a deity from the Polynesian exclave of Nukuoro. This collection was acquired in 1920.

Polynesia - with the exception of Fiji and the Samoan Islands - is underrepresented in this collection, but it boasts a number of high-quality individual items such as a Hawaiian feather cloak. The Australia collection focuses on the entire north of the continent from Kimberley to Cape York. More than half of the artefacts are from the private collection of the anthropologist Hermann Klaatsch (1863-1916) from Breslau, who collected the objects on his travels in Australia between 1904 and 1907. His collection was donated to the museum in 1908 by Marie von Bernstorff and the Rautenstrauch family.

Just under 70% of the current Oceania collection were acquired before the First World War when collecting ethnographica reached a peak. As a result, those areas that were discovered and researched by Europeans at a later stage, such as the central highlands of New Guinea, are underrepresented in the collection. From the 1920s onwards, the museum increasingly exchanged duplicates with other anthropological museums (e.g. Berlin, Dresden, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Bremen) to complement the collection and close gaps. On a smaller scale, there were also exchange activities with ethnographica dealers and private collectors which lasted into the 1970s. Gifts also contributed to closing gaps in the collection, such as the collection from the estate of the factory owner Leopold Peill fom Düren which was donated to the museum in 1933 and includes New Guinea artefacts from the upper and middle reaches of the Sepik River.

Among the collections of objects from the South Seas that were acquired by the museum after 1945, two are particularly worthy of mention: the private collection of the ethnographer and former museum assistant Carl A. Schmitz who acquired the artefacts in the mid-1950s during his New Guinea expedition to the interior of the Huon peninsula, and the comprehensive collection of the Düsseldorf artist Klaus Clausmeyer which was bought in 1966 and contributed to a considerable enrichment of the museum's Melanesia collection. Noteworthy new acquisitions in the 1980s were mainly large-scale objects such as a yam barn from the Trobriand Islands and an almost ten-metre (more than 30 ft) long plank boat from the central Solomon Islands.

Dr Oliver Lueb is head of the Oceania Department.


With its roughly 7,000 objects, the America collection of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum is the smallest of the five collection areas labelled after the continents.

Towards the end of the 19th century when Wilhelm Joest's activities as a collector laid the foundation for the future Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, the colonial areas in Africa and Oceania were at the focus of ethnographic interest in almost all countries. As the first director of the museum, Wilhelm Foy, wrote in 1910, the purpose of a museum of anthropology was "to provide illustrative material for those who travelled to the colonies to prevent them from behaving in a way that might lead to misunderstandings and errors of judgement". In that respect, America was of no relevance. Wilhelm Joest himself, who had travelled to South America, Mexico and North America before his death on an expedition to the South Seas in 1897, does not appear to have used these journeys consistently for targeted collecting. He brought back a number of items typical of the various different regions, but they give the impression of a general tourist interest such as the Mexican riding equipment and the coasters and mats with Native American embroidery of porcupine bristles and moose hair which were sold to tourists at the Niagara Falls. However, a collection of late 19th century ethnographic ceramics which Wilhelm Joest brought back from Guyana is of outstanding quality.

Shortly after the beginning of the 20th century, the anthropological school of the theory of cultural spheres (Kulturkreislehre) began to establish itself at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum associated with the director Wilhelm Foy (1873-1929) and Fritz Graebner (1877-1934), Foy's assistant from 1906 onwards and from 1924 director of the RJM). Rather than apprehending an individual culture as an intellectual and material entity, this school focused on the outer form of an object and extrapolated historical affinities between various different cultures. The purchase of several hundred minimally worked prehistoric stone tools from the eastern US in 1902 is very probably a result of this research interest. Luckily, this purchase was not to be representative of later acquisitions of North American ethnographica which included a comprehensive, high-quality collection of artefacts from the north-west coast of Canada and a smaller collection of objects from the Plains cultures (both acquired in 1903 from the renowned Hamburg dealer Umlauff). Outstanding individual objects such as the early Pawnee bison cloak came as gifts or were bought from ethnographica dealers - even at that time often with funds from the Förderverein (friends' association of the museum). By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the native North American cultures were facing extinction, above all the Plains and Prairie cultures, which were paradigmatic from the European perspective, and genuine traditional artefacts were hardly any longer available.

The situation was quite different with regard to the cultures of the South American lowlands at that time. Many of these cultures only began to be exposed to a more pronounced European influence during the rubber boom of that time, and the systematic collecting of ethnographica would still have been possible. Yet, with the exception of the Gran Chaco collection of the "explorador Fric", there are either only individual objects or less comprehensive collections that came into the possession of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum seemingly more or less by accident. There are even fewer ethnographica from the native cultures of the Andes, Mexico and Guatemala. Artefacts were acquired from individual collectors who sold items occasionally or from dealers. Larger collections, however, were acquired from designated explorers after the Second World War. Examples are the Warao collection from Venezuela (acquired from Johannes Wilbert in 1955), the Florian Deltgen and Karl-Georg Scheffer collections of Yebamasá artefacts from the Colombian lowlands (1977) and Georg Dörner's collection of Mexican folk art (1981). Sadly, the collection of American ethnographica, in particular objects with feathers, and Inuit artefacts suffered irreplaceable losses as a result of the Second World War and the associated evacuation and re-storage of the objects, and of the "once-in-a-century flooding" of the Rhine in the 1990s.

The collection of ethnographica from the complex states and societies of pre-Hispanic America was, initially, characterised by a similar situation. Among the few acquisitions in the early 20th century there is a striking, rather comprehensive collection of forgeries from Colombia which were presumably bought deliberately in order to be able to present such manufactured objects as well. A much later effect was that this section of the collection received counterfeit objects from dealers after the Second World War as a gift. By the mid-1960s, the pre-Columbian collection of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum comprised a comprehensive, albeit not representative, Peruvian collection and a negligible collection of artefacts from Mesoamerica, Costa Rica and Colombia.

This situation improved thanks to the commitment of the collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig from Aachen. From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s they acquired, in consultation with the museum, a pre-Columbian collection that closed some of the gaps in the museum's collection of Peruvian artefacts and contained objects, above all from Mesoamerica, which attracted international attention. The Pre-Columbian Ludwig Collection was donated to the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, on condition that it should be made available to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum as a permanent loan. In the wake of this committed private collecting activity, the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum received generous corporate donations that enabled it to acquire a number of outstanding pre-Columbian objects.

There have not been any new, really important acquisitions for the America section in the last few decades. The reasons behind this are changes in the legal framework for the export of pre-Columbian art and modern ethnographica in the countries of origin, and the resulting deliberate abstinence of European museums with regard to the purchase of these artefacts. An additional factor is the increasing lack of public funding and support through sponsors.

Dr Anne Slenczka is head of the America Department.


The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum with its more than 65,000 exhibits is regarded as one of the most important anthropological museums in Germany. It is largely unknown that its collection also includes European objects. The above mentioned essay conveys an introductory assessment of the museum's European collection. The article explains the structure of the collection, its almost complete transfer to Berlin as the result of an exchange in 1937, and endeavours to re-establish this collection with regard to specific collection interests and their implications.



The textile collection of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum comprises roughly 3,500 objects, including parts of textiles and costumes. It focuses on Indonesia and the Near East with c. 750 objects each, and Oceania with roughly 650 artefacts. Africa and America are represented with 370 objects each. In addition, there are parts of costumes from China and Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe. There is also an archaeological collection with fragments and a number of outstanding textiles from ancient Peru and Egypt.

With only a few exceptions, almost all textile techniques and a large number of materials are represented. Alongside ceremonial garments, complete costume sets and textiles for everyday use, there is a collection of numerous different tools and looms and a small selection of fibres and dyes. In addition, there are exhibits demonstrating the various different production stages in batik and ikat techniques.

More than a third of the exhibits came into the museum before 1925. The first objects were amassed by Wilhelm Joest who acquired his extensive collection during expeditions at the end of the 19th century. These artefacts form the basis of the museum's textile collection. Until the 1970s, textiles were hardly ever acquired for a designated textile collection, but were part of larger groups of objects. This has only changed during the last two decades. Inspired by the research project "Indonesian Textiles in the Museums of North-Rhine Westphalia" and the subsequent exhibition "Indonesian Textiles" including an international symposium at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in 1984, the museum specifically acquired Indonesian textiles, some of which came from generous donations by collectors. Another important exhibition in 1987 on costumes from Palestine shifted the focus of interest to the Middle East. Almost 400 objects were added to the previously very small collection. Further textile objects and parts of costumes - a total of 350 - were added as a result of the integration of Max Freiherr von Oppenheim's comprehensive collection. As a result, the museum's textile collection has grown by more than 1,100 exhibits in the last 20 years. This collection area has the highest growth rate and has recently been re-organised as an independent section. The collection is arranged geographically.


Opening Hours & Adress

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum
Cultures of the world
Cäcilienstraße 29-33
50667 Köln
+49 0221 / 221 - 313 56

Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm
Thursday 10am-8pm
(public holidays 10am-6pm)
Closed on Mondays