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The Influence of Caspar David Friedrich'S Paintings On The Design of The Altes Museum By Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Part 1 Dissertation 2002
Andrew Kirk
Mackintosh School of Architecture | UK

I have always felt slightly frustrated that people tend to pigeonhole subjects thus disallowing cross-fertilisation of ideas. Perhaps the necessity of breaking down topics into teachable subject areas encourages this. Nonetheless, all too often it seems students cast by the wayside acquired knowledge in the singular pursuit of the design studio.

My own decision to study architecture was frustrated by my interest in drawing and painting. Through my Degree years, I have searched for ways to inform my design using intuitive methods of drawing, with occasional success. As I have a keen interest in art and architectural histories, it seemed natural to explore a connection between the two.

History shows that the great architects usually exhibited their flair across disciplines. However, much of what we read even here is rationalised within separate branches of knowledge and only serves to further separate the topics of architectural and art histories. It is documented that Schinkel was hugely impressed by the work Friedrich exhibited in Berlin and incorporated some of Friedrich’s methods in his own paintings. Might he not have experimented with these methods in architecture when trying to elicit the same emotional state?

I hope that this dissertation will provoke and stimulate. I intend this investigation to cement my own foundations and further encourage me to look outside the perceived boundaries of individual topics.


The Altes museum was part of Prussia’s movement for regeneration and cultivation. The museum was to be a temple to the arts. It was a grand plan for a country suffering the financial hardship precipitated by the Napoleonic occupation of Prussia.

Both Schinkel and Friedrich were intimately affected by the Romantic spirit sweeping across Europe, with Schinkel particularly attracted to Friedrich’s methods of altering the perception of the viewer.

The aesthetic intent of the Altes museum entry sequence was rooted in Schinkel’s desire to influence the public by creating an emotional effect that would make them more receptive to absorbing the educative aspect of the art in the museum. It is the means that Schinkel employed to do this that I propose he adopted from the methods Friedrich used in his paintings to evoke the same state of mind.

Friedrich disorganises and disrupts his work in order that his paintings will have a particular effect upon the viewer. He promotes an elevated state of self-consciousness, by creating and emphasising tension between subject and object. As Friedrich’s work is not didactic in the Classical sense, the possible interpretations are directed at the viewer’s ability to use works of art to question him/herself, by means of self-reflection, self-consciousness and self-discovery.

The entry sequence of the museum is the heart and soul of the building. On the balcony we look out at the place we have travelled from. If our position singles out the unique place that we stand, at the unique time, we have focused our existence on the present, between the past and the future. This self-conscious awareness enables a focus forwards and backwards, or towards the future and into the past. As with Friedrich’s work, the perception of a world that is both past and future creates an unstable oscillation, which is resolved in the viewer’s mind as a convergence between the past and the future. In the case of the museum, perhaps the intention is to resolve this tension with an association between the antique past and a vision of the future of Berlin and Prussia.

Andrew Kirk

The dissertation submitted by Andrew Kirk was selected as the best of the year by our External Examiner. It impresses me as a mature and thoughtful piece of work which is a genuine contribution to knowledge. We find that our best dissertations are the result both of enthusiasm and of contemplation and research over an extended period. This student began thinking about forms of representation of space in Romantic Art and their possible influence on the architecture of Schinkel before the end of his Third Year and he read widely on the subject during his Year Out. The completed essay shows a rare ability to write cogently and elegantly on abstract ideas and theories, and to draw coherent and meaningful architectural conclusions from such investigations. In view of the fame of the Altes Museum and the current wide interest in the work of Schinkel, this dissertation has lasting value; it is also topical in view of the controversy which has been generated by the glazing in of the external/internal portico space facing the Lustgarten in Berlin.

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