Andreas Schlüter (1684-1714) was the ‘ Schloss Baumeister’ (Palace Master-builder) who was largely responsible for transforming Berlin from a provincial medieval city into an impressive baroque royal capital. If you are in Berlin over the next few weeks you still have time to catch a wonderful exhibition in the Bode Museum marking the double anniversary of his birth and death. But even if you can’t make the exhibition, read on – as much of Schlüter’s legacy can still be seen and appreciated in 21st century Berlin. Schlüter (unlike Schadow) cannot be claimed by the Berliners as one of their own; he was born and died in Danzig and summoned from the Polish court to Berlin in 1694 by the Brandenburg Great Elector Friedrich III (who became King Frederick I of Prussia in 1701). As court architect and sculptor from 1696 until 1713, Schlüter is most famous for his design of the exterior of the Stadtschloss (City Palace) and for his statue of the Great Elector on horseback – the ‘Reiterdenkmal’. A copy of this imposing statue stands in the grand domed hall of the Bode Museum, making it the perfect venue to host an exhibition to honour Schlüter’s work in Berlin.
The original Reiterdenkmal is surrounded by four cowering slaves in chains and oversees the main courtyard of Charlottenburg Palace. During the war it was removed from Berlin for safe-keeping, but the barge carrying it back in 1949 sank in the Teglersee in West Berlin. When the statue was salvaged a year later it found itself in a divided city and was never returned to its rightful place on the Lange Brücke opposite the Stadtschloss. The magnificence of this setting is shown in the picture below and must surely have helped secure Berlin’s claim to the title of Capital of the German Empire when it was formed in 1871.
Together with two other great Berlin architects, Langhans and Knobelsdorff, Schlüter was hugely influenced by the genius of the European Renaissance. The 16 rooms of this exhibition document Schlüter’s accomplishments in Berlin but also display works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Mochi, Francois Girardon and Antoine Coysevox so that visitors can clearly see how important it was for Schlüter to travel in Europe before he started work in Berlin. The paintings, bronzes and marble statues from Italy, France and The Netherlands show how European art and history influenced Schlüter’s creations such as the mounted statues of Marc Aurel and Louis XIV and how Bernini and Girardon were the godfathers of his most celebrated statue of the Great Elector. Schlüter also immortalised his patron, Frederick I, in bronze on horseback but this work was lost in the Second World War bombing along with many of Schlüter’s wonderful architectural masterpieces in the city centre
In 1945 his Stadtschloss also stood in ruins and the exhibition has original film footage (without soundtrack) of how its skeletal remains were finally demolished in 1950. You can watch its dome and the remaining statues adorning its roof fall silently fall into a mass of stone and ash as a single car drives eerily past the dusty mound of rubble. Fortunately, some of Schlüter’s decorations on the palace façades were preserved and you can view them in all their intricate detail in the exhibition. But if you don’t manage to visit Berlin before mid-July, all is by no means lost. The reconstruction of the Stadtschloss as the Humboldt Forum is now well underway and Schlüter’s carvings will be incorporated into the walls.
Current progress on the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss/Humboldt Forum
Five other Berlin city sites are included in the Schlüter exhibition: the Deutsches Historisches Museum (originally built as the Zeughaus – Royal Armoury), the Berliner Dom (Protestant Cathedral), the Marienkirche, the Nikolaikirche and of course Charlottenburg Palace. You can see Schlüter’s tomb of the Männlich family in the Nikolaikirche, his ornate sarcophagi for Frederik I and his wife in the crypt of Berliner Dom and his beautiful baroque pulpit in the Marienkirche. But the most awe-inspiring of all Schlüter sculptures can be found at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Schlüter was responsible for giants’ heads above the round-arched windows and for the warriors’ death masks which line the magnificent rose-pink inner courtyard (known as the Schlüterhof). This is how they are described by the Bode Museum:
“Their faces are wracked with pain but with eyelids drooping as if a compassionate spirit has granted the final favour bestowed on the deceased, these expiring heads make plain the deadly serious purpose of the Zeughaus. And yet these heads, reminiscent of trophies, must now serve as adornments on the very building that stored the weapons that brought about the warriors’ deaths.”
What this website extract fails to point out, however, is the macabre fact that Schlüter had the actual heads of the warriors on which to model his sculptures. This is clearly demonstrated in the exhibition by a clay model showing how Schlüter’s own head was also used as a template. It is hard to imagine a more poignant way for a sculptor to depict the horrors of war.