Scottish National Gallery: Until 17th June
Karl Friedrich Schinkel was a nineteenth century pioneering architect responsible for many landmarks in Berlin today. The new exhibition, Visionary Palaces Designs by Karl Friedrich Schinkel at The Scottish National Gallery on the mound presents two of Schinkel’s unrealised projects for palaces executed in the 1840s.
The first is a conversion of the Acropolis in Athens, which, as ludicrous as it seems, is a delicate framing of the ancient structure rather than a cultural catastrophe. Schinkel, who was both a Classical and a Gothic revivalist, shows a reverence for the ancient architecture that formed the blueprint for his entire style. The second project, a palace design at Orinda on the Crimean coast, is Schinkel’s version of the architecture of Athens in a Neo-Greek style. Both projects are formed of the new and the old; the drawings depict the original architecture and the revival by the same hand.
Particular highlights of the exhibition include the perspective drawings, where the plans and elevations spring to life. It is really worth getting close to see the insurmountable detail achieved in the drawings: whimsical museums and gardens give the sense that we are glimpsing into Schinkel’s fantastical dreams. The draughtsmanship is both highly technical and painterly. Schinkel’s work is as much a piece of art as it is a technical drawing.
The exhibition itself, however, misses a trick. Edinburgh is, of course, the Athens of the North, and the Scottish National Gallery a homage to the Greek temple itself. There are parallels between the subject matter and Schinkel’s other work. Schinkel was the architect of the Altes Museum in Berlin, a building that shares many parallels with the National Gallery of Scotland where the exhibition is held. Both museums are Neo-classical buildings that were among the first wave of truly public museums; furthermore they are similar in scale and built only 29 years apart in the first half of the nineteenth century. While the exhibition does not feature Schinkel’s Altes museum, the architectural relationship with the building his work is presented in would have been a fitting parallel to draw upon. The Scottish National Gallery itself echoes the perspectives, plans and elevations of the fantasy palaces produced by Schinkel in this exhibition.
The material of the exhibition, Schinkel’s drawings, are fascinating and charming. Yet, there is little to tie them to their surroundings that bear such a strong relationship with them. Visionary Palaces has substance but it fails to realise that it is housed in our own visionary palace of art.
Image Credit: Scottish National Gallery