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A Beautiful Dream: Two Visionary Palaces by Karl Friedrich Schinkel

At the National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound, Edinburgh until 20 December


There are many facets to the genius of Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781- 1841), writes Julian Holder - set designer, Romantic painter, furniture and interior designer, and, of course, Neo-Classical architect. Everything he did is informed by a sense of monumental grandeur: if not in terms of executed projects, then at least in ambition, Schinkel is the architect of the monumental par excellence.


Currently on display at the National Gallery of Scotland are 24 magnificent colour lithographs of his presentation watercolours for two grand Neo- Classical palaces. Could any site have been more appealing, and intimidating, than the Acropolis? With Prince Otto of Bavaria as the new King of Greece, Schinkel was commissioned in 1834 to design a new palace based on a romantic reconstruction of the original. This, and a scheme of 1838 for the new Russian Tsarina’s palace on the Crimean coast at Orianda, were published between 1840 and 1848 under the collective title Werke der Hoheren Baukunst (‘Works of Higher Architecture’) by employing the recently invented lithographic process. Neither palace was built.


Schinkel brings to his watercolours the luminosity of his contemporary Caspar David Friedrich, and the new understanding of the colour of Classical architecture discovered by Jacques Hittorf. If Neo-Classicism often leaves you cold, this is an exhibition to send you back to the likes of Thomas Hope, William Wilkins, William Playfair, ‘Greek’ Thomson and others with a renewed sense of what they were about, if not with a renewed sense of wonder.


Julian Holder is an architectural historian

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