History and Poetry
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841), the universal genius from Prussia, was celebrated in Munich for the very first time. Over 300 artworks afforded the opportunity for extensive insight into the life and works of one of Europe’s most important architects at the dawn of Modernism. However, Leo von Klenze’s (1784–1864) contemporary, Schinkel was a great deal more: townplanner, painter, draughtsman, interior and product designer, creator of fantastic stage settings and a visionary of utopian building fantasies. Original set designs for Mozart’s “Magic Flute” were on display and, for the first time, his major painting “Gothic Cathedral on a Rock by the Sea”, with the original and copy shown in juxtaposition. The reconstruction of the optical mechanical perspective stage-picture of the “Great Fire of Moscow” (1812), which had captivated audiences during Schinkel’s own lifetime, was a further highlight of this retrospective. It demonstrated how Schinkel left his mark on an entire epoch, from classicism through to historicism. The concepts of History and Poetry referred to Schinkel’s notion that both aspects must be reconciled in order for a building or an object to become a work of art, over and above its “pure necessity”.
Shaping an Epoch
The exhibition was divided into nine sections: visitors were introduced to The Life of Schinkel as they made the acquaintance of his family and companions. History, traditional and constructed. The discovery of historical monuments then traced the first steps of the young architect and accompanied him on his year’s journey through Italy. On his return to Berlin, with no prospects of work as an architect, Schinkel initially discovered his calling as a set designer. In The Stage and the World. Historical Fantasies and the Exotic in Theatre Sets his dream-like stage settings transported the observer to far away places. Yet, he also explored themes of the day as Napoleon’s campaign ended in 1812 in the flames of Moscow. This powerful event went down in history as the turning point of the Napoleonic wars and the subsequent reorganisation of Europe. A few months later, Schinkel staged the “Great Fire of Moscow” as an elaborate perspective stage picture, which held the people of Berlin in its thrall at Christmas 1812. Using sophisticated technology, a theatre with moving puppets was reconstructed as part of this exhibition for the first time. The Birth of a Nation. Schinkel’s Monuments, explored the role of Prussia in its quest for a national identity. Schinkel’s success did not pass unnoticed and led to impressive architectural assignments from the Royal Family and the state. The section Prussia as a Work of Art. Schinkel’s Buildings in Berlin, presented the central buildings with their classical architecture that had inspired subsequent generations: the Neue Wache (guardhouse), Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (church), the Bauakademie (Academy of Architecture) and of course the Alte Museum (Old Museum) on the Lustgarten, which opened its doors in 1830 – the same year as the Glyptothek on Munich’s Königsplatz. An intricate model illustrated both the interior and the exterior of the Berlin museum in great detail. It was not merely King Frederick William III who made use of his services; his son, Crown Prince Frederick William (IV) became Schinkel’s main patron. His manifold commissions in the fields of architecture, interior and object design were presented in the section entitled Schinkel’s Royal Patronage. Court Architect. In addition to this courtly obligation, he published design books that reached an extensive audience. Schinkel’s Modernism. Advancement of Crafts and Design, showed him as a pioneer and a visionary, devoting himself with great energy to promoting industry. As one of the initiators of Prussia’s industrial development, he found inspiration during a journey to England in 1926. In addition to the Berlin Academy of Architecture, the 1830s defined bold, imposing architectural fantasies. These are The Dream of Building – Late Utopias, in which history and poetry ultimately merged into one inseparable whole. Here, Schinkel acted at international level, preparing drafts for a royal palace for Otto of Greece on the Acropolis in Athens or a design for a castle in the Crimea, for example. As the exhibition drew to a close, visitors were informed about Schinkel’s working methods. The Laboratory of Art – Laboratory of Science offered insight into art techniques prevailing at the time, from the manufacture of paper and drawing materials, through to contemporary printing and other techniques of reproduction.
Prior to the exhibition, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research had promoted a project since 2009 that examined Schinkel’s comprehensive estate of over 5,500 works kept in Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett (Cabinet of Prints and Drawings). Since catalogued and digitalised under the heading “Schinkel’s Legacy,” the estate is now open to the public at www.smb.museum/schinkel. In close cooperation with the Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation, the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett transformed these findings into this elaborate exhibition.
Its national importance was underlined by the patronage of Joachim Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany.