Beyond the Pale

Berlin Part II: Charlottenburg Continued…

As promised in yesterday’s post – Rococo a-gogo – today I shall continue wibbling on a bit about my recent visit to Berlin’s beautiful palace of Schloss Charlottenburg.

My Hardy Travelling Companions

My Hardy Travelling Companions

From the left, my darling be-ringleted fiance, his best friends – the mad & lovable Tucker, the irrepressible JJ, the suave Mark and his girlfriend Leah.

Behind them, a man on a large ‘orse. Actually, it’s one of Europe’s most important equestrian statues and was commissioned by Frederick III to honour his father, the “Great Elector” Frederick William of Brandenburg. Four slaves are chained to the base, and these represent the four humours, and also the enemies his father vanquished.

Below is representation of the meeting of three kings in Potsdam and Charlottenburg, 1709: Frederick I. in Prussia — August II. (the Strong), King of Poland and Elector of Saxony — Frederick IV. of Denmark. I love this painting because they look like quite perturbed, as though having been caught out having a little dance on a solemn occasion. Bless.

King's Meeting - Samuel Theodor Gericke, 1709

King's Meeting - Samuel Theodor Gericke, 1709

Read yesterday’s piece for more about the history of the place. Today I shall be concentrating on the hugely impressive collection of paintings to be found there. Some as part of the original furnishings and commissioned by the various royal inhabitants; others saved from historic buildings damaged or lost during the second world war, and now housed in Charlottenburg for safekeeping, and also because they so well complement their often painstakingly restored and sympathetic contemporary settings.

Gersaint's Shop Sign - Antoine Watteau, 1720.

Gersaint's Shop Sign - Antoine Watteau, 1720.

This is an interesting painting which you can read a much more in-depth history of here. Watteau died shortly after its completion, and it says much about the transitory nature of Art itself – how tastes change, how art styles and subjects go in and out of fashion.

The lady in the pale grey silk dress, leaning on the counter to the right of the picture, is examining a mirror – a very costly and showy piece at the time, and it is up to the viewer to decide if she is admiring the object itself or her own reflection.

The couple behind her are examining the large classical-style painting – the gentleman on his knees peering (leering?) very closely at the naked figures of the ladies in the painting, whilst the lady at his side inspects the putti higher up.

On the left we have a painting of Louis XIV being packed away in a crate – making way for the newer, more fashionable paintings gracing the walls. In this way, Watteau makes a wry commentary on the transitory nature of a nation’s love – or otherwise – for a King.

Detail of Gersiant's Shop Sign by Watteau

Detail of Gersiant's Shop Sign by Watteau

The picture was intended, and eventually used for, a shop sign (at one point being cut in half as the format was changed). Completed in just eight days, the artist claimed he painted it merely to “loosen up [his] fingers” but as we can see, it appears to be highly ironic and mocking view of the Paris Art scene following the death of Louis XIV. Rather more elaborate than your average shop sign, certainly!

It was acquired by Frederick II in 1745 and still hangs in his Concert Room today at Charlottenburg, in exactly the place he originally intended it should be hung.

Frederick II was much taken with the charm and grace of the world famous Italian dancer, Barbara Campanini, who was known as La Barbarina.

Portrait of Barbara Campanini - Antoine Pesne, C.1745

Portrait of Barbara Campanini - Antoine Pesne, C.1745

This particular painting was originally to be found in the King’s private study in the Berlin City Palace – one imagines he gazed at it quite longingly, as he persuaded her to join his court so he could see her dance whenever he so wished. She joined the King’s ensemble at the opera house on the Unter den Linden – still a wide and much-used avenue, today full of expensive shops, art houses and theatrical establishments.

Ms Campanini is pictured in the very epitome of the Rococo landscape – a fairytale park, surrounded by Art and holding a tambourine – all the elements a Rococo-loving King would want in a painting (along with a lovely lady, obviously!)

Her dress is quite exquisite, and of course would have been obscenely costly – she appears to be wearing leopard skin, too – incredibly exotic and another costly item. Flashing a bit of the ol’ well-turned ankle can’t have harmed the King’s liking for this portrait, either…

Queen Elizabeth Christine of Prussia - Antoine Pesne

Queen Elizabeth Christine of Prussia - Antoine Pesne C.1740

Having led a fairly carefree life before marriage, Queen Elizabeth Christine to endure public humiliation by the almost complete neglect of her husband, Frederick II [my GOD they really loved the name Fred, didn’t they? It gets quite bewildering on the audio tour, I can tell you!] He basically refused to have anything to do with her, and their marriage remained childless. Rumour had it that the King was homosexual (so Voltaire claimed, anyway).

Queen Christine was surrounded by eight incredibly beautiful Ladies in Waiting, who she had painted by the court artist, Pesne (who painted her portrait, above, and that of Barbara Campinini).

These painting were hung in a room known as The Gallery of Beauties, which today is the Blue Ante Room of Frederick the Great’s First Apartment. These paintings are undeniably sensuous and really hold the viewer’s eye. the sumptuous, rich fabrics shimmering with a luminescence that cannot be captured by viewing them online, or even reproduced in a book.

I could happily have spent all day in that room, just gazing at their costumes, the elaborate hairstyles and exquisite jewels displayed. These paintings show the Frederican Rococo ideal of Beauty as well as signaling to the world how astoundingly rich the ladies of the court were – and how much power the court itself wielded.

Sophia Maria, Countess of Voss - Antoine Pesne

Sophia Maria, Countess of Voss - Antoine Pesne

I really wish I could find a better image of this painting online – it’s quite large in real life and was my absolute favourite of the Beauties. Her costume is just stunning – she was depicted in a riding habit (her favourite pastime) just after the hunt has finished. She’s looking quite pleased with herself and is holding a gun – we can see the spoils of her day’s work laying behind her.

I love her jaunty hat and the nonchalant scarf around her neck. Also, that jacket, oh I could have just fainted clean away!

At the age of 15 she became a maid-of-honour to Queen Sophia Dorothea, the consort of Frederick William I. She remained her loyal companion, and until a very great age remained the chief Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Louisa, and even wrote a book of memoirs about her experiences, entitled 69 Years at the Prussian Court. Apparently it’s a very revealing document of the age. I’m sure she saw a few interesting things in her time!

Queen Louisa aged 26 - Josef Grassi, C.1802

Queen Louisa aged 26 - Josef Grassi, C.1802

Louisa is so incredibly sweet looking, here. She was renowned not only for her beauty and grace, but also for her complete commitment to Prussia’s rescue from Napoleon at Tislet in 1807. She adored Charlottenburg and in a letter to Tsar Alexander I, dated May21st 1806, she writes:

“I very much wish you could be here, my dear cousin, and could enjoy the magic of enchanting Charlottenburg, and judge it for yourself. My beloved balcony, which you unfortunately saw covered in snow and ice, is divine again, and I hereby invite you once more to take breakfast with me here. The tea will be excellent, and the eggs quite fresh. If that were possible, how happy I would be!”
Louisa grew very close to Countess Voss and relied on the (then) old lady very much for her knowledge of the slippery ways of court life. You can read a complete biography of Queen Louisa online, which is absolutely fascinating – particularly the relationship between the young queen and her old lady in waiting.
Louisa’s bedchamber was entirely enchanting (her second bedchamber – Napoleon reportedly slept in her bed whilst at the palace and she refused point blank to enter the room again) and one can imagine her enjoying it very much – it was very much simpler in style than most of the palace bedrooms, decorated with a pinkish mauve paper on the walls and transparent, shimmering silvery grey silk voile draped over the top of this in artfully draped swags.
This was part of the Romantic movement’s influence, and she wanted the room to represent “morning mist and the rosy-fingered dawn.” It really works, too – the interplay of the colours on the walls lends the room a soft, comforting and elegant air. Her bed is quite original and absolutely tiny! Annoyingly, again, I cannot find a picture of this anywhere online. Bah!
I don’t have time to do a full selection of themed goodies today, but could hardly leave you with nothing at all to drool over. Take a look at the very first thing [pinkie swear it’s true!] I found by typing “17th Century” into Etsy’s search box… Our very own sweet Louisa!
Patina of Stars Necklace, $64 by Sweet Ruin

Patina of Stars Necklace, $64 by Sweet Ruin

DO take a look at the other items in Sweet Ruin’s shop – it’s a gorgeous array of temptations if you love historic beauties and vintage themed adornments as much as I do.
Marie Through the Looking Glass Necklace, $62 by Sweet Ruin

Marie Through the Looking Glass Necklace, $62 by Sweet Ruin

I don’t often wear earrings nowadays, but these hand-beaded & embroidered Rococo Bloom earrings by Eclettica really make me want to start adorning my earlobes again! These would absolutely make an outfit, I think, and really capture the gilded excess of beauty so typical of the era we have mainly been exploring.
Rococo Bloom Earrings, $95 by Eclettica

Rococo Bloom Earrings, $95 by Eclettica

Until next time (and even Napoleon must wait for then, as I did promise to write about him astride his rearing horse, fopping around like nobody’s business) I wish you sweet dreams, dear-hearts.
Miss Nightingale

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