Schinkel and the Ideal State

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Charlottenhof (1826-29).

The palace of Charlottenhof, which Karl Frederick Schinkel (1781-1841) built for Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, lies in the extensive grounds of Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam, near Berlin. It was, in fact, a rebuilding of an old manor on the site, and much of the earlier structure had to be incorporated — although there is no outward sign of this at all. By the time the rebuilding was completed, says Martin Steffens, "Charlottenhof took on the appearance of a neo-classical villa of simple elegance" (62). Schinkel's eye for drama and spatial manipulation, as well as for that same "simple elegance" in furnishing, resulted in the palace's ten rooms featuring some memorable decor. Perhaps the best known room is the highly original blue-and-white striped "Tent Room," which gains its effect by draped awnings and almost repudiates the idea of a stable interior.

The "Roman Baths" (1829-35).

The palace was followed by a complex of buildings for the Court Gardener (1829-35), equally original in conception. Because this complex included not only a guesthouse but a water-tower and a bath-house, the "Hofgartnerhaus" as a whole came to be known as the "Roman Baths" (see Schönemann, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, 23). As architecture, it proved to be more influential than the neoclassical palace itself. For example, it has been credited with inspiring the English bungalow (see the earlier discussion of Schinkel, which has a line drawing of the complex).

Rather like Prince Albert and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in England later on, the Crown Prince was greatly involved in the planning of all this. More than this, to both him and his architect this whole estate was not simply a country retreat but a model for his future style of government, in which he intended all classes of people to live harmoniously. Living side by side, each element of society would fulfil its purpose and contribute to the wellbeing of the rest (see Snodin 153).

Schinkel was also aided here by his talented pupil Friedrich Ludwig Persius (1803–1845), and, in the grounds of Charlottenhof as a whole, by the important landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné (1789-1866). Schinkel himself described the collaborative creation in a romantic way as "a grouped whole like a painting that would present diverse pleasant views, secret resting places, cosy rooms and open spaces offering the pleasure of country life" (qtd. in Toews 67).

However, while this was all very well for a prince-in-waiting or for recreational purposes, it was hardly the context for royalty in the exercise of its power. Inevitably, after the prince succeeded to the throne, his thoughts shifted from Potsdam to Berlin itself, and his interest in this beautiful place, and in the gentler ideas that informed it, waned (see Schönemann, "Schinkel's Dream," 11). Still, much was achieved here. Friedrich Wilhelm IV, with his early "receptivity to Romantic fantasies" and "passion and talent for architecture," became "Prussia's first modern king" (Barclay 35, 51). And Schinkel had something else, something delightfully different, to show for his dreams. His grand schemes for other royal palaces, one for the Acropolis (1834) and another for Orianda in the Crimea (1836), crossed the boundaries of the practical and would never be realised.

Related Material

Bibliography

Barclay, David E. Frederick William IV and the Prussian Monarchy, 1840-1861. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Schönemann, Heinz. Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Charlottenhof/Potsdam/Sanssouci. Trans. Michael Robinson. Stuttgart and London: Edition Axel Menges, 1997.

_____. "Schinkel's Dream." Architectural Work Today. Ed. Hillert Ibbeken and Elke Blauert. Stuttgart & London: Axel Menges, 2002. 10-11 (in German and English).

Snodin, Michael, ed. Karl Friederich Schinkel: A Universal Man. Ed. Michael Snodin. New York & London: Yale University Press, 1991.

Steffens, Martin. K. F. Schinkel: An Architect in the Service of Beauty. Köln: Taschen, 2003.

Toews, John Edward. Becoming Historical: Cultural Reformation and Public Memory in Early Nineteenth-Century Berlin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.


Created 18 November 2016