Das Flötenkonzert, an oil painting by Adolf Menzel, shows King Frederick the Great, the most famous Prussian ruler, playing the flute in his summer castle, called Sans Souci. It hangs in the Alte Nationalgalerie, or Old National Gallery, which is, to me, the heart of Berlin. You walk down a hallway and straight into the painting, which is very atmospheric—realistic, like a movie still. Every time I see it, I’m deeply touched: I hear the music, smell the women’s perfume, feel the candlelight in the room.
This is a painting of a castle and a king—it is not a demonstration of power, but an illustration of culture. King Frederick thought of himself as a philosopher. He was friends with Voltaire, who also spent time at Sans Souci. In the painting, the man at the harpsichord is C.P.E. Bach, son of J. S. Bach, who worked for King Frederick for 28 years.
In 1745, King Frederick himself did the original drawings for the castle, which was constructed in Potsdam, near Berlin. He stayed there all the time. The castle is very feminine, playful, Rococo—so different from the architecture that came later. Rococo is my favorite period. That this was built in Germany is, for me, so nice. When I look at Das Flötenkonzert, I am transported to that time, that castle, that way of life."
Angelika Taschen edits Taschen’s new Hotels & More series.