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As far back as 40,000 years ago, humans were creating objects from mammoth tusks. Ivory’s highly-prized status runs through many cultures, across different continents, and over millennia right up to the present day. Both the tusk itself, and the objects fashioned from it, have consistently been objects of human desire, and hence have served as gift, commodity, and plunder. But since extraction of this precious material necessitates the death elephants, this human desire has turned the bearer of the material into an endangered species.

KeyVisual schrecklich schön
KeyVisual schrecklich schön © Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss; Getty Images / Parimal Bansode; bpk / Museum für Asiatische Kunst, SMB / Ute Franz-Scarciglia; bpk / Museum für Islamische Kunst, SMB / Jürgen Liepe; Getty Images / Stockbyte

This exhibition presents the intriguing interconnection between elephant, human and ivory. In a world- and epoch-spanning narrative, it progresses from small to large: from an ivory fragment to the image of the tusk right up to the entire animal, linking the cultural significance of ivory with its natural history, as well as the social and ecological consequences of its use. Over 200 exhibits have been brought together from world-renowned museums such as the British Museum in London, the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Germanischen Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.

Terrible Beauty presents the interrelationship of elephant, human and ivory using novel formats and a wide range of perspectives: from processing the raw material to the colonial connotations of the image of the tusk, from the use of ivory in medicine and its connection with ideals of beauty to its role as a symbol of sophistication, from the elephant as symbol of power, hunter’s prey and protected animal species, from its perception as an important link in the cycle of nature and as a bearer of meaning in religion, myth and artistic reflection.

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Additional information
Opening hours

Mon, Wed, Thu, Sun: 10:00 - 20:00
Fri, Sat: 10:00 - 22:00
Tue: closed 


Admission & Tickets


The Humboldt Forum is an open space for everyone to drop by and visit our exhibitions. At the moment, however, some safety restrictions apply due to the Corona pandemic. Therefore, we kindly ask you to book a time slot ticket online in advance.

  • 100 days free admission, then 12 EUR / red. 6 EUR
  • Free entry for 100 days: Visiting the Humboldt Forum, all our current exhibitions, and the use of the media guide, are free of charge for the first 100 days. From November 13, 2021, we will charge for selected exhibitions. Events are generally subject to an admission fee.
  • Time slots: Due to the Corona pandemic, you need to book a time slot ticket in advance to visit an exhibition.
  • Book a timed ticket: You can book your timed ticket for an exhibition online or via +49 30 99 211 89 89.
  • Booking 14 days in advance: Due to the possibility of changes in hygiene guidelines at short notice, time slots can be booked 14 days in advance
  • Visiting several exhibitions: When booking, please remember to coordinate your visits to the individual exhibitions. Please also take the estimated time spent in each exhibition into account.
  • Duration of exhibition visit: Average time spent in the exhibitions: Terrible Beauty c. 90 min; Have a Seat! c. 90 min; Palace Cellar c. 30 min; BERLIN GLOBAL c. 120 min; After Nature c. 60 min
  • Guided Tours: Booking of guided tours and other educational events (starting September 2021) is expected to be available from mid-August.

Accessibility

  • Accessible for wheelchairs
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