Alte Pinakothek

Top choice in Munich

Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Getty Images/Altrendo

Munich's main repository of Old European Masters is crammed with all the major players who decorated canvases between the 14th and 18th centuries. This neoclassical temple was masterminded by Leo von Klenze and is a delicacy even if you can't tell your Rembrandt from your Rubens. The collection is world famous for its exceptional quality and depth, especially when it comes to German masters.

The oldest works are altar paintings, among which the standouts are Michael Pacher's Four Church Fathers and Lucas Cranach the Elder's Crucifixion (1503), an emotional rendition of the suffering Jesus.

A key room is the Dürersaal upstairs. Here hangs Albrecht Dürer's famous Christlike Self-Portrait (1500), showing the gaze of an artist brimming with self-confidence. His final major work, The Four Apostles, depicts John, Peter, Paul and Mark as rather humble men, in keeping with post-Reformation ideas. Compare this to Matthias Grünewald's Sts Erasmus and Maurice, which shows the saints dressed in rich robes like kings.

For a secular theme, inspect Albrecht Altdorfer's Battle of Alexander the Great (1529), which captures in dizzying detail a 6th-century war pitting Greeks against Persians.

There's a choice bunch of works by Dutch masters, including an altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden called The Adoration of the Magi, plus The Seven Joys of Mary by Hans Memling, Danae by Jan Gossaert and The Land of Cockayne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. At 6m in height, Rubens' epic Last Judgment is so big that Klenze custom-designed the hall for it. A memorable portrait is Hélène Fourment (1631), a youthful beauty who was the ageing Rubens' second wife.

The Italians are represented by Botticelli, Rafael, Titian and many others, while the French collection includes paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and François Boucher. Among the Spaniards are such heavy hitters as Murillo and Velázquez, and Greece's El Greco also features.