Just a few miles outside of Bamberg, in southern Germany, on the edge of the village of Memmelsdorf, stands Seehof Palace, easily visible with its four monumental domed towers, one of the three summer residences of the prince bishops of Würzberg and Bamberg.
Sometimes the Palace is called Schloss Merquardsburg after the builder (see below), but it is much more commonly referred to as Schloss Seehof. The “See” in “See-hof” (i.e.”Sea-Court”) refers to the one hundred acres of lakes to one side of the palace. The palace was originally a hunting and fishing lodge, even if on a somewhat grand scale. Today the lakes are rented out to a local private firm that raises fish in them using intensive aquaculture.
The palace was built by Prince Bishop Marquard Sebastian Schenk von Stauffenberg, who ruled Bamberg from 1683 to 1693, starting in 1687 according to plans made by Antonio Petrini, as a summer palace and hunting lodge. (This is why the palace is sometimes called Schloss Marquardtsburg, using the first name of the Prince Bishop who built it). Already at the time that it was built it was of a someoutdated style with its closed floor plan of four wings and the four corner towers. Visitors can still find an indication of the palace’s use as a hunting lodge in the paintings made by Carl Ruthart that hang in the large stairwell, and show hunting dogs attacking stags and bears.
The next two Prince Bishops to rule Bamberg, Lothar Franz von Schönborn (who ruled from 1693 to 1729 and built the New Residence Palace in Bamberg) and his nephew Friedrich Karl von Schönborn (who ruled from 1729 to 1746), added the callous gardens along with the Orangeries, guard houses and walls.
Seehof Castle Bamberg in WinterUnder Prince Bishop Johann Philipp Anton von Franckenstein (who ruled from 1746 to 1753), several rooms were modernized to suit contemporary tastes. One was the principal room, the White Hall. It was gently refurbished with white polished gray stucco walls and delicate new ornamental groups reminiscent of porcelain painting. The royal court artist from Mainz, Giuseppe Appiani (also known as Johann Ignaz Appiani), was appointed in 1751 to paint the ceiling. His complicated rendition of gods, with references to the hunt, the garden, fishing and other economic pursuits at Seehof, is a balanced composition packed with activity between night and dawn. The powerful hues of the ceiling harmonized beautifully with the white and blue walls. Thanks to mirrors over the fireplaces and by the inner windows, the room stretches optically into infinity. Its artistic design makes it not only the most elaborate room in Schloss Seehof, but also one of the most original late rococo interiors in Franconia.
Von Franckenstein also gave much attentions to the gardens surrounding the palace. He appointed Friedrich Tietz, to the post of Court Sculptor for the embellishment of these gardens. Von Franckenstein also undertook the construction of a pavilion on the east end of the Orangeries (greenhouses) that would later become known as the Frankenstein Pavilion, and a gardener’s house on the west end of the orangeries. The pavilion, also called the Franckenstein Schlösschen, or “little palace”, was intended to contain a small apartment for the prince bishop. The gardener’s house was built in 1752, and probably gives us a good idea of the Franckenstein pavilion’s architecture. In May 1753 the well-known architect Balthasar Neumann proposed some changes in the design of the pavilion, and construction probably started later that year. We do not know for certain what the pavilion looked like because it was demolished between 1867 in 1870. Nor did von Franckenstein get to see his project realized – he died in the autumn of 1753.
His successor, Franz Conrad from Stadion, was already seventy-four years old at the time of his election to the bishopric and seems not to have had any interest in the decoration of the castle and its gardens or in the completion of the Franckenstein Pavilion. In 1757 the situation changed dramatically, when Adam Friedrich von Seinsheim, the prince bishop of Würzburg, was elected prince bishop of Bamberg.
Seehof Palace’s golden age occurred under von Seinsheim (ruled 1757- 1779), one of the most powerful prince bishops of southern Germany. Seinsheim divided his time between his two official residences in Würzberg and Bamberg, and his three country estates and Vietshöchheim, Werneck, and Seehof. Preferring the country to the city, von Seinsheim used the palace the most, spending about three months a year at Seehof. At first he used it a quiet retreat, where he could enjoy the hunting and walking.
A true garden enthusiast, it was under von Seinsheim that the gardens of Seehof were embellished, and they must have resembled the Rococo gardens completed by von Seinsheim at Veitshöchheim which still exist. He added a maze, a theater, a cascade fountain with grotto, and countless trelliswork arcades, as well an extensive network of water pipes for fountains. Now in addition to hunting and walking , von Seinsheim and his guests
Seehof Palace Bamberg Lion Ocat of ArmsFriedrich Tietz was still court sculptor and Tietz’ workshop fashioned approximately four hundred life-size or greater than life-size statues which were used to ornamented the formal gardens surrounding the palace. For the most part been lost to us today, there are only twenty that remain at the palace, the originals have been put in the orangery, where there is the Friedrich Tietz Museum, and casts have replaced them outside. Two of Tietz’s figures representing the spirits of the river Main and Regnitz flank the cascade fountain in the garden that was built in 1761. Above them is Hercules crowned by fame, in triumph against his enemies who lie at his feet. Hercules represented the Prince Bishop Seinsheim, who his initials and coat of arms are held by lions on both sides of the Cascades. Since 1995 the fountains of been repaired and once again give “performances”. The fountain “plays” on the hour every hour. Water builds up and starts to flow out of the amphora held by the river gods, it is squirted out by the strange faces, builds in strength,, and once he Cascades are filled to giant arches of water shoot over Hercules.
The golden age of Seehof Palace came to an end with von Seinsheim’s death. His successor Prince Bishop Franz Ludwig von Erthal (who ruled from 1779 – 1795) almost immediately upon his assumption of power removed roughly half the statues from the gardens and had them stored away. Erthal, who was the first “enlightened” Prince Bishop of Bamberg, preferred to spend his money setting up hospitals and funding social projects instead of enriching the pump and glory of the ecclesiastical court.
The ecclesiastical state of Bamberg was secularized in 1802 and the ownership of the palace transferred to the aristocratic family of the Wittelsbachs. In 1842 they sold at to a Prussian General of the Husars (“Husarenoberst”) named Von Zandt. But Von Zandt’s heirs had great difficulty in maintaining the palace and grounds. They undertook various efforts such as turning parts of the gardens to agricultural uses, but this was not as financially rewarding as hoped, and soon the buildings began to fall into disrepair. After the tragic death by drowning of the last Baron von Zandt in one of the ponds at the palace in 1951, the Baron’s widow married the Baron von Hessberg in 1956, and together they started to sell off the palaces inventory bit by bit. This continued until 1975 when new legislation and sources of funding allowed the state of the Bavaria to buy the palace. The state has turned the palace to some degree in two offices for some departments of it is State Department on Monday the preservation, and namely the Department of Archeology, Department of Stonework Preservation, Department of Textile Preservation. The state has done much to bring back this inventory that was sold off if not the originals than at least copies that they can put on display. Rooms have been restored and since 1993 cores have been offered.
Touring Seehof Palace
Beside the palace chapel, and the Freidrich Tietz museum in the Orangery, nine viewing rooms of the apartment of the Prince Bishops are open to visitors. Prince Bishop Seinsheim hung floral patterned chintz wallpaper in almost all of the rooms, in order to bring the light and airy atmosphere of the gardens inside. The bright rooms represent the summery counterpart to the heavy splendor of the New Residence Palace in Bamberg. Von Seinsheim’s love for gardens and garden imagery also carried over into the interior decoration and furnishings of his castles, as the Seehof furniture, described below, demonstrates.
During the tour, one proceeds from the stairwell with the original stucco ceiling from the time of the palaces construction designed by Johann Jakob Vogel into the Honor Guard Room (Gaardesaal). This is the room where the Prince Bishop’s personal honor guard stored when they received guests of high status. At the same time starting in the 1700’s the room was used as a painting gallery. Today large paintings with scenes from the Old Testament and Greek mythology hanging in the room.
When you enter the neighboring ballroom, the White Hall, the “Weissen Saal”, with its porcelain like shimmering walls and a ceiling painting in pastel colors, you can really feel yourself sent back into the world of rococo splendor. The painting above is filled with images of the classical gods, all of whom are tied in some way to the palace. There is the God of the Sea, Neptune (the palace is named after all See-hof i.e. Sea-Court), the Goddess of the Hunt Diana, along with the Shepherd God Pan, the Goddess of Flowers Flora, the Goddess of Grains and Fertility Ceres, and wine God Bacchus. In this sense of the ceiling is the childlike cupid Amor, who seems to be aiming at every visit to with his arrow, no matter where you stand in a hall.
Several small independent apartments stood ready to receive high-ranking visitors or their representatives to the palace. One of these has been re-created and can be seen today. It is divided into a parlor with several game tables and a bedroom with a reproduction bed and a chair next to it which held a chamber pot and after use the chair could be pushed into the wall. On the other side of the wall as the servants chamber where the chamber pot could be emptied and cleaned.
Seehof Furniture Palace BambergOn the opposite side of the White Hall from the guest apartment is where you can enter the apartment of the Prince Bishop. Used as an audience room, it was referred to as the “Green Trellis Chamber” in the 1774 Seehof inventory, and painted entirely with trompe l’oeil trellises and foliage. The garden room’s furniture, known as the Seehof furniture, was made to match: the backs of the chairs and settees are richly carved in the form of garden trellis-work with colored flowers and foliage. Today in the room, visitors finds the only original floor from the time that the palace was built, and one of the Seehof furniture ensemble’s tables with carved vines and flowers. This is original to the palace, but was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, along with all the other pieces of the Seehof furniture. It is now on permanent loan from that museum, where the other pieces are on display.
The audience room has a really unusual appearance thanks to the spinach green color of the wallpaper and the very detailed cube patterned parquet floor, both from Prince Bishop Seinheim’s time. This wallpaper is called the “Peking Wallpaper” and it was lost during the sale of the palace inventory that took place in the 1960’s. All that remained was the upholstery of the chairs which had originally been designed to match the wallpaper. So these were the starting point from which, around 1992, four restaurators from the University of Beijing, re-created the wallpaper over the course of one year. In the Prince Bishops apartments almost all of the areas above the doors are decorated with pictures of game animals of the hunt, and visitors are constantly put in mind that this palace was a hunting lodge.
Next was the prince bishop’s private office, his so called Writing Cabinet or “Schreibkabinett”. There is a secret door which a tour guide might open for you and behind it, it’s a large piece of the original chintz wallpaper from the 1700’s, that has survived overlooked from that time.
Bed Seehof Castle Bamberg GermanyThen there is the small oratoriumroom with an organ and liturgical items, through which one passes to into the bedroom of the Prince Bishop with its reproduction royal levee bed, hard to overlook in its green color and with the peacock and ostrich feathers. In this room are the only two original frames above the door, once again showing animals related to the hunt (you can see the head of a hunting dog in the middle), that have survived. From this room there is a incredible of view over the cascades and ponds. The axis of the paths is lined up directly with the Prince Bishops bedroom, because in the baroque era, the palace was a bricks and mortar representation of the power of the state, and in the middle of the state stood the absolutist ruler, in this case the Prince Bishop.