Prussian architect’s ancient designs to go on display in Edinburgh

Karl Friedrich Schinkel's designs will be on display in Edinburgh.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel's designs will be on display in Edinburgh.
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A PRUSSIAN architect’s unexecuted and wholly impractical plans to turn the Athenian Acropolis into a royal palace for the new Kingdom of Greece will go on public display for the first time in nearly 20 years at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh this month.

Visionary Palaces: Designs by Karl Friedrich Schinkel will showcase Schinkel’s grand but unrealised designs for two lavish palaces.

Brandenburg-born Schinkel (1781-1841) is said to have been one of the “most brilliant, accomplished and versatile artistic figures of his generation”. In addition to being a celebrated architect, whose grand buildings transformed early nineteenth-century Berlin, he was an exceptional painter and draughtsman, and also designed interiors, furniture and stage sets.

Gallery curators say through a series of extraordinary colour lithographs, which were published in the 1840s, the exhibition will explore two of Schinkel’s last and arguably most spectacular projects: his ambitious architectural designs for two utopian royal palaces, on the landmark site of the Acropolis, and at Orianda on the Crimean coast.

Five remarkable, large-scale lithographs will illustrate his “vision” for a palace on the Acropolis, which was commissioned for King Otto von Wittelsbach of Greece.

The designs show how Schinkel intended to transform the hilltop archaeological site into “a vital part of the living city”, by integrating an extensive classical villa suitable for the King’s court with existing monuments such as the Parthenon.

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His extraordinarily detailed and technically innovative scheme would include a fantastic colossal bronze statue of the goddess Athena towering over the complex, intricately planned landscaping and “jaw-dropping” interiors. In one of the prints, a dazzling perspective view of the entire complex reveals the prominent height of the site and demonstrates how Schinkel’s design splendidly fits within this unique setting.

Eight of the prints on show will illustrate a palace which Schinkel proposed for a location at Orianda, in the Crimea. The cliff-top complex, interwoven with luscious gardens and elegant water-features, was commissioned for the Russian Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas I, who was reportedly fascinated by the rugged coastline and spectacular views of the Black Sea site. The images demonstrate how Schinkel’s palace, perched on its rocky precipice overlooking the coastline, merges into the stunning landscape.

Due to the cost and impracticality of the plans, neither palace was built, remaining, in Schinkel’s own words, “nothing more than a beautiful dream”.

The Scottish National Gallery acquired the extremely rare lithographs, one of only three known sets of their kind in the UK, in 1997, with the support of a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Michael Clarke, director of the Scottish National Gallery, said: “Schinkel’s genius is best appreciated in his surviving buildings in Berlin, but he did visit Edinburgh in 1826 on a fact-finding tour of Britain. His interest then centred on industrial architecture - a newly constructed gasworks in Canonmills. I hope he would appreciate our present-day fascination with his later, and much more glamorous, ‘Visionary Palaces’.

When the Schinkel prints were shown at the Scottish National Gallery in 1998, the National Galleries of Scotland’s technicians designed and constructed a number of specially-made ornate frames, based upon existing period examples and made using largely traditional methods. To complement the exhibition, there will be a small display relating to the creation of these frames.

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