Originally published in Cast Iron From the Central Europe, 1800–1850, edited by Elisabeth Schmuttermeier and Derek E.Ostergard. Bard Graduate Center, New York, 1994. 55–73.

From the exhibition: Cast Iron from Central Europe, 1800-1850.

In early nineteenth-century Berlin, the confluence of political, economic, and artistic factors created unique conditions in which the decorative applications of cast iron flourished as in no other place or time. While economic and aesthetic factors contributed to the rapid growth of cast-iron design, the achievements of enduring value owe a great deal to the architect/designer and painter, Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841). Schinkel’s artistic genius, administrative acumen, and aesthetic vision guided the development of this dynamic epoch and profoundly influenced the course of nineteenth-century decorative art and architecture not only in Berlin, but throughout Prussia and the rest of the “German Nation.”1

Schinkel, the son of a Lutheran pastor and city superintendent, was born in Neuruppin, near Berlin, toward the end of the reign of Friedrich II (Frederick the Great, r. 1740–86). Prussia had become not only Europe’s greatest military power but the fourth largest industrial state, albeit a distant fourth, after England, France, and Holland. Prussia’s military dominance ebbed after the death of Friedrich II who was succeeded by his nephew Friedrich Wilhelm II (r. 1786–97) and his nephew’s son, Friedrich Wilhelm III (r. 1797–1840), both of whom were liberal kings who fostered creative talents and supported artists and humanists in their efforts to change Prussia’s military image to one of intellectual and artistic excellence.2

During his brief reign, Friedrich Wilhelm II attempted to stimulate Prussia’s economic growth by expanding international trade and maintaining the policy of state support for such industries as textile and porcelain, while continuing the development of Prussia’s iron mines that had been encouraged by Friedrich II.3 In 1796, the first iron foundry under royal patronage was founded in the town of Gleiwitz, near important mining areas deep within Silesia, under the supervision of an English foundry expert. This undertaking was greatly influenced by earlier achievements in Great Britain’s iron industry, and Prussia’s leaders not only enlisted well-paid British experts but also sent missions of inquiry there, placed workers in British plants, purchased British machines (sometimes illegally) as well as products that they could duplicate, and even engaged in industrial espionage.4 Through these efforts the English cupola furnace, an important innovation, was introduced into Prussian iron foundries, permitting the smelting of smaller quantities of iron and precision casting. These developments led to the opening of the Königliche Eisengiesserei Berlin (Royal Ironworks of Berlin) in 1804, and another foundry in the town of Sayn, near Koblenz, in 1815.5

The Royal Ironworks soon became an important presence in Berlin’s rapidly developing urban landscape,6 and the production of cast iron began transforming the fabric of the city. From major landmarks and monuments to small decorative articles for the sitting rooms of an expanding middle class, cast iron was increasingly the material of choice. The importance of the foundry in many phases of the city’s industrial growth is reflected in one of its most characteristic products, the so called New Year’s plaques. These small plaques, produced from 1804 to 1848, commemorated the foundry’s achievements during the past year and were awarded to prominent citizens and foreign dignitaries.7 Many are exceptionally fine works of low­relief cast iron that provide a unique visual history of the industrial progress of the period, picturing gas lighting, steam engines, locomotives and railway stations, bridges and canals, and even the Royal Ironworks of Berlin. Berlin’s achievements in decorative cast iron were depicted as well; among other objects, the Bacchanal vase figured prominently.

Schinkel matured in an era of peace, moderate prosperity, and cultural growth due in part to Prussia’s neutrality during the ten years that Austria and the western and southern German states contended with France (1795–1805).8 When the thirteen-year-old Schinkel moved to Berlin in 1794, the city was being transformed from a provincial town lacking the established traditions of London, Paris, or Rome, into a progressive center of economic and cultural growth.9 In his sixteenth year, Schinkel saw the designs for a monument to Friedrich II by the young Berlin architect Friedrich Gilly (1772–1800)10 and was inspired to become an architect. Under Gilly and his father, architect David Gilly (1748–1808), Schinkel received his initial architectural instruction as a member of the first class at the newly founded Bauakademie, which heightened Schinkel’s appreciation of both the Classical and Gothic traditions.11 In 1803–04, Schinkel traveled to Italy where he became enthralled by its medieval structures and ancient monuments. He saw in them a means to create a new architecture at once continuous with the past and expressive of its own time. When he returned to Berlin, Schinkel embarked on his long-term goal of creating a well-structured urban environment in what was rapidly becoming a major European city.12

In 1806, the stability that had persisted in Prussia came to an abrupt end, however, disrupting Schinkel’s plans. On October 14, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, although greatly outnumbered, routed the Prussian forces at Jena, and on October 27, French troops entered and occupied Berlin.13 “We went to sleep on the laurels of Frederick the Great,” explained Queen Luise of Mecklenburg (1776–1810), wife of Friedrich Wilhelm III.14 After Prussia’s defeat, only the uneasy relationship between Czar Alexander of Russia and Napoleon saved Prussia from disappearing as a political entity. Napoleon agreed to the survival of the crippled nation only because it served as a buffer between the French and Russian empires; Prussia, decimated and bankrupt, remained at his mercy.

After Prussia’s military defeat and during its occupation by French forces (1806–13), Friedrich Wilhelm III initiated administrative and educational reforms, which were designed to revitalize the country’s bankrupt economy while stimulating Prussian patriotism.15 One important reform was trade-practice modernization initiated by Karl Baron von Hardenberg (1750–1822), who was appointed state chancellor in 1810. Coupling a belief in the British ideas of economic liberalism taught by the social philosopher Adam Smith (1723–1790) with a strong faith in authoritarian bureaucracy, von Hardenberg reformed Prussia’s economy by proclaiming freedom of trade, abolishing the monopoly of guilds, and levying duties only at external frontiers.16 This encouraged the development of native resources, particularly iron which was used in a growing number of applications.

While the French occupation was a humbling experience, it inadvertently furthered Prussia’s cast-iron industry, as patriotic and economic factors combined to make its exploitation an important element of national recovery.17 Early in 1813, Friedrich Wilhelm III made an appeal to the German people to put an end to Napoleonic oppression with his famous speech. “An mein Volk” (To my people), wherein the king urged the replacement of gold, silver, and other precious materials with ornamental cast iron.18 It soon became a Prussian citizen’s duty to the fatherland to assist the national economy by exchanging gold for iron and, in so doing, earn the distinction of wearing little cast-iron rings with the inscription, “Gold gab ich für Eisen” (I gave gold for iron); over 160,000 rings were exchanged in Berlin alone.19

Schinkel exploited not only the physical strength and durability of cast iron, but the association of this most characteristic native material with strong patriotic sentiments in both public and domestic domains. He helped generate numerous commissions for public monuments through state sponsorship of cast-iron manufacturing with the result that the Prussian cast-iron industry became charged with nationalistic significance. By the end of the war, its mandate had widened and virtually any subject that had been cast in bronze or sculpted in marble was now cast in iron. The austere appearance of matte black cast iron was most suitable for somber monuments, grave slabs, and commemorative medals, notably the Iron Cross, Prussia’s highest distinction. The Iron Cross was designed by Schinkel in 1813 with the assistance of the king, to honor the soldiers who had fought and died to liberate Prussia from Napoleonic oppression. Reminiscent of the black-cross-on-white-ground, the emblem of the German Ordenstritter, a knightly order dating to medieval times, Schinkel’s black iron cross with a fine silver border became the icon of wartime sacrifice.

Cast iron was also associated with strong national sentiment in Schinkel’s 1811 monument to Queen Luise who had died in 1810. She had been an outspoken advocate of Prussian nationalism and a symbol for the war effort. In her memory, Schinkel designed a cast-iron tomb executed by the Royal Ironworks of Berlin to be erected in the town of Gransee, near Berlin.20 The sarcophagus appears under a Gothic-inspired baldachino, supported along its length by four slender columns with three pointed arches. The entire monument is enclosed by a simple cast-iron gate and minimally decorated with cast-iron lilies and roses to symbolize the queen.

The construction of the memorial to Queen Luise followed a controversy between the king and Schinkel over the appropriate style for such a monument. Schinkel argued in favor of the Gothic with its Christian associations, while the king preferred a classical memorial temple, even though Schinkel characterized the antique as “cold and meaningless.” The king insisted upon his preferences at Charlottenburg and rejected Schinkel’s Gothic-inspired design for a memorial chapel. He opted instead for Schinkel’s design for a mausoleum with a Doric temple front which was built by Heinrich Gentz (1810–11), the portico of which is now on the Pfaueninsel at Potsdam. For public buildings, however, Schinkel readily took his inspiration from Greek antiquity, particularly as Prussia’s chief architect after 1815. He concluded that the classical tradition was the most powerful vehicle with which to immortalize the ethical values of the resurgent nation. As early as 1806, Schinkel had won the recognition of Queen Luise for his architectural landscapes. She not only commissioned him to decorate several interiors in the royal palaces at Berlin and Charlottenburg (1809), but brought his talents to the attention of other members of the royal family. With the encouragement of von Humboldt, she had Schinkel appointed Oberbauassessor (chief architect) in the Department of Public Works in 1810.21

The appropriateness of the Gothic Revival for war memorials was made manifest in Schinkel’s towerlike sixty-five-foot-high Kreuzberg Memorial (1818–21), entirely cast in iron. It overlooked the army exercise grounds slightly south-west of the center of early nineteenth-century Berlin. Such a memorial had been suggested in 1817 by Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (later Friedrich Wilhelm IV; r. 1840–61), and Schinkel’s design incorporated a rich sculptural program including twelve cast-iron figures representing idealized war heros in antique garb. The figures, designed by the sculptors Christian Friedrich Tieck (1776–1851), Ludwig Wilhelm Wichmann (1788–1859), and Christian Daniel Rauch (1777–1857), were placed in the niches of the tower, which was crowned with an Iron Cross. The Kreuzberg Memorial set a precedent for monumental cast-iron sculpture, and as in all of his public undertakings, Schinkel considered his role as architect and designer to be integral to the shaping of the political, cultural, and social fiber of the nation.

To counter the apathy with which the Prussian population had accepted the country’s collapse and foreign domination, Friedrich Wilhelm III initiated important educational reforms hoping to instill a greater sense of national unity. In a typically Prussian union of pragmatism and idealism Karl Baron von Stein (1757–1831), Prussia’s chief minister from 1807 to 1808, appointed Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), a close friend of Schinkel’s, as head of the Department of Education (1809–10). Von Humboldt soon established a new school system under the guiding principle that everychild, regardless of social or economic background, was entitled to receive a “general” education. The central feature of the system was the “Gymnasium,” a secondary school whose educational methods were founded on the ancient Greek model of “humanitas.”22 Von Humboldt believed that in embracing and explicating Greek culture and philosophy, students would enter an intellectual and spiritual world that would mold their personalities—and there by the state—according to the highest ideals, paralleling those that had brought about the flowering of Greek culture. These reforms succeeded in helping Prussia regain the loyalty of its people and imbued them with a new patriotic spirit.23

Although von Humboldt’s humanist education system helped to reform the country, it also created an academic elite and failed to provide the advanced professional training that manufacturers and craftsmen needed in order to create products that could compete with foreign goods. Prussian leaders concluded that the state’s applied arts would have to adopt international design standards for their new methods of production and recognized the necessity of improving the skills of craftsmen. As a result, a program to train future generations of craftsmen and manufacturers was initiated and in 1811 the Technische Deputation für Handwerk und Gewerbe (Technical Department for Crafts and Trade) was established. It was reorganized in 1819 as the Königliche Deputation für Gewerbe (Royal Technical Department for Trade) under the direction of Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth (1781–1853) and given an institutional mission to “collect and disseminate scientific and technical knowledge as it pertains to the professions.”21 Beuth, the key to the department’s success, was not only a brilliant financial expert and administrator, but also a widely traveled, cultivated individual who combined practical knowledge of the Prussian bureaucracy with a highly developed aesthetic sensibility.

In 1821, Beuth opened the first higher technical school to educate craftsmen, manufacturers, and technical engineers. Officially called the Königlich­Preussisches Gewerbeinstitut (Royal Prussian Institute for Trade and Crafts), it became known as the Gewerbeinstitut. Beuth immediately made his close friend Schinkel a key member of the eight-man governing board whose other members encompassed a wide variety of disciplines, including the physical sciences and engineering, as well as the fine and applied arts. Schinkel’s fruitful collaboration with Beuth greatly furthered the close integration of art and industry.

Because iron casting lent itself particularly well to serial production, Schinkel made cast iron a preferred material of the Gewerbeinstitut for objects ranging from large architectural elements to domestic articles, most of which were executed in the Royal Ironworks of Berlin.25 Schinkel greatly encouraged the use of decorative cast iron because the understated black material was well suited for expressing the Neoclassical style that emphasized clarity of shape and formal simplicity. In addition to Schinkel, the Gewerbeinstitut boasted well-known artists as teachers, including Christian Daniel Rauch, Christian Friedrich Tieck, Ludwig Wilhelm Wichmann, Gottfried Schadow (1764–1850), and August Karl Kiss (1802–1865),26 all of whom designed for the Royal Ironworks of Berlin.

Schinkel understood both the benefits and the dangers of serial production and sought to establish a balance between aesthetic considerations and the practical need for cost-effectiveness as the use of cast iron proliferated. While suitable models were needed to guide manufacturers in their choice of designs, Schinkel recognized that there were no Prussian pattern books meeting high international standards that could be made available to Prussian trade school students, craftsmen, and manufacturers. Inspired by French and English pattern books,27 Beuth and Schinkel initiated the publication of the Gewerbeinstitut’s Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker (Models [or patterns] for Manufacturers and Craftsmen) in 1821.28

The Vorbilder was a boldly conceived and far-reaching series of publications, intended to provide aesthetic guidance that would foster the creation of uniformly styled, well-designed decorative-art products.29 For Schinkel, the Vorbilder offered an opportunity to present designs that would set high artistic standards while simultaneously promoting an official Prussian style. Derived primarily from Greek prototypes, this national style was not only aesthetically pleasing but also embodied the ethical values that Schinkel believed would eventually be impressed upon the public. Schinkel’s designs were informed by historical sources, freely adapted to his own innovative compositions, many of which were suitable for iron casting. Issues of Vorbilder were widely disseminated, at no cost, for educational purposes not only within Prussia but throughout Europe and even in America.30

In 1826, recognizing Prussia’s isolation from industrial and artistic developments in other countries, Schinkel and Beuth traveled together to France, England, and Scotland. Although their journey was ostensibly planned to gain fresh ideas for the new museum (now the Altes Museum) Schinkel was designing for Berlin, the deeper reason was their desire to survey and assess the changes brought about in foreign, particularly British, cities and factory districts by the Industrial Revolution.31 They benefited from on-site appraisals of the latest applications of cast iron, ranging from engineering works to decorative interiors and implements. On their first stop in Paris, Schinkel described in his diaries his impressions of the new arcades, forerunners of today’s shopping malls, that had sprung up around the Palais Royal, built with cast-iron frames to support glass roofs.32 He considered the glass and iron structure of the cupola of the Halle du Blé especially innovative,33 and noted the importance of the Paris Bourse, where the cast-iron structure was camouflaged by a Neoclassical interior decorative scheme.34

During their two months in Great Britain, Beuth and Schinkel were fascinated by the progress of English engineers in their cast-iron structures, notably the expansion bridges of John Rennie (1761–1821)35 and Thomas Telford (1757–1834), as well as Telford’s canals, docks, and aqueducts.36 Schinkel observed the ongoing construction of the Thames tunnel (1824–43), designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849), which involved the extensive use of cast iron. He observed the role of cast iron in the construction of the London docks, warehouses, and factory buildings, and railway tracks and steam engines. Schinkel’s willingness to combine historical styles with functional and decorative cast-iron elements in his own designs was stimulated by John Nash’s exotic interior decorative scheme for the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, Sussex (1820).37 He particularly admired Nash’s two flanking cast-iron staircases leading to a gallery, with iron rails imitating bamboo.

After studying the technical and aesthetic applications of cast iron abroad, Schinkel returned to Berlin with an enhanced appreciation for the great potential of this material. The most important and direct influence of his observations of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton was apparent in the large entrance hall and ceremonial staircase for the Berlin residence of Prince Albrecht, the youngest son of Friedrich Wilhelm III. With the impressions of Nash’s architecture fresh in his mind, Schinkel designed the two-story cast-iron staircase with long, slender columns, featuring elaborate pierce-work and an upper entrance gallery. The patterns of the pierce-work cast iron along the stair rails are repeated in the pendentives of the arches and the rosettes on the coffered ceilings so that the entire effect was one of great delicacy, achieved through the innovative use of this industrial material.38

Equally impressive were Schinkel’s designs for cast­iron entry portals in many of his new buildings, including the church on the Werdersch Markt (1830),39 featuring full-length figures executed by Tieck and Wichmann, as well as the Allgemeine Bauschule, known as the Bauakademie (1832–33), the most progressive building Schinkel executed after his trip to England. In order to support the remarkably modem-looking red brick structure, Schinkel erected a fireproof skeleton using a network of cast-iron arches and supports. Structurally, the Bauakademie is a testimony to Schinkel’s interest in the application of the pioneering technological advances used in many of the iron and brick industrial buildings he had investigated in England.40 Further exploiting cast iron’s decorative potential in the Bauakademie, Schinkel designed two prominent entrance doors. They featured sixteen portrait medallions cast in low relief representing famous artists from antiquity, the late Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.41 The doors were sculpted by Kiss and Tieck at the Royal Ironworks of Berlin and framed by terracotta plaques depicting figures and scenes relating to the history of architecture. Overall, the ornamentation of the building reflected its purpose as a place of teaching, training, and artistic activity in the field of architecture.

In addition to the projects Schinkel supervised directly, the Vorbilder contained models for objects suitable for casting in iron that were widely used in Berlin’s ambitious building program, such as lampposts and large outdoor candelabra to embellish bridges, buildings, memorials, and gardens. Some, for example, were installed at Schloss Glienicke (1825–30), the country residence of Prince Karl outside of Potsdam. Schinkel exploited cast iron’s potential for serial production in three sets of designs for railings, ranging from simple bar trellises to balustrades decorated with ornamental plants and marine motifs. One railing design from the Vorbilder was used on the exterior of Prince Karl’s city palace in 1828; another was executed as far away as Norway, in the staircase balustrade of Oslo University (1838). The well-known railing for Berlin’s landmark, the Schlossbrücke (1819–24), also appeared in the Vorbilder. This bridge spanned a channel of the Spree River and created an essential link between the king’s residence and the city. It was designed with allegorical sculptural groups, on the theme of war and peace, that were connected by a cast-iron balustrade adorned by seahorses, tritons, and dolphins.

Vorbilder played a major role in shaping the design of decorative-art objects created for princely and private residences. The publication illustrated designs for vases of all sizes, such as replicas of the Warwick Vase of 1828, one of the most popular products of the Royal Ironworks of Berlin. The cast-iron version was modeled after the antique marble original in Warwick Castle in England that Schinkel might have seen in the summer of 1826.42 The vases were manufactured in a variety of sizes, including one large enough to be used in Schloss Glienicke as a garden ornament. Another well-known vase, cast in iron, was a copy of the British Museum’s large marble Bacchanal krater vase (Roman, 138–161 B.C.). Using a plaster copy of the original, the Gewerbeinstitut produced the cast-iron vase in 1832. Its rich surface, depicting a bacchanalian procession, was cast in relief and slightly patinated to resemble bronze, in keeping with Schinkel’s interest in evoking the antique, and it was lined with gilded copper.43

Since Schinkel’s design for the Vorbilder were meant to be used as stylistic guides, not specific blueprints, there were many variations in the finished products. A cast-iron candlestick, however, one of a pair made in about 1825, is a rare exact copy of a Vorbilder pattern.44 Cast in several sections, the piece has an elegant, fluted shape, formed by acanthus leaves—a favorite motif in much of Schinkel’s ornamental work. The candlestick’s iron surface is blackened with a liquid patina, a technique pioneered at the Royal Ironworks of Berlin by the renowned modeler, Wilhelm August Stilarsky (1780–1838).

In the 1830s, cast-iron objects were increasingly covered with bronze patina or even painted, lacquered, or gilded to give the impression of more expensive materials.45 Such masquerading, particularly in ornamental cast iron, drew the wrath of the English architect and theoretician, A. N. W. Pugin (1812–1852), who “could hardly bear the sight” of cheap cast-iron decoration and complained of the deception of castings disguised as stone, wood, or marble.46 In a similarly caustic vein, in 1849, the English critic and social theorist John Ruskin (1819–1900) railed that “any nation willing to countenance these vulgar and cheap substitutes” was obviously quite uncivilized.47

The catalogues and price lists of the Prussian cast­iron foundries from these years, indicate the enormous quantity of low-cost cast-iron articles that were serially produced for a wide range of uses. For example, the highly ornamental cast-iron stoves made in Berlin, principally for the interiors of the city’s newly built palaces, public buildings, and upper-class apartment buildings, featured prominently in the price lists of the Royal Ironworks of Berlin.48 Schinkel’s stove designs have characteristically simple shapes, enhanced by classical motifs, as in two stoves he created for one of his earliest buildings, the Zivilcasino (1824–25) at Schloss Glienicke.49 A growing number of Berlin households also contained cast-iron holders for ink, pens, toothpicks, and matches, as well as incense burners, pipes, tobacco boxes, snuff boxes, mirror stands, figures holding finger rings and other containers for jewelry, small lamps, candlesticks, and candlesnuffers.50 Many of these utilitarian objects were produced without Schinkel’s input or supervision, and quality in design and execution was often sacrificed in order to accommodate the abundance of ornament demanded by a burgeoning consumer-oriented society.

Ever open to experimentation, Schinkel used the versatility of cast iron for both indoor and outdoor furniture designs that were intended principally for new or refurbished royal residences. The same characteristics of his designs for furniture in wood are present in his cast-iron furniture: there is a general emphasis on contour and a harmonious overall composition with structural junctures disguised by an abundance of applied ornament.51 Their broad stylistic range combined many design influences, from ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian to the more contemporary French Empire and English Regency periods.52 ln keeping with the frugal lifestyle of the Prussian royal family, Schinkel’s furniture designs were generally lighter, more modest variations of their prototypes. The artistic license Schinkel took with all his furniture designs was expressed in his underlying design philosophy that the task of the architect/designer was “to imbue each structural part with beauty and truth to its own function.”53

Of the great variety of cast-iron garden furniture Schinkel designed, very few pieces are still in existence. One of the earliest is a long garden bench with a wooden seat, probably designed for Friedrich Wilhelm III between 1824 and 1826. Its back is divided into four equal sections featuring star-shaped rosettes and volutes. The front legs are in the shape of stylized winged griffins, derived from ancient models, while the rear legs simply continue the curving uprights of the back. A second garden bench, formerly in the park of Schloss Glienicke, featured heavy volutes for arm supports terminating in female heads, and a back consisting of laurel wreaths and eagles spreading their wings. Legs with lion’s-paw feet growing from palmettes support a marble seat. A cast-iron garden chair resembles to a remarkable degree some of his chair designs executed in wood; its finely proportioned shape is a less dramatic variation of the Greek Klismos chair, a form that enjoyed great popularity toward the end of the eighteenth century. Schinkel’s chair supports are very thin, and the seat consists of narrow metal strips woven to imitate caning; the back is designed with acanthus leaves and palmettes, motifs that are repeated to camouflage the joining of the chair legs to the seat. The attachment of a cast-iron sled runner connecting the bottom of the feet keeps the heavy chair from sinking into the ground. In contrast to the Greek-derived Klismos form, the supports of another pair of garden chairs, now in the Markisches Museum, Berlin, recall those of Roman cross-legged stools called curule seats, a design made fashionable during the French Empire.54

Many of Schinkel’s furniture designs combine cast­iron fittings and ornamental components in conjunction with other materials, but in some of his indoor furniture, he made more extensive use of cast iron, although few examples are extant. One is a white lacquered table, one of a pair, designed en suite with two white lacquered wood and gilded bronze armchairs for Prince Albrecht’s palace in Berlin around 1831. Repeating the combination of iron and marble Schinkel had already explored in his garden furniture, the table features an oval marble top supported by two fluted shafts on modified tripod feet. Such supports featured prominently in the Vorbilder and were inspired by ancient Roman models cast in bronze. Designed to be incorporated in semicircular niches on the first floor of the palace, the table was heavy, with somewhat coarse ornamental details, in contrast to the elegant wooden armchairs.

Improved industrial techniques eliminated much of the coarseness in castings, and eventually the art of iron casting became so refined that it was possible to create jewelry pieces of filigree-like delicacy. Schinkel’s involvement with the design of jewelry, the true “fer de Berlin,” was relatively minor, yet his delicate drawing for a tiara of about 1825 bears testimony to his interest in exploiting cast iron’s most intricate expressions. The two major exponents of Berlin’s unique cast­iron jewelry were Siméon Pierre Devaranne (1789–1859) and Moritz Geiss (1771–1846), whose work included highly ornamental clasps, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, many with classical motifs such as fine cast acanthus ornaments, palmettes, Greek key designs, and mythological figures.55 Characteristically, the designs emphasize silhouettes instead of the reflective surfaces produced by more precious materials. Because of decreasing costs of cast-iron production, a tendency toward ever more elaborate ornamentation prevailed over good design, encouraged by the public’s under­schooled association of these embellishments with high quality.

As iron casting developed into an important economic activity, the dangers of mass production were made increasingly manifest. The high quality of Schinkel’s Vorbilder designs and their dissemination throughout Prussia suggests that reasonable control was usually maintained over the newly fabricated products. Poor design, however, was increasingly coupled with low­cost manufacturing methods. In a preface to the 1837 Vorbilder, Beuth foresaw that the trend toward accepting lower artistic standards by those who were “newly wealthy” could ultimately lead to the rejection of Schinkel’s pure forms. Beuth regretted that the Vorbilder had not had a broader impact but was only appreciated by a “small group naturally drawn to the beautiful and pure … who longed for Greek models.”56 Although the Gewerbeinsitut sought to maintain Schinkel’s pure Neoclassical forms after his death, later designs became increasingly empty academic exercises. Devoid of Schinkel’s superior design and his underlying equation of classical images with a Prussian resurgence, the objects lost their popularity, as did the Prussian ornamental iron-casting industry as a whole. In 1848, the Royal Ironworks in Berlin burned down. Although it was rebuilt, it was never successful again and closed forever in 1874.

At its peak, cast iron was the “high-tech” material of its day, the popular choice for a burgeoning applied­arts industry where new objects were eagerly sought by royalty, plutocracy, and the middle class. Schinkel’s success resulted from his unique talent for reconciling artistic vision, uncompromising integrity of design and sensitivity to national aspirations. By encouraging the exploitation of Prussia’s rich natural resources and furthering her cast-iron industry, Schinkel enabled a great number of people to acquire decorative objects of the highest standards and to benefit from and take national pride in Prussia’s architectural and engineering achievements. Schinkel’s creations in cast iron, both large and small, stand as monuments to a brief era when the nineteenth-century goal of unifying art and industry was nearly achieved.

© Bard Graduate Center, Ursula Ilse-Neuman.

1.Prusssia was part of a patchwork quilt of more than three hundred kingdoms, principalities, free cities, estates of imperial knights, and other territories that collectively comprised the

“German” nation. Although united by a common language and culture, for more than three centuries, beginning with the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), Germany’s economic and industrial development was discouraged by the lack of political unity.

2.Friedrich Wilhelm II reversed Frederick the Great’s embrace of French culture in favor of the German. Among other things, he directed the Royal Theater in Berlin to suspend French productions and create a national German theater. Friedrich Wilhelm II himself was an amateur cellist and patron of composers including Mozart.

Friedrich Wilhelm III sought to strengthen Prussia economically by initiating basic economic reforms and avoiding military engagements. While maintaining a strong nobility, he issued early decrees abolishing serfdom, removing tariffs on international trade, and bolstering the middle class.

3.In 1777, Friedrich II appointed Friedrich Wilhelm Count Reden (1752–1815) to develop the large iron resources of Upper Silesia; simultaneously, Karl Baron Stein (1757–1831) was appointed to develop the iron mines in Westphalia. Prior to Gleiwitz, the private iron foundries at Lauchhammer (1725) and Malapane (1754) performed successful experiments in casting iron.

4.Holborn, History of Modem Germany (1982), p. 356.

5.Objections to the Berlin site (i.e., real estate was high and coke had to be transported from Upper Silesia) were overruled by the examples of ironworks at London, Paris, and St. Petersburg where close proximity to a clientele assured success (Schmidt, Der preussische Eisenkunstguss [1981], p. 51).

6.At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Berlin had some 175,000 inhabitants compared with 260,000 in Vienna, 670,000 in Paris, and 850,000 in London.

7.Their plaques were never larger than 7 inches (l8 cm) in height and 9 inches (22 cm) in length, including the cast-iron frames.

8.In avoiding costly military engagements, Prussia had been forced by a weak treasury to conclude a separate peace treaty with France in l795 (Peace of Basel), which ceded German territories west of the Rhine to France, thus exacerbating anti­Prussian sentiment in many German slates.

9.At the turn of the century, Schinkel was close to Berlin’s intellectual circle which included writers Achim von Armin (1781–1831), Bettina von Armin (1785–1811), Clemens Brentano

(1778–1842), Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811), and E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822). Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) was also active. See Riemann and Robinson, eds., Romantic Spirit (1988), p. 85.

10.Gilly’s monument is an architectural reflection of the age of German Enlightenment embodied by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), and Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768). See Pundt, Schinkel’s Berlin (1972), p. 48.

11.Ibid., p. 37. The Bauakademie was founded by David Gilly in 1799 on principles of simplicity, economy, and practicality which would become hallmarks of Schinkel’s design philosophy.

12.For a discussion of Schinkel’s plans, see Pundt, Schinkel’s Berlin (1972).

13.Although Prussia’s neutrality had permitted it to benefit from international trade, it had isolated the country as Napoleon forced Austria and the other states of the German Empire to accept treaties that made them subservient to France.

14.Quoted in Holborn, History of Modern Germany (1981), p. 372.

15.The king’s timidity and indecision, however, and the influence of such men as Klemens Metternich (1773–1859) maintained a strong paternalistic government and prevented a true democracy from flowering.

16.The abolition of internal tariffs promoted national unity and led to the creation of the Zollverein (Customs Union; 1834), which was responsible for building German roads, railways, and canals and establishing shipping and banking. See Holborn, History of Modern Germany (1981), pp. 461–463.

17.The French confiscated many cast-iron models for their own cast-iron factory in Paris but were not successful in achieving the high quality of the Berlin pieces. See Schmidt, Eisenkunstguss (l976), p. 44.

18.Schmidt, Der preussische Eisenkunstguss (1981), p. 134.

19.Czar Alexander I of Russia was given a silver-decorated cast­iron bowl as a state present when visiting Gleiwitz in 1817.

20.The memorial was financed by the people of Gransee through voluntary contribution and was inaugurated on October 19, 1811. It appeared on the 1812 New Year’s plaque issued by the Royal Ironworks of Berlin and was shown in the foundry’s Magazin der Gusswaren (Trade Pattern Book for Cast-Iron Objects; 1818). See Schmidt, Der preussische Eisenkunstguss (1981), p. l50.

21.In 1815 he was promoted to Geheimer Oberbaurat (chief architect and building inspector) with a focus on Berlin, allowing him to reshape the city and realize some of the plans on which he had worked with David Gilly.

22.The Gymnasium prepared students for university study, in support of which von Humboldt founded the University of Berlin in 1809.

23.Military reforms paralleled civilian ones, and in 1813 Prussia mobilized 280,000 men (6 percent of the population). Though poorly trained, their morale was high, in contrast to the apathy of 1806. The population organized into local militias to foment the revolt against the French; Schinkel and Achim von Armin were both freedom fighters (Holborn, History of Modern Germany [1981], p. 424–428).

24.Introduction, Vorbilder, vol. 1.

25.The Gewerbeinstitut included a bronze-casting shop but not an actual foundry.

26.Trained in the Royal Ironworks of Berlin, Kiss executed the most important cast-iron designs. He became director of metal casting at the Gewerbeinstitut in 1828 and remained at the

school until 1864.

27.Especially influential were: Percier and Fontaine, Recueil des Decorations Interieurs (1801/1812); Mesangers, Meubles (1802); Hope, Household Furniture (1807); Smith, Collection of Household Furniture (1808); idem, London Chair Makers’ and Carvers’ Book (1823); Ackermann, Repository of Arts (1809–28).

28.The original series of patterns, including many early Schinkel designs, appeared in three parts: architectural decoration; vessels and other decorative arts objects made in various materials; and textiles. After 1821, installments were added: a collected edition (1830) with 94 plates; a second edition (1837) with 150 plates. Schinkel’s most influential publication, however, was his Sammlungen Architektonisher Entwürfe (1819–40), which included some of the Vorbilder designs.

29.In a report to the Minister for Commerce and Industry, Beuth wrote, “The drawings are made after the most outstanding examples from Antiquity; the Master Architect Schinkel has explained by means of numerous drawings the use of the principles derived from Antiquity for the preparation of implements and vessels for daily use. The pages have been engraved with the greatest care, partly here [Berlin], partly by famous artists in England, France and Italy. The local copper engraver Pretre, a Swiss, who learned his art in Paris and was brought here by the Ministry, has printed it in the most outstanding fashion” (Beuth, “Bericht des Geh. Ober-Finanzrathes Beuth” [1822], pp. 139–149).

30.Vorbilder did not have a wide public circulation, however. The relatively few copies printed were given out as “awards” for extraordinary achievement to artists, craftsmen, and manufacturers. Diverse scientific institutes and libraries in Prussia and abroad ordered copies, including the Japanese government, the Imperial Library in Warsaw, the Imperian Russian Ministry for Water and Land Communication and Public Works, and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

31.Schinkel, Reise nach England (1826/1986), introduction to the 1986 edition.

32.One of the earliest of these arcades was the Passage des Panoramas, built around 1800 near the Palais Royal. See Geist, Passagen (1979).

33.The hall’s wooden cupola had burned down in 1782 and was replaced in 1811–13 by the glass and cast-iron structure, 131¼ feet (40 m) in diameter, designed by Belanger.

34.Begun in 1808 by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart (1739–1813) and finished in 1821–27 by Eloi de Labarre, the Bourse was one of the most important engineering feats of its time.

35.They observed Southwark Bridge (1814–19), Kelso Bridge (1800–1803), Waterloo Bridge (1811–17), and London Bridge (under reconstruction, 1824–31; moved to Lake Harau City, Arizona, in 1967).

36.Notable was Buildwas Bridge (1795–98); Menai Straits Suspension Bridge (1819–26) between Wales and the Isle of Anglesey; and Pontycysyllte Aqueduct (1800–1805) in Wales.

37.Created for George IV, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton was originally designed as a modest Neoclassical villa by Henry Holland (1745–1806) and enlarged by Nash in 1815–21. Schinkel was also interested in Carlton House, designed by Holland; the Customs House and Covent Garden Theatre, designed by Sir Robert Smirke (1753–1837); and the Bank of England, designed by Sir John Soane (1753–1837). See Schinkel, Reise nach England (1826/1986), pp. 166–168.

38.Before this, Schinkel used the decorative applications of cast iron while remodeling the Prince Karl Palais at Wilhelmsplatz in 1828 for the prince’s marriage to Princess Marianne of the Netherlands (1810–1883).

39.The Schinkel Museum is now located in the restored Friedrich Werdersche Church.

40.Some examples include: the London Docks (1796–1820) by Daniel Asher Alexander for the wine and tobacco trade; the West India Docks (1799–1802 ) by George Gwilt; and textile factories in Stroud, Gloucestershire, which had cast-iron framework sketched by Schinkel.

41.The left portal is now part of the Schinkel-Kause Restaurant, Berlin .

42.The vase was found by Gavin Hamilton (1723–1798) in 1771 in the Villa Hadrian (erected ca. A.D. 124) near Tivoli. It was acquired soon afterward by Count Warwick. A replica is in the Berlin Museum.

43.The vase was featured on the 1833 New Year’s plaque.

44.Vorbilder vol. 2, pl. 26. The candlesticks are now in the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin. Except in rare cases, it is difficult to attribute pieces to specific artists or foundries. Models were not patented and artists in Berlin created models to be used as patterns by cast-iron foundries throughout Prussia and in Austria as well.

45.Disguising cast iron reflects the era’s appreciation for machine­made copies of original art objects; industrial products were considered equivalent to those made by hand. For a short time, the successful industrialization of art generally was thought to be possible. This is apparent in Beuth’s praise for ivory copies of portrait busts and antique plaques by the sculptor Benjamin Cheverton who used instruments of his own invention to make three-dimensional replicas: “Cheverton … has made reduced­scale reproductions of artworks with an exactness and, what is astonishing, a sentiment which an artist only seldom attains” (Introduction to Vorbilder, vol. 2).

46.Lawley, “Art and Ornament” (1980), p. 18.

47.Ruskin, Seven Lamps (1849), cited in Lawley, “Art and Ornament” (1980), p. 19.

48.Price lists only appeared long after the beginning of cast-iron production: the first Sayn price list was issued in 1817; Gleiwitz in 1822. Some price lists of the Royal Ironworks of Berlin are found in the Merseburger Akten (archives), 112B IV, vol. 3.

49.Correspondence of July 1829 of the Royal Ironworks of Berlin indicates that cast-iron stoves after Schinkel’s designs were ordered for the Prince Karl Palais, Berlin. The production of cast-iron stoves in Prussia dates to the sixteenth century. See Schmidt, Der preussische Eisenkunstguss (1981), p. 155.

50.Many other articles were cast in iron: e.g., curling irons, thermometers, calling-card cases, small picture frames, sewing screws, pincushion holders, containers for needles and knitting tools, and yarn-holding stands, some of which are represented in the catalogue section of this publication.

51.Johannes Sievers’s research is invaluable in this regard. For a testimony to Schinkel’s creativity and an important reference resource including many pieces destroyed during the Second World War, see Sievers, Die Möbel (1950).

52.For specific examples, see note 27.

53.Adalbert Behr, “‘Griechenlands Blute’ und die ‘Fortsetzung der Geschichte’ Zur Kunsttheorie Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s,” in Gartner, Schinkel-Studien (1984), p. 17.

54.The chair is 30¼ inches (77 cm) high, 19 inches (48 cm) wide, and 17¾ inches (45 cm) deep.

55.During the war, it became virtually mandatory to wear iron jewelry; during times of peace, it continued as a fad throughout Europe. In Paris, on the rue St.-Martin, no. 118, there was a

jewelry shop whose principal stock was fonte de Berlin (Schmidt, Der preussische Eisenkunstguss [1981], p. 202).

56.Introduction to Vorbilder, vol. 2.