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From Prussia with love: Karl Freidrich Schinkel's utopian visions

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Rare prints by Prussian architect, planner, designer and artist Karl Freidrich Schinkel are going on display for the first time in a generation at a new exhibition

Many of Schinkel’s 19th century buildings - including the Berlin Konzerthaus - can still be seen today. But he may be just as famous for his spectacular but impractical designs for two royal homes that are the subject of ‘Visionary Palaces’, at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.

In the years before his death in 1841, Schinkel created hugely ambitious designs for two utopian palaces: one for the site of the Acropolis, in Athens, and the other for Orianda on the Crimean coast.

The cost and complexity of the schemes meant neither was built, but fortunately an impressive selection of lithographs from the projects remain, and are augmented by visualisations created by other artist in the years following Schinkel’s demise.

The design for Athens, created at the behest of King Otto von Wittelsbach of Greece, featured a colossal bronze statue of the goddess Athena towering over a complex intended to integrate the hilltop archaeological site back into the ‘living’ city. Schinkel proposed to mix an extensive classical villa with existing monuments, such as the Parthenon.

The Crimea scheme was commissioned for Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna - wife of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas I, who was reportedly fascinated by the rugged coastline and spectacular views of the Black Sea site. It would have delivered an impressive cliff-top complex, interwoven with luscious gardens and elegant water-features, designed to merge into the landscape.

Scottish National Gallery director Michael Clarke said that while Schinkel’s final projects never became a reality, the prints were a powerful testament to a unique and expansive vision.

’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,’ he said.

’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.’

The exhibition opens on February 27 and runs until June 12. Entry is free.

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