KARL FRIEDRICH SCHINKEL, The drawings of Rome, 1803
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Santa Trinità ai Monti, Rome, 1803-1804

Shinkel (1781-1841) was both a great artist and a great architect, probably the most important of the nineteenth century, in Germany. He worked as a sketcher and painter before working as an architect. For a long time he drew theatre settings and landscapes, and these scenographic abilities can be perceived in many of his drawings.

He travelled to Rome to complete his studies when he was 22 and stayed there for two years. This is one of the drawings of that period.

The image we see at the background is the church of Santa Trinita ai Monti, right above the very famous Piazza di Spagna, and the characters could be painters, sculptors or architects of the Academy, because the action in the painting happens almost in front of the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome,. It is interesting to see how he uses colour in order to bring the foreground characters closer; he does the same with the shadows, the value of lines, leaving the background diffuse, so that the feeling of remoteness is increased. He actually mixes resources generally thought contradictory, were it not for his critical eye to combine them properly.

Schinkel was interested  in highlighting the drawings depth, often placing items on the foreground, apparently anecdotal but instrumental for the comprehension of such depth. The next image is a good example of this system,

Rome from an attic or the top of a building. Next, another example,

In both cases, the subject of the drawing is the city of Rome, its profile, the sequence of domes that create its unique landscape. As Bernini said in 1665, one can see St. Peter’s, the Capitoline Hill, the Farnese farther on, Monte Cavallo, the palace of San Marco, the Coliseum, the Cancilleria (Foreign Ministry), the palace of the Colonna and many other buildings scattered here and there, buildings that had grandeur and a sumptuous, magnificent semblance (Travel Journal of knight Bernini in France, pag. 81). The motive of the foreground remains outside this sequence, but it emphasizes the remoteness of the landscape. Besides, in the second case there are two characters that enable the introduction of literary, interpretable content. One of the characters contemplates the city, just as we can do and does so without expression, motionless, paralyzed by the sight.

The resource in the latter drawing is a motif characteristic of Lieven Cruyl (1640-1720), a famous Belgian engraver who worked in Rome between 1664 and 1670. Seeing his engravings, it seems hard to believe that he had not influenced Schinkel,


Some drawings Schinkel made for the engravings, obviously shown in reverse position, still exist. As the following pictures of the church of San Ignacio, the Chiesa Nuova (New Church) and the Oratory of San Filippo Neri, which was the square of the Trevi Fountain, and a view of the Bridge and Sant'Angelo Castle, with St. Peter’s at the background. In all cases, as apparently unimportant element of the foreground, some characters working. This shows that drawings can be constructed from other drawings’ experience, maintaining their individuality, however. Schinkel was already a great artist before going to Rome, and that is possibly why he was able to see the interest of this simple compositional resource by Lieven Cruyl.

Perhaps owing to the theatrical character of his early works, Schinkel used to place items on the foreground, to increase the sense of distance. It so happens with the coloured characters shown in the first drawing, as well as with others made later.

The following is a perspective of the National Opera Theatre, the Schauspielhaus, of Berlin, 1821.

This apparently unnecessary foreground only marks the boundaries of the square in front of the theatre.

Schinkel also used this resource in one of his settings, such as the Temple of the Sun, for The Magic Flute, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in 1815,
Or for the staging of the Marketplace, for the Undine opera, by Ernest Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, in 1816,



Recommended bibliography:
- Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Berlin und Postdam, West Berlín, Bauten und Entwürfe, 1980
- John Zukowsky, Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The Drama of Architecture, Tübingen, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994

© by Francisco Martínez Mindeguía’s texts
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía is Profesor Agregado at the Superior Technical Architecture School of Vallès (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura del Vallès), UPC.

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