European Architecture Series
Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Biography of German Neoclassical Architect.

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Concert House on Gendarmenmarkt
(1819-21). One of many buildings
designed by Schinkel for Berlin,
the 19th century capital of Prussia.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841)


Schinkel's Architecture
Other Leading Neoclassical Architects

For a short guide to terms
see: Architecture Glossary.

Schinkel's Architecture

One of the greatest architects in 19th century Prussia, Karl Friedrich Schinkel is noted for his neoclassical architecture, which helped to define the look of the German capital. A student of the German architect and architecture-tutor Friedrich Gilly (1772-1800), the son of David Gilly (1748-1808), Schinkel designed churches, academies, theatres and museums, using the gravitas of neoclassicism to elevate their status and function. He is also known for his revival of Gothic architecture. His major buildings include: the Royal Theatre (1812-21), the Concert House on Gendarmenmarkt (1819-21), the Tegel Palace (1821-4) and the Altes Museum (1823-30). In addition to architecture, Schinkel was involved in city-planning and fine art painting, as well as the design of furniture and theatrical sets. Together with Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808), the giant of late-18th century architecture, Schinkel gave Berlin a rational, dignified air, transforming it into a city to rival the classical splendour of Rome or Paris.


Born in Neuruppin, Brandenburg, at the age of 13 he moved to Berlin where in 1804, following a Grand Tour of Italy, France and Austria, he started a career as a painter. Specializing in landscape painting - mostly of scenes from his European travels - and then theatre sets - exemplified by his star-spangled backdrop for Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. Then in 1810, on a visit to a Berlin art exhibition, he saw the painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818, Kunsthalle, Hamburg), by Caspar David Friedrich, whose brilliance forced him to confront the fact that he would always be a second-class painter. As a result he decided to try building design, being drawn to classical, especially Greek architecture, after his trip to Italy. He would also have been familiar with the work of the celebrated German classical scholar and art critic Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68). His first important architectural work was the Royal Guardhouse in Berlin (1816-17) with its severe Doric colonnade in front of a cubic mass derived from the rationalism of Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). The rationalistic treatment of elements drawn from Greek art was the defining trait of his next two works, the Royal Theatre (1812-21) and the Museum of Berlin (1822) - both important examples of 19th century architecture. In 1826 he entered the service of the future king Friedrich William IV, for whom he made the Charlottenhof residence at Potsdam in a neo-Doric style influenced by the aesthetics of the neoclassical Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835) and the English picturesque movement.

In 1816, Schinkel had been appointed by the Prussian court to the Prussian Building Commission, a body responsible for turning the rather drab city of Berlin into a capital suitable for the internationally ambitious state of Prussia. It also had an influence over projects throughout all Prussian-controlled territory, from the Rhineland to Konigsberg. He would later become director of the Commission.

As an architect, his most prolific period was during the 1820s and 1830s, during which he created many of Berlin's landmark buildings. Located mostly in and around Berlin, they include: Neue Wache (1816–1818), the National Monument for the Liberation Wars (1818–1821), the Konzerthaus (1819–1821) on Gendarmenmarkt, the Schauspielhaus opera house (1821), the Altes Museum (1823–1830), the Palace Bridge (1822-4), the Gothic-style Friedrichswerder Church (1824-30), Castle Glienecke (1825), Babelsberg Castle, Potsdam (1833), and the Gropius-style Building Academy (1831-5). He also renovated the Crown Prince's Palace and built summer houses for the King's three sons.

Schinkel was also noted for his theoretical work: in 1821 he published his treatise Erste Vorbilder fur Fabrikanten und Handwerker. His technical drawing and other architectural plans were also highly regarded: see his collection of papers in his Sammlung architektonischer Entwurfe (1820-37) and his Werke der hoheren Baukunst (1840-42; 1845-46).



Other Leading Neoclassical Architects

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
William Thornton (1759-1828)
Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820)
Charles Bulfinch (1863-1844)

John Nash (1752-1835)
Sir John Soane (1753-1837)
Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867)

Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-80)
Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806)
Jean Chalgrin (1739-1811)

Leo von Klenze (1784-1864)

Despite the activity of neoclassical artists like Antonio Canova (1757-1822), there were few celebrated neoclassical architects in Italy. Most Italian Neoclassicist designs were based on general Roman and Greek themes, as well as Renaissance models, such as the Villa Capra "La Rotonda", by Andrea Palladio (1508-80).

Charles Cameron (1745-1812)

Juan de Villanueva (1739-1811)

• For more about 19th century Neoclassical architecture in Germany, see: Homepage.

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