This Week’s Art: Schinkel-Medieval


In many a year ago, I was an architectural engineering student.  I loved architecture, but I grew to hate number crunching (which is why I’m a silly artist-type now).  But I still appreciate architecture, and this piece is a fantastic view of it.

This is Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Medieval Town by Water (1813, oil, 94 cm x 126 cm), a great architectural piece I came across just today. A piece that for me sits on a nice border between reality and fantasy.

Let’s start with the easy part: I love the cloud work.  The clouds are so dynamic and lifelike, to me more like a photograph.  Schinkel has perfectly captured a moment in time in the clouds, but with a sense that they haven’t stopped any movement at all, the viewer has. They lead perfectly into the cathedral, bound to reality and somehow above it as well.

In dampening the palette of the cathedral, as opposed to highlighting it as other works are, Schinkel has built a powerful structure. Set in the clouds and the setting sun, it sits regally above all else, the fantastical spires ever reaching into the heavens.  Yet, but subduing the palette and giving the cathedral earthy tones, he has also grounded it in reality, grounded it with us mere mortals.

Schinkel does a great job with the immensity of the image, yet through the overall palette and the layout of the piece keeps the view from flying away.  We have everyday people in the foreground, setting reality close at hand.  We have the tiny figures before the cathedral, giving us a sense of scale. Finally, we have the town surrounding the great jewel of the cathedral in its midst, and yet it still seems both above the town and a part of it at once.

Schinkel’s image points to a passion for architecture.  He was a well known architect in Germany at the time, and it seems that if he couldn’t build one to the heavens, he could certainly paint it that way.



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