The Palace of in Weimar, sometimes called the Residenzschloss ( “Palace Residence” or “Dukes Residence”) and sometimes the Stadtschloss (“City Palace”), was once the principal residence of the Ernestine line of the House of Wettin in their Thuringian territories, or to put it another way, was the seat of the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar. The palace’s construction underwent a turbulent history which can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. The tower of the medieval castle was preserved to record those origins, with a baroque spire added in 1728. The renaissance conversions by Conrad Krebs and Nikolaus Gromann are best illustrated by the former gatehouse, known as the “Bastille”. The building we can see today in Weimar, a four-wing complex not completed until the 20th century, was built by several architects. Among these architects, the palace principally owes its significance in art history to the structures contributed by Nicolaus Friedrich Thouret and Heinrich Gentz, including the stairs, the banqueting hall and the falcon gallery, some of the finest neo-classical interiors in Germany. Their origins are inextricably associated with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who maintained a productive exchange with the architects as Chairman of the Palace Building Committee after a fire destroyed the previous Palace in 1774.
The Gentz Stairwell -Germany’s Finest Example of Neo-Classicism
Visitors entered the palace through a grand stairwell that spread over three levels of the east wing. Heinrich Gentz completed the work begun by Johann August Arens, placing two rows of white Doric columns on the mezzanine (called the belétage). The iconography taken from Greek mythology in the stairwell and completed by Friedrich Tieck reflects Goethe’s ideal of the enlightened state: freedom of the arts, the protection of citizens, and universal prosperity. This stairwell was recently restored in 2007.
Visitors reached the ballroom after passing through an entryway and dining room. It was a hall of Ionic columns, and in architectural thinking of the period, it was seen as a more noble interior than the Doric stairwell, as was appropriate to its stately function as a great reception room. At Goethe’s instigation, the perimeter gallery revived the motif from the original palace’s Baroque hall destroyed by fire in 1774. The orchestra probably played from this gallery during balls. There are two life-size statues in the room: the twins Castor and Pollux, and Caunos and Byblis. Each of these is flanked by two statues of Muses done by Friedrich Tieck. The ceiling was designed by Nikolaus von Thouret but implemented by Gentz.
The Hall of Mirrors
One of the most striking interiors in the Weimar Palace is the hall of mirrors, flooded in daylight and with rich colorful decoration. The hall served as a withdrawing room to one side of the ballroom. The walls are decorated with delicate pilasters of grape vines and capitals of papyrus. Linking these capitals is a frieze depicting garlands of fruit and masks of satyrs and bacchae. This evening is a copy of a specimen of Roman stucco work dating from the second century A.D. which was discovered in 1785. The patterns in the ceiling are repeated on the inlaid parquet floor.