The different writers that were engaged to shed some light onto the numerous works by Andreas Schlüter are very good at pointing out that the work we see has been produced to reflect the aspirations of the highly ambitious Frederick I, who desired to put the city of Berlin back on the map after it was decimated to 6,000 inhabitants by the Thirty Year’s War. He wanted to measure himself and his aspirations for power with Paris (450,000 inhabitants at that time) and Rome, an even more far-fetched aim. To do so, he hired Schlüter in 1694 in order to have at his court an architect/sculptor who could help him design the buildings and sculptures that would reflect his grand aspirations. Indeed, all these aspirations did end in the crowning of Frederick as the King of Prussia in 1701.
Schlüter seemed as good a choice as one could get at the time. He was well known, was well travelled, and had just worked for the king of Poland. Obviously he knew Bernini and his cohorts and his aspiration was to become a recognizable force north of the Alps. What is surprising today is how much of his work is still around and how much survived the Second World War. Unfortunately, Berlin City Palace, after having survived the war quite well, was then blown up for ideological reasons by the East Berlin Socialist government in the 50s. It is too bad though that the book seems to suggest that a simulated re-erection of the lost Palace as a new business center is an acceptable solution today. The book shows a lot more sculptures than buildings, not that surprising, as especially in that period, architecture as a profession was normally folded into the activities of a sculptor. One example is the re-envisioning of the Berlin City Palace’s facade, which by 1701 was finished to serve as the new background of the crowning of Frederick.
One can see parallels to Rome in this story. Bernini was fired from a job because of weak foundations. The same happened to Schlüter, who lost his royal building director’s job after a few years when the new tower he had designed started to sink after arriving at the 60-meter mark. It was supposed to be 100 meters tall. It was not the first time the sculptor/architect was entrusted with large-scale building endeavors that resulted in rather basic technical failures.
The guide shows that Schlüter was majorly involved in the decoration of the Arsenal at the same time he was involved with the Palace and later on was able to design the sarcophagi for Frederick’s early deceased wife, Sophie Charlotte, and the king himself, who died in 1713. The Chancellery in St. Mary, the Portal for Daniel Männlich the Elder and his wife’s tomb, the equestrian Statue to the Great Elector, and other wonderful spaces, decorations, and artifacts are well documented, their historical background well described and well located (as most of them were moved around) in this book. It is a pleasure to be able to use this small guide to go onto a hunt for baroque greatness in Prussian Berlin. What a surprise!