Detail of the interior of the Sepulchral Chapel of the Grand Duchy in Karlsruhe

A return to past erasHistory of design

A chapel that appears medieval at the first glance, but isn't. How could that be? The answer is "historicism," a phenomenon of the 19th century. Styles of architecture and decoration from past centuries were imitated or combined.

View of the Sepulchral Chapel of the Grand Duchy in Karlsruhe

Built in the Gothic Revival style.

Quoting from architectural history

In the 19th century, interest in the ornamentation and architecture of the Middle Ages was common. Medieval churches were restored or expanded, and new buildings were designed in the style of the Middle Ages. After 1871, national pride and the glorification of the past grew. Buildings were made in the Gothic Revival style, and later in the styles of Renaissance Revival or Baroque Revival, and sometimes in an interesting mixture of all three! Grand Duke Friedrich I wanted early Gothic design elements for the exterior of the sepulchral chapel.

Idiosyncratic historicism

The combination of these elements of style in the chapel is idiosyncratic: the altar is based on models from the Italian Renaissance and the wooden vault has strange rustic elements, such as a kind of wagon wheel in each spandrel of the crossing. Strongly stylized plant ornamentation and the glass windows of the crypt hint at the approaching Art Nouveau style. However, Friedrich I selected the Tennenbach Monastery church from the 13th century as the pivotal model. It was taken down in 1834 and rebuilt in Freiburg.

The Sepulchral Chapel of the Grand Duchy in Karlsruhe, main entrance
Großherzogliche Grabkapelle Karlsruhe, Innenraum Kapelle
The Sepulchral Chapel of the Grand Duchy in Karlsruhe, detail of the interior

Both the exterior and the interior of the sepulchral chapel are built in the Gothic Revival style. There are many details to discover!

A desire for privacy

The fact that such a private, secluded building was constructed to house the graves of the family demonstrates that the desire for private mourning had grown stronger than the tradition of the family burial place at the end of the 19th century. The depiction of the deceased as recumbent figures also feels very intimate. In contrast to standing memorials in public space, this provided a feeling of being very close to the dead. The sculptor, Hermann Volz, created his most impressive works in his sculptures of Ludwig Wilhelm, Friedrich I, and Luise.

The Sepulchral Chapel of the Grand Duchy in Karlsruhe, funerary monuments of Grand Duke Friedrich I and his wife, Luise

The funerary monuments of Grand Duke Friedrich I and Grand Duchess Luise, created by the sculptor Hermann Volz.

Archetype: Classicism

For his funerary monuments, Volz used the cenotaph in the mausoleum of Charlottenburg Palace as his model. Christian Daniel Rauch (1777–1857) completed the sculpture of Queen Luise of Prussia there in 1814, a masterpiece of Classical sculpture. Her charming shape lies bedded on a pedestal, her head raised, the fabric resting in folds. While recumbent sculptures has existed since the Middle Ages, the depiction of the dead as being asleep was based on an idea from the Romantic period: Death was seen as an "eternal sleep."

In the funerary monuments, look at the depiction of the clothing and cloth with their various drapes and folds, all made of marble. The fabric on Luise's torso appears particularly thin and fine.

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