SCHINKEL, Karl Friedrich


SCHINKEL, Karl Friedrich
(1781-1841)
   Architecture in Germany often followed a different path from the major stylistic innovations that came out of Italy, France, and England during the Renaissance and Baroque ages. This different approach was due in part to the fact that the late medieval Gothic style of architecture was claimed as a German innovation and therefore continued to be popular into the Renaissance and Baroque ages. It was supplanted only in the early years of the 18th century by the aristocratic, courtly style of the Rococo, which originated in France. By the middle of the 18th century, however, Neo-Classicism had been introduced into Germany, largely a result of the pioneering work of the first art historian, the German scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Winckelmann spent most of his life in Rome, working to establish stylistic categories for ancient art and to better understand the distinctions between Ancient Greek and Roman artistic innovations. By making historical links between Ancient Greek and ancient German cultures, Winckelmann was able to lift classicism out of the clutches of Italian culture and give it equal claim to being German in origin.
   It is with these nationalistic underpinnings that subsequent German architects such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel, working in the Neo-Classical style, became so popular in Germany. Schinkel was born in Prussia, studied architecture in Berlin, and then traveled to France and Italy before returning home to a French-controlled country. After the French were expelled from Prussia, Schinkel was hired as the Surveyor of the Prussian Building Commission to help revitalize his country. He built numerous Neo-Gothic buildings but is best known for such Greek-inspired Neo-Classical works as his Neue Wache, built in 1816-1818, and the Schauspielhaus, built in 1819-1821. Schinkel's most important commission, however, was for the Altes Museum, built in the 1820s. Located on a small island on the Spree River in downtown Berlin directly across from the royal palace, the museum was built to house the royal art collection. Eighteen Ionic columns line the raised portico of the massive Neo-Classical entrance, which is elevated by a tall set of wide stairs. Tall windows line the exterior walls, and interior courtyards also help solve the need for diffused lighting inside the museum. Schinkel's version of Neo-Classicism endured through the next century and came to be seen as a national German architectural style.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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