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Karl Friedrich Schinkel

     
     
Karl Friedrich Schinkel

The Altes Museum in Berlin
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (March 13, 1781 - October 9, 1841) was a German architect and painter. Schinkel was the most prominent architect of neoclassicism in Prussia.

Born in Neuruppin (Brandenburg), he lost his father at the age of six in Neuruppin's disastrous fire. He became a student of Friedrich Gilly (1772-1800) (the two became close friends) and his father, David Gilly, in Berlin. After returning to Berlin from his first trip to Italy in 1805, he started to earn his living as a painter. When he saw Caspar David Friedrich's painting "Monk by the sea" (Der Mönch am Meer) at the 1810 Berlin art exhibition he decided that he would never reach such a mastership in painting and definitely turned to architecture. After Napoleon's defeat, Schinkel oversaw the Prussian Building Commission. In this position, he was not only responsible for reshaping the still relatively unspectacular city of Berlin into a representative capital for Prussia, but also oversaw projects in the expanded Prussian territories spanning from the Rhineland in the West to Königsberg in the East.


Neue Wache in BerlinSchinkel's style, in his most productive period, is defined by a turn to Greek rather than Imperial Roman architecture, an attempt to turn away from the style that was linked to the recent French occupiers. (Thus, he is a noted proponent of the Greek Revival.) His most famous buildings are found in and around Berlin. These include Neue Wache (1816-1818), the Schauspielhaus (1819-1821) at the Gendarmenmarkt, which replaced the earlier theater that was destroyed by fire in 1817, and the Altes Museum (old museum, see photo) on Museum Island (1823-1830).


Schinkel's Neues Schauspielhaus ("New Theatre"), BerlinSchinkel, however, is noted as much for his theoretical work and his architectural drafts as for the relatively few buildings that were actually executed to his designs. Maybe his merits are best shown in his unexecuted plans for the transformation of the Athenian Acropolis into a royal palace for the new Kingdom of Greece and for the erection of the Orianda Palace in the Crimea. These and other designs may be studied in his Sammlung architektonischer Entwürfe (1820-1837) and his Werke der höheren Baukunst (1840-1842; 1845-1846). He also designed the famed Iron Cross medal of Prussia, and later Germany.

It has been speculated, however, that due to the difficult political circumstances – French occupation and later the dependency on less-than-capable Prussian kings – and his relatively early death, which prevented him from seeing the explosive German industrialization in the second half of the 19th century, he did not even live up to the true potential exhibited by his sketches.