Prussian architect, the greatest in Germany in the first half of C19. He was not only an architect of genius, but a civil servant, intellectual, painter, stage-designer, producer of panoramas, and gifted draughtsman. His output was prodigious, and his stylistically eclectic work was lyrical and logical. He designed many buildings that became paradigms of excellence in the period during which he served his country and King as Prussian State Architect, and he established standards that influenced generations of architects throughout Germany.
Friedrich Gilly's Graeco-Roman Egyptian design for a monument to King Friedrich II (the ‘Great’—reigned 1740–86), exhibited in Berlin in 1797, fuelled the young Schinkel's ambition to become an architect, and in 1798 he entered the studio and household of Gilly's father, David Gilly, enrolling at the Bauakademie (Building Academy or School of Architecture), where he received a rigorous training in practical matters as well as absorbing the theoretical bases of Classicism as expounded by Alois Hirt (1759–1834). Other teachers included Gentz and Langhans, and the ethos of the Bauakademie included much derived from the teachings of Blondel and the École Polytechnique in Paris, so the young Schinkel absorbed the elements of a rational approach to architecture from which Franco-Prussian Neo-Classicism evolved.
During his tour of Italy and France (1803–5) he studied vernacular and medieval architecture and was particularly interested in the structural principles of apartment-blocks in Naples and the Gothic vaults of Milan Cathedral. He was less enthusiastic about Antique remains than about their Picturesque qualities, and studied Romanesque and other structures as well as brick buildings (e.g. those in Bologna). On his return to Berlin he found lean times, and with the defeat of Prussia by the French in 1806 and the occupation of the capital there were no prospects of architectural commissions, so Schinkel occupied himself by producing panoramas and dioramas as well as numerous idealized landscapes and other pictures. These works made Schinkel well known, and attracted the attention of Queen Luise (1776–1810), recently returned (1809) from exile in Königsberg, who commissioned him to redecorate several palace-interiors in Berlin and Charlottenburg. In 1810 he was appointed to a post in the Department of Public Works (partly through the influence of (Karl) Wilhelm Freiherr von Humboldt (1767–1835)—Minister of Public Instruction and Education) with responsibility of assessing the aesthetic content of all buildings erected or owned by the State, and began his meteoric rise through the bureaucracy that would later enable him to create architecture to ennoble all human relationships and to express Prussia's aspirations. The death of the greatly loved Queen in 1810 focused patriotic sentiments, and Schinkel, with Gentz and King Friedrich Wilhelm III (1797–1840), designed the Queen's Greek Doric mausoleum at Charlottenburg. He also exhibited an alternative (and enchanting) Romantic Gothic design in which the supposed ‘natural’ origins of Gothic were alluded to in the palm-fronds on the ribs of the vaults, like a canopy of peace over the dead Queen, and at that time began to see Gothic as an embodiment of the Germanic soul. It was his synthesis of the Classical and Gothic that gave much of his later work an especial interest. In 1811 he designed the cast-iron Gothic memorial at Gransee on the spot where the Queen's coffin had rested on its way to Charlottenburg, a concept suggested by the medieval ‘Eleanor crosses’ in C13 England. A series of Sublime paintings followed in which were depicted vast Gothic cathedrals, bathed in light, comparable with aspects of work by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), whose paintings had been exhibited in Berlin in 1810.