"One of the finest achievements of European furniture making, this cabinet is the most important product from Abraham (1711--1793) and David Roentgen's (1743--1807) workshop. A writing cabinet crowned with a chiming clock, it features finely designed marquetry panels and elaborate mechanisms that allow for doors and drawers to be opened automatically at the touch of a button. Owned by King Frederick William II, the Berlin cabinet is uniquely remarkable for its ornate decoration, mechanical complexity, and sheer size.
This cabinet is from Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibition Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens. http://www.metmuseum.org/en/exhibitions/listings/2012/roentgen
Footage courtesy of VideoART GmbH and Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.- http://www.youtube.com/
While we here in the newly-formed United States of America were struggling to feed the army and were making simply elegant but strictly functional wooden furniture, the heads of state over on the continent were still living the good life while most people were slowly starving. Frederick William went down in history as incapable of dealing with the political turmoil of the time, but nevertheless, a great friend of the arts. In the secretary cabinet above, we see that he clearly had a taste for flair in even something as theoretically simple as a desk. I'm sure his cabinet makers, the Roentgen brothers, appreciated his taste for the extravagantly exceptional, and the money it undoubtedly brought in.
His greatest contribution to the world of the arts, however, is one that you may be a little more familiar with. He commissioned the design and building of The Brandenburg Gate, which was completed in 1791. The Tor, as it is known in German, it a focal landmark of Berlin and has been an ironically glorious silent witness to many of the key moments in history: the rise of Nazism in Germany, the Cold War, and German re-unification. Intended by Frederick William as a monument to peace, it represented to many of the time the insensitivity of royalty to the plight of the masses while they, the royals, were enjoying the peak of their power.
|Napoleon passing through the Brandenburg Gate after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (1806).|
And while the Brandenburg Gate remains as a testament to the fragility of man's design for the world, the Roentgen's masterpiece in wood reminds us of the durability of man's creative genius.