Karl Friedrich Schinkel Collection of Decorations for the two Royal Theatres in Berlin
Karl Friedrich Schinkel
Collection of Decorations for the two Royal Theatres in Berlin
Aquatint etchings framed under new mats in two cloth folders. 32 loose sheets, 28 of which in colours, one inscribed "INHALTS-VERZEICHNIS" (contents). Some sheets with foxmarks in the white margins, the outer edges of the plates slightly yellowed, the title page lacking. Some sheets with traces of mountings in the upper edges. In various sheet and plate sizes, most sheets c. 47 x 60.5 cm.
Mixed example with sheets from the 1st and 3rd editions, Berlin: L.W. Wittich, 1819 ff, und Ernst & Korn, 1862.
This sumptuous, complete edition of Schinkel's famous set of theater decorations for the Berlin Royal Theaters, with plates from very rare colourised special editions, includes the famous sheets for "The Magic Flute," the most impressive sets designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
This example contains:
Eight sheets from Mozart's "Magic Flute" (plates 13-20)
Two sheets from Mozart's "Don Carlos" (pl. 21, duplicate: the first from the 1st edition by Wittich, no. "16", both col.)
Two sheets from Gaspare Spontini's "The Vestal Virgin" (plates 1-2, the first monochrome)
Five sheets from Gaspare Spontini's "Olympia" (plates 3-7, all coloured, the last one from the 1st edition by Wittich)
One sheet from Schiller's "The Bride of Messina" (pl. 8, col.)
Two sheets from "The Maid of Orleans" (plates 9-10, col.)
One sheet from "Das Käthchen von Heilbronn" (pl. 11, monochrome)
One sheet from "Undine" (pl. 12, col.)
One sheet from "Ratibor and Wanda" (pl. 22, col.)
One sheet from "Axel von Walburg" (pl. 23, col.)
Two sheets from "Athalia" (pl. 24, duplicate: the first from the 1st edition by Wittich without no., col., the second monochrome)
Two sheets from "Armide" (pl. 25, duplicate: the first from the 1st edition by Wittich, num. "18", both color.)
Two sheets from "King Yngurd" (plates 26-27, both monochrome)
Two sheets from "Ferdinand Cortez" (plates 28-30, the last with number and the etched, still faintly visible publisher's inscription "Potsdam 1847 Verlag von F. Riegel", but without artist's names and without scene title [so published by Ernst & Korn], all col.)
One sheet from "Alceste" (pl. 31, col.)
One sheet from "Othello" (pl. 32, col.)
The collection was first published in 1819 and subsequent years in five editions by Wittich in Berlin. A "new improved edition" was published in 1847-1849 by Riegel in Potsdam. From this Ernst & Korn (Gropius'sche Buch- und Kunsthandlung) in Berlin took over the plates for a 3rd edition in 1862, which was repeated as a 4th edition in 1874.
Schinkel had sketched a "view from the ancient theater near Taormina" for the first time during his first Italian trip (1803 - 1805). He seemed to view its grandiose location with Mount Etna and the sea in the background like a stage set. On 24th May 1804, he noted in his diary: "Its summit bears the beautiful ruins of the ancient theater of Taurominium. The entrance to the theater leaves a powerful impression. (In) the foreground stands the proscenium above the rock. Through its openings one looks into an infinite distance (...) What impression could a play leave on its audience in a theater with such decorations". This impression is reflected in the stage designs created after his return.
So it also happens that in a "memorandum" in December 1813 to the then Berlin theater director Iffland, Schinkel demanded profound reforms to the outdated and overly pompous Baroque stage designs. In a clear, simplified structure, the stage decoration was to be given independant meaning as a symbolic wall of images: "If we could therefore decorate our scene in the most cases with a single large picture wall (...) [then the] greatest advantage (...) would be that the picture of the scene could be treated artistically in every respect and would nevertheless be less detrimental to the action as a contributing secondary part, since it does not ostentatiously push itself forward, but as a symbolic background always keeps only the distance that is beneficial to the imagination."
Iffland was opposed to Schinkel's reform proposals. It was not until 1815, after Count Karl Moritz von Brühl had taken over the position of the previously deceased Iffland as intendant, that Schinkel had the opportunity to work as a theater decorator for the royal stages.
Schinkel's theater decorations, which are documented in the present collection, initiated a groundbreaking change in stage decoration with the event of the "Symbolbühne" (symbolic stage).
For more on the history of these designs see Pfäfflin, Die Bühne und die Welt, p. 123ff, in: Schulze Altcappenberg/Johannsen (ed.), Schinkel, Geschichte und Poesie, Berlin 2012.
Cf. also Harten, Die Bühnenentwürfe, Munich-Berlin 2000, p. 117ff.