Ethos of Sanssouci
Frederick the Great
's sketch for the plan of Sanssouci was the prototype
for the palace (north is at the top). A single enfilade
of ten principal rooms forms the south-facing corps de logis
. To the north, two segmented colonnades
form a cour d'honneur
. Two flanking service wings (hidden from view, screened by trees and covered by climbing plants) provide the necessary but mundane domestic offices.
The location and layout of Sanssouci above a vineyard reflected the pre-Romantic ideal of harmony between man and nature, in a landscape ordered by human touch. Winemaking, however, was to take second place to the design of the palace and pleasure gardens. The hill on which Frederick created his terrace vineyard was to become the focal point of his demesne, crowned by the new, but small, palace—"mein Weinberghäuschen" ("my little vineyard house"), as Frederick called it. With its extensive views of the countryside in the midst of nature, Frederick wanted to reside there sans souci ("without a care") and to follow his personal and artistic interests. Hence, the palace was intended for the use of Frederick and his private guests—his sketch (illustration) indicated the balanced suites "pour les etrangers" and "pour le roy"— only during the summer months, from the end of April to the beginning of October.
Twenty years following his creation of Sanssouci, Frederick built the New Palace (Neues Palais) in the western part of the park. This far larger palace was in direct contrast to the relaxed ethos behind Sanssouci, and displayed Frederick's power and strength to the world, in the Baroque style. The design of the New Palace was intended to demonstrate that Prussia's capabilities were undiminished despite its near defeat in the Seven Years' War. Frederick made no secret of his intention, even referring to the new construction as his "fanfaronnade" ("showing off").
This concept of a grand palace designed to impress has led to the comparison of the palaces of Potsdam to Versailles, with Sanssouci being thrust into the role of one of the Trianons. This analogy, though easy to understand, ignores the original merits of the concept behind Sanssouci, the palace for which the whole park and setting were created. Unlike the Trianons, Sanssouci was not an afterthought to escape the larger palace, for the simple reason that the larger palace did not exist at the time of Sanssouci's conception; and once it did, Frederick almost never stayed in the New Palace except on rare occasions when entertaining diplomats he wished to impress. It is true, however, that Sanssouci was intended to be a private place of retreat rather than display of power, strength and architectural merit. Unlike the Trianons, Sanssouci was designed to be a whole unto itself.
The south facing garden façade. Frederick the Great
ignored his architect's advice to place the piano nobile
upon a low ground floor. As a result, the palace failed to take maximum advantage of its location. Its windows are devoid of views, and seen from its lower terraces
it appears to be more of an orangery
than a palace.
Sanssouci is small, with the principal block (or corps de logis) being a narrow single-storey enfilade of just ten rooms, including a service passage and staff rooms behind them. Frederick's amateur sketch of 1745 (illustrated above) demonstrates that his architect, Knobelsdorff, was more a draughtsman at Sanssouci than complete architect. Frederick appears to have accepted no suggestions for alteration to his plans, refusing Knobelsdorff's idea that the palace should have a semi-basement storey, which would not only have provided service areas closer at hand, but would have put the principal rooms on a raised piano nobile. This would have given the palace not only a more commanding presence, but also would have prevented the problems of dampness to which it has always been prone. However, Frederick wanted an intimate palace for living: for example, rather than scaling a large number of steps, he wanted to enter the palace immediately from the garden. He insisted on a building on the ground level, of which the pedestal was the hill: in short, this was to be a private pleasure house. His recurring theme and requirement was for a house with close connections between its style and free nature. The principal rooms, lit by tall slender windows, face south over the vineyard gardens; the north façade is the entrance front, where a semicircular cour d'honneur was created by two segmented Corinthian colonnades.
In the park, east of the palace, is the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, built from 1755 to 1764 under the supervision of the architect Johann Gottfried Büring. It stands on the site of a former greenhouse, where Frederick raised tropical fruit. The Picture Gallery is the oldest extant museum built for a ruler in Germany. Like the palace itself, it is a long, low building, dominated by a central domed bow of three bays.
Following the death of Frederick a new era began, a visible sign of which was the change in architectural styles. Neo-Classicism, popular elsewhere in Europe but ignored by Frederick, now found its way to Potsdam and Berlin during the reign of the new king Frederick William II. He ordered the construction of a new palace in the new more fashionable style, and stayed at Sanssouci only occasionally.
The reception and bedrooms were renovated and completely altered immediately after Frederick's death. Frederick William von Erdmannsdorff received the commission for the refurbishment. While Frederick had been constructing the New Palace in the Baroque style between 1763 and 1769, Erdmannsdorff, an advocate of the new neo-classical style, had created Schloss Wörlitz in Wörlitz Park, the first neo-classical palace in Germany. As a result of his influence, Sanssouci became the first of the palaces in Potsdam and Berlin to be remodelled with a neo-classical interior. In 1797, Frederick William II was succeeded by Frederick William III; he visited Sanssouci even less frequently than did his father, preferring to spend the summer months in Paretz Palace or on the Pfaueninsel in Berlin.