By 1964/65 Charlottenburg Palace had been largely reconstructed: in terms of its exterior it had been taken back very close to its eighteenth-century state, while various conservational approaches had been followed in the case of the interiors and gardens. At this point the reconstruction of many of the rooms was at an advanced stage or had already been completed. From 1965 thoughts turned to whether the ceiling painting in the White Hall of the New Wing should be reconstructed or reinterpreted in a modern idiom.
In the wake of the extensive destruction during the Second World War the question of how to deal with lost ceiling paintings was also being explored in countless other palaces and churches in Germany. The starting position varied widely: in some cases there were extant colour reproductions of the lost art works, in others only black-and-white photographs. This led to debates on the feasibility of reconstructing monumental paintings or replacing them with contemporary works of art. No uniform approach can be identified – decisions were informed by a wealth of individual factors.
In the case of the White Hall at Charlottenburg measures initially concentrated on the reconstruction of the walls and doors. In contrast to the ornamental ceiling decoration of the Golden Gallery, the lost ceiling painting by Antoine Pesne presented a special challenge, and for the time being the decision was deferred.
How it all began
The reconstruction of the palace to 1965
The discussions concerning the ceiling painting and the artists to be commissioned began in 1965 as the restoration of the fabric of the White Hall was coming to an end. By this time the reconstruction of the palace as a whole was at an advanced stage. The diagram shows the various stages of the reconstruction or recreation of the museum spaces and their being opened, a process that was very largely completed in the 1960s.
Grundriss Schloss Charlottenburgs mit den Phasen der Fertigstellung während des WiederaufbausCharlottenburg Palace
Examples of destroyed ceiling paintings and the solutions arrived at in other buildings
A wide variety of approaches were taken with regard to lost ceiling paintings in Germany. Some were reconstructed on the basis of colour reproductions, as for example in Bruchsal, others from black-and-white photographs with approximations to the original colours used, as at Mannheim. In other cases lost ceilings were recreated in a new style, as in Schwetzingen, or executed in a contemporary idiom, as in Saarbrücken. Examples from Paris include striking new creations.
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Salle Henri II, ceiling painting by Georges Braque, 1952–1953
This link will take you to an image of the painting.
In 1952 Georges Braque painted over the three brown-toned panels in the coffered wooden ceiling dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth century in the Salle Henri II at the Louvre. His paintings show a view of the dark blue night sky with stars, a crescent moon and five black birds outlined in white.
Schwetzingen, Sommerresidenz, Schlosstheater, Zuschauerraum, Deckengemälde, „Apoll und die neun Musen“ (1937) by Franz SchillingCharlottenburg Palace
Schwetzingen, Summer Residence, palace theatre, auditorium, ceiling painting by Franz Schilling, Apollo and the Nine Muses, 1937,
It is not known how the ceiling in the auditorium of the theatre was originally painted, as the canvas has been lost. When the palace theatre was renovated in 1937 Franz Schilling therefore executed a completely new ceiling painting showing Apollo and the Muses – and a swastika.
Schwetzingen, Sommerresidenz, Schlosstheater, Zuschauerraum, Deckengemälde, „Apoll und die Musen“ (1957) by Carolus VockeCharlottenburg Palace
Schwetzingen, Summer Residence, palace theatre, auditorium, ceiling painting by Carolus Vocke, Apollo and the Muses, 1957
The new ceiling painting in the auditorium executed from 1957 by Carolus Vocke replaced the ceiling painting painted only a short while before in 1937, which had not been destroyed in the war. The subject was once again Apollo and the Muses, but the darker, more vibrant colours in strong contrasts considerably altered the overall impression of the room. In the meantime, this painting has also been removed on grounds of conservation. Today the ceiling is white.
Mannheim, Kurfürstliches Residenzschloss, Haupttreppenhaus, Ausschnitt aus dem Deckengemälde von Cosmas Damian Asam, „Urteil des Paris“, (1730)Charlottenburg Palace
Mannheim, Palace, main staircase, ceiling painting by Carolus Vocke after Cosmas Damian Asam, Judgement of Paris, 1958–1959, state in 2018
In 1958–59 Carolus Vocke reconstructed the ceiling painting by Cosmas Damian Asam above the main staircase of the Mannheim Electoral Residence that had been destroyed in the Second World War. This included the central painting showing the Judgement of Paris dating from 1730. There were no extant colour reproductions of the ceiling, only ‘imperfect’ black-and-white photographs.
Mannheim, Kurfürstliches Residenzschloss, Rittersaal, Deckengemälde, „Festmahl der olympischen Götter bei der Hochzeit des Peleus und der Thetis“, (1960-1961) by Carolus Vocke nach Cosmas Damian AsamCharlottenburg Palace
Mannheim, Palace, main staircase, detail from the ceiling painting by Cosmas Damian Asam, Judgement of Paris, 1730, state before 1945
The photograph shows a detail of the ceiling painting prior to its destruction. In the absence of colour photographs Vocke had to base his reconstruction of the painting on this and similar images, recreating the overall impression of the coloration from other paintings by Asam. At Charlottenburg, where there was a similar body of extant source material, the decision was taken against reconstructing the original.
Mannheim, Kurfürstliches Residenzschloss, Haupttreppenhaus, Deckengemälde von Carolus Vocke nach Cosmas Damian Asam, „Urteil des Paris“ (1958-1959)Charlottenburg Palace
Mannheim, Palace, Knights’ Hall, ceiling painting by Carolus Vocke after Cosmas Damian Asam, Banquet of the Olympian Gods at the Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, 1960–1961, state in 2018
After the staircase Vocke created a free copy of the destroyed ceiling painting in the Knights’ Hall – incidentally on the same subject as that of the White Hall in Charlottenburg – completing work in March 1961. His task was especially difficult in that he had only black-and-white photographs at his disposal and the coving had been lowered during reconstruction, with the result that he had to shorten all the figures. A report on the Mannheim paintings commissioned in 1967 by Schloss Bruchsal from the Berlin conservationist Kurt Seeleke was critical in its assessment.
Bruchsal, Neues Schloss, Treppenhaus, Deckengemälde von Johannes Zick, Darstellungen zur Geschichte des Bistums Speyer (1752)Charlottenburg Palace
Bruchsal, New Palace, staircase, ceiling painting by Johannes Zick, History of the Bishopric of Speyer, 1752, state in 1943/1945
Lost during the war, the ceiling fresco by Johannes Zick adorned the vault spanning Balthasar Neumann’s famous staircase. Above painted trompe l’oeil architecture the view opens up into a sky full of clouds featuring personifications of the fame of the Bishopric of Speyer under Prince-Bishop von Hutten.
Bruchsal, Neues Schloss, Treppenhaus, Deckengemälde von Karl Manninger nach Johannes Zick, Geschichte des Bistums Speyer (1965-1967)Charlottenburg Palace
Bruchsal, New Palace, staircase, ceiling painting by Karl Manninger after Johannes Zick, History of the Bishopric of Speyer, 1965–1967, state in 2002
Following a competition in which sample work was submitted, the commission to reconstruct the destroyed ceiling fresco by Zick was given to Karl Manninger. With the existence of colour photographs of details and the painting as a whole, the source material was astonishingly good; however, the execution in true fresco technique (painting on wet plaster) in the oval cupola proved difficult.
Schärding, Stift Engelszell, Langhaus, Deckengemälde von Fritz Fröhlich, „Maria inmitten der Chöre der Engel“ (1954-1957)Charlottenburg Palace
Schärding (Upper Austria), Engelszell Abbey, nave, ceiling painting by Fritz Fröhlich, The Virgin Surrounded by Choirs of Angels, 1954–1957, state in 1992
The ceiling painting in the nave of the Baroque church of Engelszell Abbey had to be taken down in 1838 owing to damage to the vaulting. The subject of the painting is no longer known. During restoration work in the 1950s Fritz Fröhlich created a new ceiling fresco of approximately 400 m2 representing The Virgin Surrounded by Choirs of Angels.
München, Bürgersaalkirche, Oberkirche, Deckengemälde von Hermann Kasper, „Himmelfahrt Mariens“ (1973)Charlottenburg Palace
Munich, Bürgersaalkirche, upper church, ceiling painting by Hermann Kasper, Assumption, 1973, state in 2021
After the almost total destruction of the Bürgersaalkirche in Munich during the Second World War the fabric and interior were reconstructed, with work being completed by 1959. However, it was decided to refrain from replicating the monumental ceiling painting created in 1774 following modifications to the interior. Instead the church’s very first ceiling – recorded in a drawing from 1720 – with stucco work and two ceiling panels was reconstructed in 1959, though it was not until 1971 that Hermann Kasper completed the reconstruction with two frescoes in a 1970s interpretation of Baroque style.
Saarbrücken, Schloss, Mittelpavillon des Corps de logis (1987-1988) by Gottfried BöhmCharlottenburg Palace
Saarbrücken, Palace, central pavilion of the corps de logis, Gottfried Böhm, 1987–1988, Christof Kiefer / Regionalverband Saarbrücken
A contemporary solution was chosen for the destroyed Baroque central pavilion of the corps de logis of the palace at Saarbrücken when the building was renovated in the 1980s – one of only a small number of examples in Germany. The modern skeleton structure in steel and glass occupies the cubature of the lost central pavilion.
Saarbrücken, Schloss, Festsaal, Deckengemälde von Gottfried Böhm (1982-1989)Charlottenburg Palace
Saarbrücken, Palace, Ceremonial Hall, ceiling painting by Gottfried Böhm, 1982–1989, Thomas Salzmann/ Regionalverband Saarbrücken
For the Ceremonial Hall of the modern interpretation of the central glass and steel pavilion Böhm designed a postmodern interior with glass surfaces and mirrored walls inspired by Baroque halls of mirrors. Spanning the ceiling is an illusionistic painting, presumably intended to evoke the construction of open roof timbering.
The White Hall and its reconstruction
The White Hall in the New Wing of Charlottenburg Palace is the main focus of this online exhibition. Comparison with photographs of its pre-war state reveal the extent of its destruction during the Second World War and the degree to which the responsible authorities took their lead from the original appearance of the hall in the subsequent reconstruction. The walls and their fixtures were reconstructed to their pre-war state, while a new floor was laid in imitation of eighteenth-century style. The ornamental painting on the coving (the concave section between the cornice and the ceiling painting proper) was also restored on eighteenth-century models. However, in the case of the ceiling decoration a contemporary solution was under discussion from an early stage.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal (vor 1943)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, state before 1943
Shortly after his coronation Frederick II commissioned the architect Knobelsdorff to design the New Wing at Charlottenburg in place of a never-realized orangery. Alongside apartments for himself and his wife it also contained the Golden Gallery as a ballroom and the White Hall, inaugurated in 1742 as a large banqueting hall.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal, Deckengemälde von Antoine Pesne (westliche Hälfte), „Hochzeit des Peleus und der Thetis“ (1742)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, ceiling painting by Antoine Pesne (eastern half), Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, 1742, state before 1943
From 1961 curator and from 1983 to 1995 deputy director of the administration of the State Palaces and Gardens in Berlin.
Click here for the transcription of the original sound.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal, Deckengemälde von Antoine Pesne (östliche Hälfte), „Hochzeit des Peleus und der Thetis“ (1742)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, ceiling painting by Antoine Pesne (western half), Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, 1742, state before 1943
The central oval ceiling painting by Pesne was surrounded by painted shells at the corners and four large medallions with figural scenes at the middle of each side, together with swags of flowers and exuberant Rococo motifs. Despite their appearance, these elements were not sculptural but purely painted decoration. The two pre-war photographs were the only known reproductions of the ceiling painting and thus the only point of departure for a reconstruction.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Blick vom Treppenhaus in den Weißen Saal und die Goldene Galerie nach der Zerstörung (1952)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, view from the staircase into the White Hall and the Golden Gallery after the destruction, state in November 1952
During an air raid on Berlin in November 1943 Charlottenburg Palace suffered extensive destruction. Apart from a small number of rooms the New Wing was gutted by fire, with only its external walls left standing. The roof, ceilings and floors were completely destroyed. Just a few portions of the wall fixtures were preserved.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal, Westwand (nach 1943)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, west wall, state after 1943
The view of one of the transverse walls in the White Hall shows the extent of the destruction. The ceiling with Pesne’s fresco has been completely gutted, as has the roof timbering. The pilasters and entablature of marble-stucco are badly damaged, while the mirrors and doors have been destroyed without trace. The photograph brings home the starting point for the immense efforts and expense required to reconstruct the interiors of the palace.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal (um 1955)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, state in c. 1955
Around ten years after the palace had been destroyed reconstruction was in full swing. Work on the ceilings, floors and roof had been completed but the new windows had not yet been installed. The photograph gives a clear view of the new vaulting filled in with brickwork. For reasons of cost the vaulting was constructed to be shallower than the original.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal (1943)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, state in 1965
Twenty years after the palace was destroyed its reconstruction had advanced to the point where after insertion of the new wooden windows work was able to start on the reconstruction of the walls, pilasters and entablature in marble-stucco. This was executed to the highest standards of traditional craftsmanship.
Helmut Börsch-Supan im Weißen Saal von Schloss Charlottenburg (Juni 2020)Charlottenburg Palace
From 1961 curator and from 1983 to 1995 deputy director of the administration of the State Palaces and Gardens in Berlin.
Click here for the transcription of the original sound.
Aus den Trümmern geborgenes Fragment des Frieses im Weißen Saal von Schloss Charlottenburg (um 1742)Charlottenburg Palace
A fragment of the frieze from the White Hall of Charlottenburg Palace salvaged from the rubble, state in 2021
The ornamental Rococo stucco frieze running around the walls was successfully reconstructed using an original fragment of five metres in length as the basis for a mould. For this it was stabilized on a wooden support. The discoloration was caused by the conflagration in the White Hall and the shellac used as a release agent.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal, westliche Querwand (vor 1943)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, western traverse wall, state before 1943
This pre-war photograph shows the frieze on the entablature between the pilasters and the ceiling painting. Since the ornamental pattern repeated, it was possible to reconstruct the complete frieze from this one fragment.
Stuckfragmente der nordwestlichen Tür im Weißen Saal von Schloss Charlottenburg (um 1742)Charlottenburg Palace
Stucco fragments from the northwest door in the White Hall of Charlottenburg Palace, state in 2021
Fragments like these soot-blackened pieces aided the reconstruction of the four elaborately carved doors in the White Hall. Since the majority of the ornaments had been lost, the woodcarvers had to rely heavily on extant photographs of the doors.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal, nordwestliche Tür (vor 1943)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, northwest door, state before 1943
In this detail from the reconstructed wing of a door we re-encounter the fragments of putti from the preceding image. Comparison of these two images shows both the difficulty and the huge achievement in restoring the carvings.
Entwurf zum Deckengemälde des Weißen Saals im Neuen Flügel von Schloss Charlottenburg (1947) by Heinrich Graf LucknerCharlottenburg Palace
Heinrich von Luckner, design for the ceiling painting of the White Hall in the New Wing of Charlottenburg Palace, inscribed 1947 on the back, but presumably dating from 1957, paper, gouache, 119 x 200 cm
A proposal to commission a contemporary work of art for the ceiling was first made at a meeting in the White Hall in 1957. The idea received a positive reception, resulting in the presentation of a design made by Heinrich von Luckner on his own initiative. While the design was not realized it can be seen as the foundation stone of the discussion on a modern solution for the White Hall ceiling.
Herbert Sommerfeld assistiert von Gunnar Voigt bei der Anfertigung eines Bilderrahmens (1965)Charlottenburg Palace
Herbert Sommerfeld assisted by Gunnar Voigt in making a picture frame, April 1965
Born in the Neukölln borough of Berlin in 1904, Sommerfeld worked as a restorer at the palace from the end of the war to the 1970s. In addition to the ornamental framing on the ceiling of the White Hall he painted several cloudy skies as replacements for ceiling paintings that had been lost during the war, such as that over the staircase in the Old Palace or the Chinese Gallery.
Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, Neuer Flügel, Weißer Saal, nordöstliche Ecke mit der rekonstruierten Voutenmalerei von Sommerfeld (1967)Charlottenburg Palace
Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace, New Wing, White Hall, north-east corner with the reconstructed painting on the coving by Sommerfeld, state in November 1967
In the White Hall Sommerfeld reconstructed the ornamental painting on the coving by Friedrich Wilhelm Höder on the basis of extant black-and-white photographs, completing this task by 1969. He left the four cartouches free, as by this time two artists had been commissioned to supply sample designs for these and for the central ceiling painting.
The White Hall in focus
Project management: Samuel Wittwer
Concept and realisation: Jule Sophie Christ
Assistance: Florian Dölle
Text: Florian Dölle
Translation: Sophie Kidd and John Nicholson, Vienna