Katharina Bechler. Schloss Oranienbaum: Architektur und Kunstpolitik der Oranierinnen in der zweiten HÖÂ¤lfte des 17. Jahrhunderts. Saale: mdv Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2002. 248 pp. EUR 26.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-89812-097-5.
Astrid Wehser. Anna Wilhelmine von Anhalt und ihr Schloss in Mosigkau: Idee und Gestaltung eines Gesamtkunstwerks. Kiel: Ludwig, 2002. 336 pp. EUR 24.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-933598-45-5.
Reviewed by Almut Spalding (Department of Modern Languages and Program of Gender and Women's Studies, Illinois College)
Published on H-German (October, 2005)
To Represent a Dynasty When Princely Heirs Are Scarce: Castles of the Princesses of Orange
Together, these two books explore the castle complexes that four succeeding generations of princesses of the house of Orange built in the seventeenth to mid-eighteenth centuries, among them Oranienburg near Berlin, Oranienbaum near Dessau, Oranienstein near Limburg/Lahn, and Mosigkau, also near Dessau. Wörlitz, another castle and park complex in the same tradition and also near Dessau, developed in the late eighteenth century by a male scion of the family, is considerably larger and in 2000 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The two present studies show, however, how the women in the family transmitted the interest in architecture and landscaping, and how their castles provided models when subsequent generations of the family embarked on building projects of their own. Therefore Bechler's and Wehser's books add important new perspectives to areas where either female builders have received very little attention or their projects have been subsumed under the work of male relatives. At the heart of these princesses' building activity, Bechler argues convincingly, stood a political program, namely to proclaim the strength, prosperity, and bright future of the house of Orange precisely when the dearth of adult male heirs threatened the survival of the dynasty. While Wehser does not articulate such reflections, her study also fits well into this context.
Bechler and Wehser both approach their investigation as art historians and closely examine castle buildings and grounds, taking into account the role of the princesses who commissioned the various projects (Bauherrinnen). Their books focus on castles located about twenty kilometers apart in the former Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau, Oranienbaum and Mosigkau, built by grandmother and granddaughter, respectively. Both studies apparently evolved in connection with recent efforts to preserve and restore surviving seventeenth- and eighteenth-century castles following decades of neglect in the former GDR. Both books are thoroughly researched and include numerous illustrations of buildings, rooms, grounds, sculptures, design plans, maps, and paintings, especially portraits. Both books also reprint in the appendix transcriptions of relevant unpublished primary material, such as original building contracts with masons and carpenters, or literary references to a castle by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century contemporaries. Bechler and Wehser must have researched in the Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz and Landesarchiv Dessau nearly at the same time. They even acknowledge some of the same individuals for their assistance. Despite these parallels, however, their studies differ considerably in scope and style, which is why they will be discussed separately below.
Bechler does a superb job of contextualizing Oranienbaum--the castle, the grounds, the town--in the "big picture" of early modern Europe. First, this book really explains the far-reaching branches of the house of Orange in confessionally torn Europe, the family's Reformed affiliation, and their ambitious marriage politics. Secondly, the careful analysis of Oranienbaum's architectural features and artwork also takes into account added] other family castles located in modern-day France, Holland, England, and Germany.
Very briefly, by 1625, the dynasty hinged on Friedrich Heinrich (1584-1647), Prince of Orange, and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels (1602-1675), residing in The Hague. Their only son, Wilhelm II (1626-1650), died within three years of Friedrich Heinrich, leaving a son, Wilhelm III (1650-1702), born shortly after his father's death. During these years without a reigning Prince of Orange, Dowager Princess Amalia transformed her small castle outside The Hague (today's Huis ten Bosch) into a full-fledged dowager's residence, then known as Sael van Orange. Of all the family's castles, especially this one served as model when Amalia's four daughters embarked on their own construction projects in Reformed territories where they were married. All four daughters chose a name for their castle that linked them not to the families of their husbands, but to their own, the house of Orange. Louise Henriette (1627-1667), married to the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg (1620-1688), built Oranienburg. Albertine Agnes (1634-1696), married to Wilhelm Friedrich (1613-1664), the Prince of Nassau-Dietz and Governor of Friesland and Groningen, built Oranjewoud (near Heerenveen, no longer extant) and Oranienstein. Henriette Catharina (1637-1708), married to Johann Georg II of Anhalt-Dessau (1627-1693), built Oranienbaum. Maria (1642-1688), married to Ludwig Heinrich Moritz (1640-1674), Count Palatine of Simmern, built Oranienhof (near Bad Kreuznach, no longer extant). In the third generation, Henriette Catharina's daughter, Henriette Amalie of Anhalt-Dessau (1666-1726), as a widow expanded Oranienstein, the castle of her aunt and mother-in-law. (She had been married to her cousin, aunt Albertine Agnes's son, Heinrich Kasimir II (1657-1696), Prince of Nassau-Dietz and Governor of Friesland, and it was their son who inherited the title Prince of Orange and continued the line.) The castles named here, and others of the family, serve to compare and contrast Oranienbaum with regard to its history, architectural style, and political program expressed through art.
A word of assurance to the reader, in case these genealogies sound indigestible: Three pages of a family tree in the appendix provide a very helpful reference guide through the complex dynasty (all the way to today's Queen Beatrix). Even the above named castles are listed there with the respective princesses. These charts also visualize the precariousness of the survival of the house of Orange, given the numerous daughters but far fewer sons with descendants.
The castles were typically begun as a country seat, consisting only of the main building and detached, symmetrically placed utility pavilions (Wirtschaftsgebäude,which included the main kitchen). Side wings were added to the main building only during a second phase years later, when the princesses expanded their estate to a representative dowager's residence. This holds true also for Oranienbaum, where the side wings had long been assumed to be part of the original construction. In one case (Oranienburg), the expansion from a simple main building to a three-winged castle occurred when Louise Henriette's son, Friedrich III (1657-1713), upgraded his mother's country seat in anticipation of becoming the next Prince of Orange. (The title went to his cousin, but the investment was not in vain. The castle served as fitting backdrop for some of the festivities in connection with Friedrich's self-styled coronation as Friedrich I, King of Prussia.)
The princesses' castles' simple and modest exterior in the tradition of Dutch Classicism betrays sumptuous interiors and a lifestyle dependent on imports. Silk tapestry with Chinese motifs, gold-plated leather tapestry, tiled kitchens, displays of porcelain and fayence, ceilings of Italianate stucco, fireplaces of French design, and extraordinary collections of paintings by Dutch masters projected the families' international connections, wealth (sometimes more on display than real), and fashionable latest taste. In that vein, the four sisters were also first among German rulers to maintain precious collections of exotic plants, especially orange trees, emblematic for their family, hence the large winter storage houses with south-facing glass panels (Orangerien) on castle grounds.
Despite the loss of many relevant records during WW II, Bechler was able to reconstruct the function of most of the rooms of Oranienbaum during Henriette Catharina's lifetime. This included the standard five-room apartments of Henriette Catharina and her husband the on main building's ground floor, in vogue with the emerging fashion of access to gardens from main bedrooms, and in the side wings, the representative reception/audience room and picture gallery, respectively. Here is a detail from more recent history: In 1949, the eighteenth-century tapestry, with Chinese motifs, was removed from the big room on the second floor of the main building. Portions of the tapestry were later installed in Mosigkau, and the replacement in Oranienbaum was "a contemporary textile wall covering in the style of the 70s" (p. 66). So much for castle renovations in "real-existing" socialism.
One secret to Bechler's success in painting the big picture of Oranienbaum, of course, lies in her attention to detail and her close analysis of artwork, from architectural features to paintings to "simply" the use of color. For instance, the book traces the emblematic use of the orange tree in tapestry, stucco, heraldry, portrait paintings, on fireplace screens, window shutters, coins. A bronze sculpture of an orange tree in the main square of the town of Oranienbaum may be Henriette Catharina's most public assertion of her dynasty's fruitful well-being. Bechler's study also presents well the tension between, on the one hand, the use of modest, soft, (supposedly) feminine architectural elements like ionic columns (as opposed to doric columns), and on the other, the "picture propaganda" in the tradition of the "femme forte" (p. 128) displayed in many of the paintings of the family's famous art collection.
The title and plain cover of Bechler's book promise a solid study written for specialists. What one finds between the covers is far more. The book is very readable (Latin and Italian quotes are translated, French is assumed), accessible to a wide audience (particular architectural terms are explained), fills an important gap in scholarship, and more than once points to areas and questions that deserve further investigation. Appropriately, the color of the series where this study appears is--orange.
Wehser's study on Mosigkau concerns the summer residence built by the fourth generation of princesses in the dynasty of Orange, Anna Wilhelmine of Anhalt-Dessau (1715-1780), granddaughter of the above named Henriette Catharina who built Oranienbaum. Anna Wilhelmine's father was Leopold I (1676-1747), ninth and last of Henriette Catharina's children. One can imagine his mother's chagrin when this only surviving son and long awaited heir to the line of Anhalt-Dessau married a commoner, Anna Luise Föhse (1677-1745). As so many times in the family before, the precariousness of the dynastic line became obvious. Leopold's choice for a wife directly affected the marriageability of the couple's future children, and hence cast a shadow over the family long into the future. Anna Luise Föhse was later ennobled for the sake of the couple's nine children, six of whom never married. While Anna Wilhelmine could not receive the female traditions of the house of Orange from her mother, she did through her aunt, Marie Eleonore (1671-1756), Duchess of Radzivil. Widowed young, the latter lived in her brother Leopold's household and apparently represented a strong female model for Anna Wilhelmine. All of this history had implications for Mosigkau.
In many ways, Mosigkau looks like a smaller version of Oranienbaum, the "family resemblance" is definitely noticeable even to untrained eyes. The situation differs from Oranienbaum, however, because very detailed records survive, reaching back to the very beginning of Mosigkau. Secondly, both castle and grounds are very well preserved, with few changes since Anna Wilhelmine's life, since the estate functioned until 1945 as a retirement home for unmarried noble women (Hochadeliges Fräuleinstift), as Anna Wilhelmine willed. These preconditions defined the starting point for Wehser's thorough examination of Mosigkau's castle and grounds. Ultimately, though, Wehser's study contrasts with Bechler's not because Mosigkau's castle, grounds, and records are better preserved, but because the author asks different questions.
While the title of the book gives prominence to Anna Wilhelmine, the author's main goal is to identify Mosigkau's architect, or at least to locate the circle where the castle's design originated (p. 15). True to this goal, after a twenty-page overview of the historical and social context of Anna Wilhelmine's life, the study presents a thorough account of the construction phase and a minute description of every imaginable aspect of the building and surrounding gardens. Taking into account the designs and work of possible architects and artists, the author narrows the field of potential architects of Mosigkau. "Maybe" this was the official architect of the princesses' own territory, Christian Friedrich Damm (1721-1757), but his definitive identification remains elusive (p. 299).
This study makes a valuable contribution by providing a descriptive record for Mosigkau of extraordinary thoroughness. Nothing comparable had existed previously. It is now possible to follow the individual contractors who built Mosigkau and when they worked on or completed which task--from stonemasons who delivered crushed stone for the foundation and laid brick walls, to carpenters promising to furnish high quality window frames, to blacksmiths providing hinges and nails, all the way to the ever present gardener who, as the resident groundskeeper, certified the deliveries of all building material. The study shows how directly involved the princess was in the process, like a general building contractor, writing due dates and quality specifications into the contracts with subcontractors, and watching that these conditions were met. Since the names of the individuals are known, this study brings to light the long-range relationship between the princess and various craftsmen over decades, often reaching into another generation. Thanks to its completeness concerning the contractors involved in the construction, the study could serve as a reference work. Regrettably, the lack of an index makes this difficult.
Two surviving eighteenth-century inventories provide insight into the furnishings and functions of different rooms and buildings and allow reconstructing the original design of the gardens. Perhaps most fascinating about Mosigkau for this reviewer is the fact that the main castle building represented space essentially reserved for women. While the ground floor with its big reception room/gallery and the audience suite would also be open to men during the day, the apartments were restricted to women only: the princess, the female chamberlain (Hofmeisterin, the highest ranking woman at the court after the princess, responsible for the daily management of the castle) and the lady-in-waiting (Hofdame), all with their respective personal servants. Additional female servants slept in the attic. (All male employees of the court had their sleeping quarters in the detached utility pavilions.) Among other things, Mosigkau's detailed inventories show that the noble women's personal servants shared their "bedroom," namely the Garderobe (comparable to a walk-in closet), with their mistresses' fancy potty chair, covered with green velvet or red satin. Wehser never articulates the implications of such mundane details. In her conscious effort to maintain a critical distance to her object of study, the author consistently emphasizes description over analysis, leaving interpretations to the reader.
In this context, several questions immediately come to this reviewer's mind. How did these female-only living arrangements work with married women? After all, Anna Wilhelmine's two ladies-in-waiting joined the court before they were married, and remained in the princesses' services until the end of their life, throughout their marriage and widowhood. Did they have any children, and if so, were they ever brought to Mosigkau? If any of Anna Wilhelmine's brothers or her nephew came to visit Mosigkau, were they then relegated to sleep in the men's quarters outside the main building? But that's another study.
Getting back to the castle itself: Wehser's study points out the recurring motif of a palm tree on door posts, walls, ceiling stucco, paintings, the octagonal tea house in the garden (which, incidentally, was clearly modeled after the tea house in Oranienbaum). Surely Wehser was aware of the use of the orange tree in Oranienbaum. One wonders why Anna Wilhelmine made emblematic use of the palm tree and not the orange tree. The tentative explanation of the palm tree as a Christian symbol of peace appears unsatisfactory (p. 133). Would the emblem of an orange tree--symbolizing fertility--perhaps have been inappropriate in the castle of a never-married princess without offspring? How much does her use of the palm tree, the emblem of the learned society, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft, express Anna Wilhelmine's desire or need to distinguish herself from a strong female family tradition, even as she clearly followed in the same footsteps?
Anna Wilhelmine became the heir of the majority of her family's notable collection of paintings, many of them stemming from the collection of the princesses' great-grandmother, Amalia von Solms-Braunfels, and more recently her aunt, Marie Eleonore of Radzivil. There is no question now that "picture propaganda" was as relevant to Anna Wilhelmine as to her female relatives. Wehser's study makes clear that paintings were an integral part of most of the rooms in Mosigkau, though a reader rarely learns what a particular painting, for instance above a door, actually depicted. Wehser provides a very interesting history of provenance for a series of portraits of English female courtiers (pp. 165-166) that Anna Wilhelmine displayed in the "brown cabinet," the room on the ground floor where she conducted her most official, judicial functions. Regrettably, there isn't a word on who these ladies were, nor any speculation why Anna Wilhelmine chose to display them in the "brown cabinet." It would be fascinating to know where she displayed portraits of her family, specifically the women, and where not. One wonders, too, what it means that Anna Wilhelmine owned (and perhaps commissioned) two portraits of her close friend and lady-in-waiting, Eleonore Bernhardine von Printzen (1723-1765), and that she displayed one of them in the "brown cabinet."
Once again, this study never intended to pursue such questions. But after reading Bechler's book, one might ask them. After all, the timing of Anna Wilhelmine's construction of Mosigkau fits exactly the pattern that Bechler observed for the castles of Anna Wilhelmine's female forebears. With the death of Anna Wilhelmine's only brother who had offspring, Leopold II Maximilian (1700-1751), the survival of the house of Anhalt-Dessau hinged on one nephew, Leopold III Friedrich Franz (1740-1817), who was then a minor. Wehser herself notes that for decades, beside her very elderly aunt Radizvil, Anna Wilhelmine was the only female and the highest-ranking woman at the court in Anhalt-Dessau (p. 33). Even if she did not write about political matters in her letters, a princess who could maintain good relations to both Saxony and Prussia as they were heading toward war in the 1750s could not be "mostly indifferent" toward politics, as Wehser suggests (p. 41). The question is, rather, how she expressed her interest in political and dynastic issues. Arguing in Bechler's vein, it makes perfect sense to see in Anna Wilhelmine's Mosigkau a display of the promising, well-to-do, and on top of that, learned and enlightened house of Anhalt-Dessau precisely at the time when both the family and the territory needed that reassurance. That late-eighteenth-century travelogues pass over Mosigkau in silence does not necessarily indicate the obscurity of an "entirely private castle" (p. 14), but probably reflects the changing standards of female propriety, which narrowed considerably toward 1800. The princess very possibly fell into disfavor with later generations that regarded her as unfeminine, precisely because constructing her own summer residence was a rather assertive, public undertaking that was less acceptable after Anna Wilhelmine's lifetime than before. What worked for a seventeenth-century noble woman, especially the wife or widow of a ruler, was an entirely different matter late in the eighteenth century, especially for a non-ruling princess of Anna Wilhelmine's pedigree.
With its focus on the identification of the architect of Mosigkau, this book addresses a specialized readership with significant prior knowledge of architectural history and technical vocabulary. Long, dense sentences, often stretching across eight lines, and paragraphs up to a page and a half in length further affect the accessibility of the study. Bound to stimulate further scholarship, the book has certainly fulfilled its original mission. Special commendations are in order for the very attractive graphic layout in general and the high quality of the illustrations in particular.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Almut Spalding. Review of Bechler, Katharina, Schloss Oranienbaum: Architektur und Kunstpolitik der Oranierinnen in der zweiten HÖÂ¤lfte des 17. Jahrhunderts and
Wehser, Astrid, Anna Wilhelmine von Anhalt und ihr Schloss in Mosigkau: Idee und Gestaltung eines Gesamtkunstwerks.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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