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Rudolf Belling

  • As a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts and Technical University in Istanbul from 1937 until 1966, Rudolf Belling taught his students the technicalities of form, material and proportion.
  • Rudolf
  • Belling
  • 26-08-1886
  • Berlin (DE)
  • 09-06-1972
  • Krailling (DE)
  • Sculptor
  • As a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts and Technical University in Istanbul from 1937 until 1966, Rudolf Belling taught his students the technicalities of form, material and proportion.

    Word Count: 28

  • Rudolf Belling during an interview shortly after his arrival in Turkey, 1937. Yedigün, no. 212, vol. 9, March 1937, p. 8 (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).
  • As a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul from early 1937, Rudolf Belling not only taught his young Turkish students the technicalities of form, material, proportion and the various steps from design to model to completed sculpture, he also instructed them in the iconography and historiography of sculpture. This was in response to the establishment of a new artistic field of work in republican Turkey. With the founding of the state in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, numerous reforms were carried out, in society, the state system, science and culture, and these included a reassessment of monument art. Monuments were henceforth to communicate Kemalist achievements and goals in the public sphere and "educate" the population in state doctrine. To this end, sculptures celebrating Atatürk’s achievements as a military leader during the wars of liberation and as a politician were erected in the central squares of many cities.

    Before his arrival in Istanbul, while still based in the German Weimar Republic, Belling was a well-known innovator in the field of sculpture, creating such works as Dreiklang (1919/1924) and Kopf in Messing (1925), which employed an abstract formal language. Belling was also a commissioned artist throughout the 1920s and realised works for trade unions and other clients. As a prominent practitioner of modern sculpture and a founding figure of avant-garde associations such as the Novembergruppe and the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, as well as because of his work for trade unions, Rudolf Belling was a potentially endangered artist after 1933, when the National Socialists came to power. Fewer and more sporadic commissions also put him in a difficult situation economically (Nerdinger 1981, 251f.). He did, however – with a portrait of the boxer Max Schmeling – participate in the first Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung [Great German Art Exhibition], which opened in 1937 in the Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich, although at the same time other works of his were removed from museums and shown in the Entartete Kunst [Degenerate Art] exhibition, also held in Munich (Dogramaci 2009, 318–322). In July 1937, Belling was asked to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts, but he had clearly realised for some time that he was on dangerous ground in Germany (Schumann 1937) and in December 1936, after being offered a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, he signed a two-year employment contract with the Turkish Ministry of Education. This came about through the mediation of the architect Hans Poelzig.

    Belling took up his position as head of the sculpture department in early 1937, at the same time as the French artist Léopold Lévy, who was appointed professor of painting. Belling's fellow German-speaking colleagues at the academy were the architects Bruno Taut and Wilhelm Schütte, and later the architect Robert Vorhoelzer, the urban planner Gustav Oelsner and the head of the newly-founded fashion studio, Kenan. At the start of the winter semester 1936/37, Belling gave an address in which he set out his teaching programme guidelines. Published in the architectural journal Arkitekt (Belling 1936), it expressed a turning away from formalism in favour of an art of life. Nature was to be the model for artistic action, with the sculptural occidental tradition as reference. Belling designed a new curriculum and spatially expanded the department by having a new studio building constructed in the Academy garden. A familiarity with materials was fundamental in Belling's view (Belling 1942, 27) and, on his recommendation, Adolf Treberer-Treberspurg was appointed to run the stone and wood studio from 1938 to 1941. (Borchhardt 2011, 130–151).

    Training in sculpture under Belling was divided into three sections: In year one, students were required to engage in anatomical studies and copy ancient sculptures (Çetintaş 2003, 166). In the second year, they worked on reliefs and only in year three did they move on to the production of sculptures (Berk/Gezer 1973, 124). In addition, Belling introduced life-size work from nude models. In the fourth year, the students were required to create an independent composition. In April 1940, amidst great media and political attention, the final year exhibition of Rudolf Belling's first class opened in the Academy's Grand Salon with 50 works by both the students and the artist himself (Belling 1942). These included works by master students Hakkı Atamulu, Hüseyin Anka Özkan and Zerrin Bölükbaşı. As a member since 1937 of the sanat jüri (a panel of judges tasked with deciding which monuments and sculptures should be installed), Belling had made a considerable contribution to such projects as the Atatürk Mausoleum in Ankara, where he was responsible for the sculpture programme (Dogramaci 2011a), and it was here that some of his students, including Hüseyin Gezer, Hüseyin Anka or Ilhan Koman, received their first public recognition. In Turkey, these and other artists are known as followers of the Belling School (Berk/Gezer 1973, 113–181).

    The fact that Belling had been brought to Turkey primarily to train future Turkish artists – and not as a practicing sculptor – is reflected in the small number of personal projects that he carried out during those early years in Turkey. The business of building the department from the ground up, combined with his extensive teaching activities, left him little time for other work. In 1937, he designed a national monument for Erzurum, which, however, never got beyond the plaster model stage. An Atatürk monument for Istanbul University in 1938 also remained unrealised. In his preliminary models and studies, Belling developed the motif of the political leader Atatürk accompanied by two youthful figures. The increasing resistance of Turkish artists, who were now claiming more attention for themselves, may have played a role in the failure of these projects. In addition, Belling's first decade in Turkey coincided with the Second World War and the post-war period, during which the tense foreign and domestic political situation, as well as the poor economic situation led to a slowdown and a decreasing number of public commissions.

    Nevertheless, after the death of the state founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1938, Belling was able to realise an equestrian statue and a bust for his successor Ismet Inönü.
    In another commissioned work, a frieze dedicated to the history of science for Istanbul University, Belling remained committed to an antique ideal in terms of content and aesthetics. The work was never realised, but is installed as a plaster model in front of the assembly hall of the Faculty of Natural Sciences. The relief shows personifications of the arts, humanities and natural science disciplines of the university, represented through traditional allegories and attributes.
    The commissioned works created in Turkey, with their neoclassical tendencies and references to antiquity, form a conservative part of Belling's oeuvre as a whole. Belling followed the preferences of his patrons, and in Turkey these lay in representative portraits that were both identifiable and at the same time positioned the country within an occidental history of art and culture back to antiquity. Belling's gift for adapting to the challenges of emigration was the reason he was able to stay in Turkey as a teacher and artist so successfully and for so long. Time and again, he was able to extend his temporary contracts and ended up staying for nearly three decades. The question of whether Belling sacrificed his own artistic principles in order to continue working in exile, as his reception in post-war Germany in particular suggests, can hardly be answered in a linear way. In his free works after 1946 – for example, in his Sculpture 49 (In memoriam Dreiklang) (1949) and also in the late commissioned works in Germany – Belling returned to the theoretical considerations on the problem of space as well as the aesthetic convictions of his earlier creative years. Sculpture 49 is an abstract form. From a common base, three “arms” reach out into space around a hollow centre. The curved forms and the play with volumes that articulate themselves as solid materiality or emptiness give the sculpture a dynamism that Belling alluded to in the subtitle. The reference was to Dreiklang, a major work confiscated as “degenerate” and believed to have been destroyed (Dogramaci 2009, 328).
    Although Belling quickly reestablished contact with former colleagues in Germany at the end of the war, he failed to find support for his efforts to return.
    Emigrants such as Rudolf Belling and the urban planner Martin Wagner, who also tried in vain – albeit from his US exile – to get a post in Germany again after the war, felt deprived of their right to return and help shape things (Dogramaci 2011b; Dogramaci 2015, 8–14). Belling nevertheless increasingly attracted attention in the Federal Republic from 1955, when he received the Federal Cross of Merit. Numerous awards, exhibitions and public commissions followed.

    Belling carried out several large commissions in Germany after the Second World War, including the Segelmotiv (1959/1962) for the Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft in Hamburg and the Symbol der Gemeinsamkeit (1968) for the Osdorfer Born housing estate in Hamburg. His first major commission, in 1959, the large bronze Segelmotiv, which was erected in front of the Hamburg branch of the Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft, brought him back to prominence as a sculptor. The sculpture, which has been preserved in two models or preliminary stages, consists of a vertical and a convex form rising from a common ground. The two parts are connected by intersecting lines. The title of the sculpture refers to a wind-filled sail, which Belling developed in reference to the topography of the city on the sea. At the same time, the sculpture is also an abstract sculpture and an exercise in the relationship between filled and empty forms. As art in public space for the newly-built highrise housing estate Osborner Born of Neue Heimat, Belling's Symbol der Gemeinsamkeit sculpture metaphorically articulated togetherness. The housing estate was located on the periphery of Hamburg, on a formerly rural site, and was committed to the idea of housing strips, which were to replace row housing. The ambitious housing project with 6- to 9-storey apartment buildings and more than 4,600 flats was intended to offer young families affordable housing (Schubert, 2005, 254–257). Belling's sculpture must therefore be perceived against this backdrop of urban densification: in terms of content, it should stand for understanding and tolerance in a densely populated mass housing neighbourhood. The Symbol der Gemeinsamkeit formally returned to his Dreiklang with its outstretched arms. Once again, three forms circled around an "empty" centre in this five-metre-high sculpture. Each view of the sculpture from different angles created a new constellation of the individual parts, the overall impression being the sum of the different impressions when circling the sculpture.

    In Turkey, Belling once again changed his field of activity. In 1949, he gave a much-commented-on lecture at the Technical University Istanbul (ITÜ), in which he called for a synthesis between the arts as the essential goal of the new generation of architects. In 1950, in addition to his work at the academy, he took up a teaching position at the architecture faculty of the ITÜ. From then on, modelling in clay and reflecting on the connection between space and sculpture became part of the study experience of student architects at the ITÜ, who included the later highly successful Doğan Tekeli and Sami Sisa, as well as architecture professor Vedia Dökmeci. Finally, in 1954, Belling left the Academy of Fine Arts and moved permanently to the ITÜ.

    Belling’s various places of residences in Istanbul were close to the two institutions where he worked. When he first arrived in the city he stayed at the Park Hotel, a luxurious new hotel with a view of the Bosporus that in a sense obscured the Pera Palace Hotel’s fame. Later he moved to the Kristina Apartmanı, Mete Caddesi No. 24 in Gümüşsuyu (Taksim), close to Jules Kanzler’s flat. Belling could reach his studio at the Academy of Fine Arts in a 15-minute walk. In 1953/54, Belling and his family moved into a flat at Bağ Odaları Sokak 3/5 again in Gümüşsuyu (now Prof. Dr. Tarık Zafer Tunaya Sokak No. 3). From there, he could be at the ITÜ Faculty of Architecture in Şişli, where he had been employed since 1950, in a 12-minute walk.
    Rudolf Belling returned to Germany in 1966, now 80 years old. He did not, however, return to Berlin, his place of birth, but to Krailling, near Munich. There, Belling carried out one of his last major commissions with the sculpture in public space, Blütenmotiv (1967/1972). His former studio in Krailling still houses the Rudolf Belling Archive, which is run by his daughter Elisabeth Weber-Belling.

    Word Count: 2057

  • Rudolf Belling with a student in front of copies of antique sculptures, 1937. Yedigün, no. 212, vol. 9, March 1937, p. 9 (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).
    Rudolf Belling. “Heykeltraşlık.” Arkitekt, no. 12, 1936, p. 348 ( Here, Belling explains his future teaching programme at the Academy of Fine Arts. Below, his likewise newly-appointed colleague, the French artist and professor of painting Léopold Lévy, expresses himself.
    Rudolf Belling, Draft for the monument Atatürk hands over responsibility for the Republic to the youth, Istanbul University, 1938, model, second version, published in the journal Ar, no. 19, 1938, p. 8 (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).
    Studio exhibition class of Rudolf Belling at the Academy of Fine Arts, 1940, published in Güzel Sanatlar Dergisi, no. 4, 1942 (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).
    Studio exhibition class of Rudolf Belling at the Academy of Fine Arts, 1940: Hüseyin Özkan Anka, Athlet, before 1940, published in Güzel Sanatlar Dergisi, no. 4, 1942 (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).
    Rudolf Belling, Monument for Ismet Inönü, Courtyard of the Agricultural Faculty of the University of Ankara, 1943/44 (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2004).
    Rudolf Belling with students at the Academy of Fine Arts, Istanbul, c. 1945, 1st from left: Hüseyin Gezer, photographer unknown (Rudolf-Belling-Archiv, Krailling).
    Rudolf Belling, Moulding for the Istanbul University, entrance to conference room of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, 1946, detail (Photo: Dogramaci, 2002).
    Rudolf Belling, Skulptur 49 (In Memoriam Dreiklang), 1949, bronze, Collection Elisabeth Weber-Belling, Krailling (Nerdinger 1981).
    Rudolf Belling, Segelmotiv, 1959/1962, Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft, Hamburg, Dornbusch/Rolandsbrücke (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2020).
    Rudolf Belling, Blütenmotiv (called Schuttblume), 1967/1972, Olympiapark, Munich, (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2019).
  • Belling, Rudolf. “Heykeltraşlık.” Arkitekt, no. 12, 1936, p. 348.

    Belling, Rudolf. “Bir heykel sergisi.” Güzel Sanatlar, no. 4, 1942, pp. 24–28.

    Berk, Nurullah, and Hüseyin Gezer. 50 yılın Türk Resim ve Heykeli. Iş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1973.

    Berksoy, Funda, “Rudolf Belling and his contribution to Turkish sculpture.” Turcica, no. 35, 2003, pp. 165–212.

    Borchhardt, Jürgen. “Bildhauer aus Österreich und Deutschland im Dienste Mustafa Kemal Pasas. Adolf Treberer-Treberspurg in der Türkei mit Anton Hanak, Heinrich Krippel, Josef Thorak und Rudolf Belling.” Adolf Treberer-Treberspurg – Ein Bildhauer zwischen den Zeiten, edited by Martin Treberspurg and Peter Bogner, exh. cat. Künstlerhaus Wien, Vienna, 2011, pp. 114–158.

    Çetintaş, Vildan. Belling ve atölyesi (PhD thesis). Hacettepe University, Ankara, 2003.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. Kulturtransfer und nationale Identität. Deutschsprachige Architekten, Stadtplaner und Bildhauer in der Türkei nach 1927. Gebr. Mann, 2008.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Die zwiespältige Rezeption eines Bildhauers. Rudolf Belling und seine Plastik ‘Dreiklang’ von 1919.” Das verfemte Meisterwerk. Schicksalswege moderner Kunst im “Dritten Reich” (Schriften der Forschungsreihe “Entartete Kunst”, 4), edited by Uwe Fleckner, Akademie, 2009, pp. 307–335.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Das Atatürk-Mausoleum in Ankara. Paul Bonatz, Rudolf Belling und die Genese eines türkischen Nationaldenkmals.” Im Dienst der Nation. Identitätsstiftungen und Identitätsbrüche in Werken der bildenden Kunst (Mnemosyne. Schriften des Warburg-Kollegs), edited by Matthias Krüger and Isabella Woldt, Akademie, 2011a, pp. 309–324.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Keine Rückkehr nach Berlin. Die Emigranten Martin Wagner und Rudolf Belling in der Nachkriegszeit.” Verfolgt und umstritten! Remigrierte Künstler im Nachkriegsdeutschland, edited by Michael Grisko and Henrike Walter, Peter Lang, 2011b, pp. 197–212.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “‘Gegenständlich und naturfern zugleich’. Von Denkmälern und freien Formen: Rudolf Belling in Istanbul und München.” Rudolf Belling: Skulpturen und Architekturen, edited by Dieter Scholz and Christina Thomson, exh. cat. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, 2017, pp. 286–303.

    Kandemir, Feridun. “Güzel Sanatlar Akademisinde Iki Sanatkârı Ziyaret.” Yedigün, no. 212, 31 March 1937, pp. 8–9.

    Nerdinger, Winfried. Rudolf Belling und die Kunstströmungen in Berlin 1918–1923. Mit einem Katalog der plastischen Werke. Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1981.

    Schubert, Dirk. Hamburger Wohnquartiere. Ein Stadtführer durch 65 Siedlungen. Dietrich Reimer, 2005, pp. 254–257.

    Schumann, Georg, President of the Akademie der Künste, to Rudolf Belling (Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Historical Archive, 8 July 1937).

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  • Rudolf-Belling-Archiv, Krailling,

    Akademie der Künste, Historical Archive, Berlin.

    Word Count: 12

  • My deep gratitude goes to Elisabeth Weber-Belling, who constantly supported my research.

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  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • Istanbul, Turkey (1937–1966).

  • Kristina Apartmanı, Mete Caddesi No. 24, Gümüşsuyu, Istanbul (residence, 1937–c.1953); Bağ Odaları Sokak 3/5, (now Prof. Dr. Tarık Zafer Tunaya Sokak No. 3), Gümüşsuyu, Istanbul (residence, 1953–1966).

  • Istanbul
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Rudolf Belling." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 18-09-2021.
  • Jules Kanzler

    Kanzler spent part of his life in the Russian Empire as a painter and the other in Turkey as a photographer who “documented” the early years of the Turkish Republic.

    Word Count: 30

    Fashion IllustratorGraphic Artist

    The Turkish graphic designer Kenan was a popular artist in the Weimar Republic. He returned to Istanbul in 1943 to take up a position at the Academy of Fine Arts.

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    Gustav Oelsner
    ArchitectCity Planner

    Gustav Oelsner became the founding father of urban planning in Turkey, his country of exile. He was also the author of numerous articles for the architectural journal Arkitekt.

    Word Count: 28

    Roman Bilinski
    PainterSculptorCollectorArt restorer

    At the beginning of the 1920s, a member of the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, Roman Bilinski was known as a sculptor. At the end of the 1920s–beginning of the 1930s – as a sculptor, painter and connoisseur of local antiques.

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    Ismet Inönü Heykeli

    Between 1941 and 1944 the Berlin sculptor Rudolf Belling worked on the Ismet Inönü Heykeli. The monument was placed in the neighbourhood of Maçka.

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    Park Hotel

    Park Hotel in Ayazpaşa- Gümüşsuyu was frequented by newly-arrived emigrants. Rudolf Belling and Paul and Gertrud Hindemith stayed there before moving into more settled accommodation or leaving town.

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    Pera Palace Hotel

    The Pera Palace was the gem of Pera district where people gathered to wine and dine and be entertained, as well as to discuss the issues of the day.

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    The architecture magazine Arkitekt was an important platform for emigrated architects and urban planners such as Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner, Wilhelm Schütte, Ernst Reuter and Gustav Oelsner.

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    Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and Wilhelm Schütte Apartment

    The exiled architects Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and Wilhelm Schütte lived from 1938 in an apartment in Kabataş, on the European side of Istanbul. The flat has been preserved in numerous photographs, allowing the interior design to be reconstructed. The view of the Bosporus from the balcony was spectacular.

    Word Count: 48

    Mimarî Bilgisi

    The architect Bruno Taut published his textbook Mimarî Bilgisi in 1938, only two years after his emigration to Istanbul, where he was appointed professor at the Academy of Fine Arts.

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    Türk Tarih Sergisi

    In 1937, the exiled urban planner Martin Wagner was commissioned to design an exhibition for a congress of the Association for the Study of Turkish History at Dolmabahçe Palace.

    Word Count: 29