Founded 800 years ago, Burg Ziesar, a vast castle complex 45 miles west of Berlin, sits atop an earlier Slavic fortification. The castle was built to house bishops who were charged with Christianizing the Slavic areas nearby, a function it held until the sixteenth century. Its red-brick chapel, or burgkapelle, was designed in the late Gothic style and consecrated in 1470. Great attention was paid to creating the remarkable murals which cover chapel walls and ceiling with vividly painted depictions of the crucifix, apostles, angels, and other iconic images. After the sweeping changes of the Reformation, Burg Zeisar was used for a variety of secular purposes but, remarkably, this rare late-Gothic chapel, including its rare painted interior, survived the centuries. The chapel had reopened for services around 1952, although the artwork had deteriorated significantly due to natural aging, salt efflorescence, and water infiltration from a leaky roof.
A famous depiction of the Madonna was cleaned and treated
In 2002, the paintings in the chapel were surveyed to determine the most damaged areas and develop conservation solutions. The bonding layer between the walls and ornamentation had loosened, causing paint to flake off. After a preservation management plan for the chapel was created, World Monuments Fund contributed toward restoration of the murals in 2003. The first and second bays, including a famous depiction of the Madonna, were cleaned and treated. In 2007 WMF conserved the murals in the bishop’s gallery. WMF’s work at the site was in partnership with the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung (East German Savings Bank Foundation), together with Mittelbrandenburgische Sparkasse in Potsdam.
Burg Ziesar is architecturally rich with elements from every period after it was first built. The castle is historically unique in the region and the decoration in the late-Gothic chapel is prized for its rarity and esteemed for its intricacy and beauty. Guided tours through the chapel are now offered so that the artistic quality of the mural paintings can be appreciated on a wide scale.