The noble family of Hessen-Darmstadt ruled the Darmstadt area of Germany starting in the mid-16th century. They were enthusiastic hunters, especially Count George I, who ordered the construction of the palatial Jagdschloss Kranichstein (Kranichstein Hunting Lodge) to be built in the north of the city in 1578.
For the next 350 years, the local nobility and their guests enjoyed the sport of stalking game at this baroque hunting lodge and its vast surrounding forests. Today, the impressive Kranichstein hunting collection is based on the objects the Hessen-Darmstadt dynasty left behind from this era of courtly hunting.
The museum is full of curious objects, such as hundreds of deer heads with extraordinarily large and/or deformed antlers, ancient armory, musical instruments, as well as historic portraits of deer and boars painted in oil. The Kranichstein collection of deer portraits is well known in the art history world, since the artist Georg Adam Eger painted the animals in such a realistic way the faces almost seem to give insight into their individual personalities. The paintings are placed inside the beautiful baroque ballroom, the “Großer Hirschsaal,” or “Great Deer Hall.”
Besides that, the collection includes an incredibly well-preserved taxidermy specimen of a wild boar killed in 1576; a rare set of Vitriol lighters (an early 19th-century forerunner of our contemporary automatic lighters); and special carriages used to transport prey from more distant forests to Kranichstein. (The boar and deer transports were quite frequent since the local game populations were not able to reproduce in line with the demand.)
The Museum Jagdschloss Kranichstein was opened in 1917. The complex today also includes a small natural history museum, a hotel and restaurant in one wing of the palace, and a huge public park on the former hunting grounds.