Currently not on view

The Renowned Orders of the Night

1997Acrylic and emulsion on canvas
514 x 503 x 8 cm

Born in Germany just months before the final European battle of World War II, Anselm Kiefer grew up witnessing the results of modern warfare and the division of his homeland. He also experienced the rebuilding of a fragmented nation and its struggle for renewal. Kiefer dedicated himself to investigating the interwoven patterns of German mythology and history and the way they contributed to the rise of Fascism. He confronted these issues by violating aesthetic taboos and resurrecting sublimated icons. In one of his earliest projects, his 1969 Occupations (Besetzungen) series, Kiefer photographed himself mimicking the Nazi salute at various sites during a journey through Switzerland, France, and Italy. Subsequent paintings—immense landscapes and architectural interiors, often encrusted with sand and straw—invoke Germany's literary and political heritage; references abound to the Nibelung legends and Richard Wagner, Albert Speer's architecture, and Adolf Hitler. Beginning in the mid-1980s, and especially following his move to southern France in the early 1990s, Kiefer's iconography expanded to encompass more universal themes of civilization, culture, and spirituality, drawing upon such sources as the Kabbalah, alchemy, and ancient myth.

In 1995 Kiefer began to reincorporate the human figure into his work. Several pieces made between 1995 and 1996 show him lying on the floor as if he were a corpse. Similarly, in The Renowned Orders of the Night (Die berühmten Orden der Nacht, 1997), Kiefer portrayed himself as a lonely figure lying on dry, cracked ground beneath the immense mantle of the stars. Kiefer is fascinated by the night sky and its different interpretations throughout history, particularly those describing it as a divine, mysterious kingdom recalling our origins and fate. Spirituality, observes the artist, consists of "connecting with an older knowledge and trying to find continuity in the reasons why we search for heaven. The sky is an idea, a part of . . . an older knowledge. Heaven is an idea, a piece of ancient internal Knowledge. It is not a physical construction." [1]

1. Michael Auping. Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth (New York: Prestel, 2005), p. 166

Nancy Spector. "Anselm Kiefer." In Spector, ed. Guggenheim Museum Collection: A to Z. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2009.
Miguel López-Remiro. "Anselm Kiefer." In Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; Madrid: TF Editores, 2009.
"Anselm Kiefer." In The Permanent Collections of the Guggenheim Museums. Bilbao: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2007.

Original title

Die Berühmten Orden der Nacht




Acrylic and emulsion on canvas


514 x 503 x 8 cm

Credit line

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa