Switzerland’s art and culture – mountains of creativity

Switzerland is a place where the omnipotent hand of nature has created a breathtaking palette for the brushstrokes of man.

Lucerne's Chapel Bridge is an enduring landmark, but it is also a symbol of Swiss culture (wikipedia)

ZURICH, Switzerland, Oct. 10, 2015 – When most travelers consider the great centers of art in Europe, they usually think of Florence, Rome, Venice, Paris or Madrid.

If you mention Switzerland, the images that first come to mind are majestic peaks rising from the earth, villages nestled upon the shores of deep glacial lakes or panoramic tableaux that fade into infinity.

Typical Swiss scene in Airolo (wikipedia)
Typical Swiss scene in Airolo (Wikipedia)

But these are only a prologue to a country that ignites the flames of artistic expression that are frequently unknown to many visitors. Switzerland is a place where the omnipotent hand of nature has created a breathtaking palette for the brushstrokes of man.

To understand the art and culture of Switzerland, you must first look at its history. Centuries before Christ, people settled among the hills of what is now Bellinzona, a gateway between northern and southern Europe near the border of Italy. Switzerland has been a crossroads ever since.

Julius Caesar came to Geneva in 58 B.C. The Romans later migrated north near present-day Basel to establish a colony known as Augusta Raurica in 44 B.C. The thriving commercial center of 20,000 people was the oldest Roman settlement on the Rhine.

Roman theater at Augusta Raurica just outside Basel are always a surprise (wikipedia)
Roman theater at Augusta Raurica just outside Basel are always a surprise (Wikipedia)

By 15 B.C. the Romans had developed a customs post at a place called “Turicum.” Today we know it as Zurich.

With the conquering of the Alps, Switzerland’s cultural landscape was altered forever during the latter part of the 18th century with the onset of tourism.

Zurich's Fraumunster has Chagall stained glass (w9kipedia)
Zurich’s Fraumunster has Chagall stained glass (Wikipedia)

By the middle of the 20th century, Switzerland was home to some of the finest private art collections in the world: the Buhrle Collection in Zurich, the Oskar Reinhart Foundation in Winterthur and Thyssen-Boremisza in Lugano, all world-class exhibitions featuring works by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh, to name a few.

When the city of Basel founded the oldest university in Switzerland in 1460, it also etched an indelible impression upon the cultural canvas of the country.

In 1661, the Amerbach Collection of Basel was acquired for the university, establishing the first public art museum in the world. Today the Holbein collection, combined with the works of native son 19th century painter Arnold Bocklin, are among the highlights that make Basel’s Fine Arts Museum one of the best in the world.

Amerbach portrait by Hans Holbein (wikipedia)
Amerbach Collection portrait by Hans Holbein (Wikipedia)

The canton of Ticino has been called “a fragment of the Mediterranean on the fringes of the north.” It features frescoes by Bernardino Luini in the Church of St. Mary of the Angels in Lugano. Luini is often compared to his Renaissance contemporary Leonardo da Vinci.

Lugano is also home to internationally acclaimed architect Mario Botta, who has just two projects in the United States, one in San Francisco and the other in Charlotte, N.C.

At the Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern, Ferdinand Hodler paints man’s challenges of conquering nature by attempting to ascend to the summit of the Matterhorn.

In the early part of the 20th century, Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner also took inspiration from the mountains. While living in several locations around Davos, the region provided a temporary refuge in Kirchner’s deeply troubled life. Today the Kirchner Museum has received accolades as an excellent example of modern Swiss architecture.

Villa Favorita in Lugano is home to the Thyssen-Bornemiza Collection (wikipedia)
Villa Favorita in Lugano is home to the Thyssen-Bornemiza Collection (Wikipedia)

Just over the mountains, tucked in the corner of a hillside in St. Moritz, sits a museum that honors Giovanni Segantini, whose mountain motifs are characterized by short, thick brushstrokes that magically blend into poetic rural scenes.

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is built of white Greek marble (myswitzerland.com -- christophe moratale)
The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is built of white Greek marble (myswitzerland.com — Christophe Moratale)

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne rises from wide-stepped, landscaped terraces overlooking the Lake of Geneva to capture the concept of “Olympism,” which combines the development of man’s physical and moral senses with his cultural and artistic qualities. Outside the Olympic flame burns as an eternal symbol of the games. It is a celebration of the games of antiquity that is both archive and learning center.

Chagall/s stained glass in Zurich (wikipedia)
Chagall’s stained glass in Zurich (Wikipedia)

At the Fraumunster in Zurich, Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows attract visitors from all over the world. Just across the river, the Kronenhalle is one of the city’s liveliest and most sophisticated restaurants, where diners are surrounded by original works of many of the world’s greatest artists.

As art critic Judd Tully says, “Switzerland is really a very rich and diverse palette, if you will, of what you can see without having to know that much about it, really.”

TIP: In Switzerland a Swiss Travel Pass (railpass) offers FREE admission to more than 450 museums.

Alexander Calame was inspired by Switzerland's majestic natural beauty (wikipedia)
Alexander Calame was inspired by Switzerland’s majestic natural beauty (Wikipedia)

With a vibrant artistic heritage, Switzerland looks brightly toward a future where art tells a story that is a chronology of man’s evolving creativity. It tells of men’s lives and the world in which they lived, yesterday and today, with an eye always toward tomorrow. In Switzerland art is a visual diary of the centuries and a footnote to history.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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