The Landscape Guide

Baroque Gardens in Germany

Herrenhausen Wilhelmshöhe Schleissheim Nymphenburg Karlsruhe Ludwigsburg Brühl Schönborn Marquardsburg Favorite Gaibach Pommersfelden Brüchsal Waghäusel Würzburg Veitshochheim

This first attempt at Herrenhausen to imitate the French style was carried out too stiffly, too academically. Fortunately the artistic interest of German princes was so many-sided, and their love of building so extreme, that the danger of a rigid style was averted. And in the North France did not reign alone. Close by, at Kassel, about the time when Herrenhausen’s buildings were nearly finished, the young Landgrave Charles came back from his travels in Italy with a project which, though never completely carried out, fills the present generation with wonder and admiration for the force of will that speaks therefrom: this is the plan for Wilhelmshöhe on the Weissenstein near Kassel. On his return home Charles summoned as architect a Roman named Guernieri, and he made the great cascades that overtop the park. French influence is absent here; everything that theorists and the example of Versailles strictly enjoined had now gone to the winds. The landgrave was so full of the impressions formed in Italy that he allowed Guernieri to work entirely according to his native traditions, and thus on a northern soil there arose for the first time a work in which walled architecture in conjunction with water played the leading part.

If Guernieri’s plan had been completely carried out, there would have arisen a work which for size, grandeur and completeness would have been almost unequalled in the whole of Europe (Fig. 451). 

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The predecessors of Charles had erected a hunting-seat in the place where there now stands on a hill the castle of Wilhelmshöhe, built at the end of the eighteenth century; and above this towered the steep Habichtsberg. According to the plan of Charles and Guernieri, the whole of the great wooded hill was to be converted into an enormous terrace site, and the main lines, dominating all else, were to be formed by a great series of cascades. But only the upper part was actually carried out (Fig, 452). 

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This the Italian pictured in a great copper engraving in 1706, just as in earlier days Salomon de Caus had pictured the castle garden of Heidelberg. The top of it, a summer- house, which was to serve as a huge reservoir and also for a fountain, was begun first. It was an octagonal building of three stories, whose two lower floors were to look as though they were growing out of the rock, and were to contain alcoves and statues: one story was a little behind the other, and the uppermost was an airy hall, protected on the top by a balustrade which ran round the flat roof. On this roof stood a pyramid thirty metres in height, on the top of which was the colossal figure of the Farnese Hercules made of copper. The reclining hero looks down upon the third terrace below, where a giant’s head is squirting out a jet of water more than twelve metres high. Between these two there is a terrace with a grotto of the god Pan and all sorts of water-plays and devices. The main stream descends to the terrace of the giant's head, and glides down on either side over grotto-work. From here it makes another plunge in the form of a cascade 250 metres in length and 11.5 in breadth, falling over steps, which are interrupted by steep broad landings. Lastly it falls in one tremendous plunge over the grotto of Neptune with the figure of the god, so that anybody inside the grotto looks out under the stream of water, which finishes in a large basin.

This is the only part of Guernieri’s plan that came to completion, and it was about a third of the intended length. The cascade was to have gone all the way down to the castle in two more great descents. At the foot of the first of these there was to have been a large round water-parterre with a fountain pavilion in the centre, and the second drop was to end in a great semicircular theatre on a terrace, cutting the whole park transversely in one broad strip and also adorned with various other fountains, The castle at the bottom of the third cascade was designed in a style purely Italian with giardini secreti behind it, and in front there were semicircular steps leading out of an open Florentine pillared hall to a fine ornamental parterre.

The park itself, except for the terraces, was only to be interrupted by straight avenues; but during the course of the eighteen years of preparation this plan was greatly altered and enlarged. The fact is that the landgrave could not entirely divorce himself from the influence of France. After 1715 he had eight fine views made by a painter of Haarlem, Johannes von Nichole, of the Weissenstein and the Karlsberg, as they were then called; and these preserve the plans intended to be carried out at that period. According to them, there were to be certain wide terraces furnished with parterres, fountains, and little waterfalls below the cascade round a great castle somewhat like Versailles, so that the Italian cascade would only cut into the park like a side-scene a long way back. But of all these great plans not one was ever completed. The death of Charles in 1730 interrupted the work; arid when his successors turned their attention to his proposed plans, the English style had become so influential that the cascade dominated a greatly altered park as a self-contained independent thing (Fig. 453). 

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The idea of a battle of giants was essential to it; and as the conqueror Hercules in a reclining attitude looks down upon his enemy, who rears up with no strength left, so does this great place gaze upon the many small new developments that are scattered about the park, owing their existence to a sentimental time and to various phases of architecture. Wilhelmshöhe, which derived its name from Prince Wilhelm, who built the castle now existing, stands alone, not merely because it is large and self-contained, but because it provides a visible and tangible proof of what Italian genius could create in a German garden, even at so late a date.