Renaissance of the virtues

5 min read

The sculptors are engaged in something of a Herculean task: For the Palace reconstruction, they have a huge number of sculptures and decorative features to model, cast and shape – over 3,000 of them, in fact. Statues of gods such as Hermes, Apollo and Jupiter are taking shape, but there are also eagles and lions, shells and ornate vases. Every individual feature has to be precisely researched and reconstructed; every detail must be correct. And if – as is the case with the giant statues of Faith, Love, Hope and Prayer – the originals have been lost, the task is made even more difficult for our sculptors and experts. After several months of intensive work, the figures are now completed and about to be installed in their original place, the Eosander Portal.


Although they are clothed in Baroque robes, these four sculptures are among the most recent figures created for the Berlin Palace. Palace architect Johann Friedrich Eosander von Göthe envisaged them decorating his monumental courtyard portal in 1708. But when Friedrich Wilhelm I, the ‘Soldier King’, had the Berlin Palace completed shortly after, he economised on the dome and the sculptures in order that ‘the monies otherwise destined thereto be employed in repayment of the nation’s debt’. It was not until the 19th century that the Eosander Portal was crowned with its dome and architectural ornamentation.


Four virtues for the Humboldt Forum

Created in 1886, the sculptures’ theme of the Christian virtues of Faith, Love and Hope references the ornamentation on the former Palace chapel below the dome. For the four pedestals on the courtyard portal, the allegories were augmented with a fourth: the statue of Prayer. Here, they represent one particular aspect in the building’s rich variety of imagery, which reflected the aspirations of each successive ruler in their theme and style. This goes a long way to explain why early and high Baroque sculptures from Schlüter’s workshop can be seen standing alongside late classicist and neo-Baroque figures on the Portals, as well as Christian sculptures keeping company in the same room with figures from antiquity.

Photographs were the only reference material available to the sculptors in their reconstruction of these 3-metre tall giant female figures; the original sandstone figures had been lost in the demolition of the Palace. This presented a tricky task to the artists needing to capture the three-dimensionality and exact shaping of the bodies. Are the proportions consistent? Does the cloth drape well? Is that cheek not too prominent?

A panel of experts was on hand to help: The sculptors had art historians, architects and restorers to advise them through each phase of the process, from the first maquette – a 1:6 or 1:3 scale clay model – through the silicone cast to the plaster model. Once this has been created, it is scanned and a 3-D computer simulation calculated. Only then does work in stone begin. There are robots to help with the sculpting: they shape the stone up to the final centimetre. Finally, the sculptors put their own signature on these massive figures, precisely carving out the fine details using the traditional pointing technique. After more than 70 years, wrapped in security straps and lifting belts, the figures are hoisted aloft by crane onto the column capitals above the Eosander Portal, once more taking up their rightful place.

The reconstruction of the four giant sculptures was made possible thanks to a generous donation from Dr Hubert Burda and his son Dr Jacob Burda. Their generosity has made a significant contribution to the reconstruction of the Palace’s historic façade.