Chris's World

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Saturday, April 24, 2010


Frederic The Great's Xanadu

From this Drawing by Frederick The Great a Summer Palace was Built a Beautiful Mystical place that was Frederick The Great's Xanadu...

Sanssouci is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin. It is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles. While Sanssouci is in the more intimate Rococo style and is far smaller than its French Baroque counterpart, it too is notable for the numerous temples and follies in the park. The palace was designed by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747 to fulfil King Frederick's need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court. This is emphasised by the palace's name: a French phrase (sans souci) which translates loosely as "without worries" or "carefree" symbolising that the palace was a place for relaxation rather than a seat of power. The palace is little more than a large single-storey villa—more like the Château de Marly than Versailles. Containing just ten principal rooms, it was built on the brow of a terraced hill at the centre of the park. The influence of King Frederick's personal taste in the design and decoration of the palace was so great that its style is characterised as "Frederician Rococo", and his feelings for the palace were so strong that he conceived it as "a place that would die with him". Because of a disagreement about the site of the palace in the park, Knobelsdorff was fired in 1746. Jan Bouman, a Dutch architect, finished the project.

During the 19th century, the palace became a residence of Frederick William IV. He employed the architect Ludwig Persius to restore and enlarge the palace, while Ferdinand von Arnim was charged with improving the grounds and thus the view from the palace. The town of Potsdam, with its palaces, was a favourite place of residence for the German imperial family until the fall of the Hohenzollern dynasty in 1918.

The location and layout of Sanssouci above a vineyard reflected the pre-Romantic ideal of harmony between man and nature, in a landscape ordered by human touch. Winemaking, however, was to take second place to the design of the palace and pleasure gardens. The hill on which Frederick created his terrace vineyard was to become the focal point of his demesne, crowned by the new, but small, palace—"mein Weinberghäuschen" ("my little vineyard house"), as Frederick called it.With its extensive views of the countryside in the midst of nature, Frederick wanted to reside there sans souci ("without a care") and to follow his personal and artistic interests. Hence, the palace was intended for the use of Frederick and his private guests—his sketch (illustration) indicated the balanced suites "pour les etrangers" and "pour le roy"— only during the summer months, from the end of April to the beginning of October.

It was no coincidence that Frederick selected the Rococo style of architecture for Sanssouci. The light, almost whimsical style then in vogue exactly suited the light-hearted uses for which he required this retreat. The Rococo style of art emerged in France in the early 18th century as a continuation of the Baroque style, but in contrast with the heavier themes and darker colours of the Baroque, the Rococo was characterized by an opulence, grace, playfulness, and lightness. Rococo motifs focused on the carefree aristocratic life and on light-hearted romance, rather than on heroic battles and religious figures. They also revolve around natural and exterior settings; this again suited Frederick’s ideal of nature and design being in complete harmony. The palace was completed much as Frederick had envisaged in his preliminary sketches

Sanssouci is small, with the principal block (or corps de logis) being a narrow single-storey enfilade of just ten rooms, including a service passage and staff rooms behind them. Frederick's amateur sketch of 1745 (illustrated above) demonstrates that his architect, Knobelsdorff, was more a draughtsman at Sanssouci than complete architect. Frederick appears to have accepted no suggestions for alteration to his plans, refusing Knobelsdorff's idea that the palace should have a semi-basement storey, which would not only have provided service areas closer at hand, but would have put the principal rooms on a raised piano nobile. This would have given the palace not only a more commanding presence, but also would have prevented the problems of dampness to which it has always been prone. However, Frederick wanted an intimate palace for living: for example, rather than scaling a large number of steps, he wanted to enter the palace immediately from the garden. He insisted on a building on the ground level, of which the pedestal was the hill: in short, this was to be a private pleasure house. His recurring theme and requirement was for a house with close connections between its style and free nature. The principal rooms, lit by tall slender windows, face south over the vineyard gardens; the north façade is the entrance front, where a semicircular cour d'honneur was created by two segmented Corinthian colonnades.

n the Baroque tradition, the principal rooms (including the bedrooms) are all on the piano nobile, which at Sanssouci was the ground floor by Frederick's choice. While the secondary wings have upper floors, the corps de logis occupied by the King occupies the full height of the structure. Comfort was also a priority in the layout of the rooms. The palace expresses contemporary French architectural theory in its apartement double ideals of courtly comfort, comprising two rows of rooms, one behind the other. The main rooms face the garden, looking southwards, while the servant's quarters in the row behind are on the north side of the building. An apartement double thus consists of a main room and a servant's chamber. Doors connect the apartments with each other. They are arranged as an "enfilade", so that the entire indoor length of the palace can be assessed at a glance. Frederick sketched his requirements for decoration and layout, and these sketches were interpreted by artists such as Johann August Nahl, the Hoppenhaupt brothers, the Spindler brothers and Johann Melchior Kambly, who all not only created works of art, but decorated the rooms in the Rococo style. While Frederick cared little about etiquette and fashion, he also wanted to be surrounded by beautiful objects and works of art. He arranged his private apartments according to his personal taste and needs, often ignoring the current trends and fashions. These "self-compositions" in Rococo art led to the term "Frederician Rococo".

The principal entrance area, consisting of two halls, the "Entrance Hall" and the "Marble Hall", is at the centre, thus providing common rooms for the assembly of guests and the court, while the principal rooms flanking the Marble Hall become progressively more intimate and private, in the tradition of the Baroque concept of state rooms. Thus, the Marble Hall was the principal reception room beneath the central dome. Five guest rooms adjoined the Marble Hall to the west, while the King's apartments lay to the east - an audience room, music room, study, bedroom, library, and a long gallery on the north side.

The palace is generally entered through the Entrance Hall, where the restrained form of the classical external colonnade was continued into the interior. The walls of the rectangular room were subdivided by ten pairs of Corinthian columns made of white stucco marble with gilded capitals. Three overdoor reliefs with themes from the myth of Bacchus reflected the vineyard theme created outside. Georg Franz Ebenhech was responsible for gilded stucco works. The strict classical elegance was relieved by a painted ceiling executed by the Swedish painter Johann Harper, depicting the goddess Flora with her acolytes, throwing flowers down from the sky.

In the park, east of the palace, is the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, built from 1755 to 1764 under the supervision of the architect Johann Gottfried Büring. It stands on the site of a former greenhouse, where Frederick raised tropical fruit. The Picture Gallery is the oldest extant museum built for a ruler in Germany. Like the palace itself, it is a long, low building, dominated by a central domed bow of three bays.

The white-and-gold oval Marmorsaal ("Marble Hall"), as the principal reception room, was the setting for celebrations in the palace, its dome crowned by a cupola. White Carrara marble was used for the paired columns, above which stucco putti dangle their feet from the cornice. The dome is white with gilded ornament, and the floor is of Italian marble intarsia inlaid in compartments radiating from a central trelliswork oval. Three arch-headed windows face the garden; opposite them, in two niches flanking the doorway, figures of Venus Urania, the goddess of free nature and life, and Apollo, the god of the arts, by the French sculptor François Gaspard Adam, established the iconography of Sanssouci as a place where art was joined with nature.

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