The Program of the Building's Decorations

The following describes solely the façade on Koenigsallee. The central risalit with its two upper storeys is bordered on both sides by massive pilasters with opulent composite capitals whose ram’s heads and garlands are oriented toward Roman funerary altars; putti stand crowded closely together on the capitals and bear the beams as telamons. On the beams is a frieze on which marine creatures and gorgon masks flank a central inscription:

TREU IN WORT / WAHR IN RAT / FRISCH IN TAT / GOTT SCHÜTZE DEN BAU
(faithful in word / true in counsel / fresh in deed / god protect this building).

Over the central risalit arches a mosaic-adorned round gable, broken in the middle by a window. Above the window, a team of four horses gallops to the left, toward the city; in the left half of the gable, Minerva and a woman with a (somewhat stunted) kithara; two naked men represent toreutics and heavy industry; in the right half are also two women (one with a scroll, the other with one bare breast) and two men (one a sculptor, the other a stonemason). Below the mosaic is a two-line inscription (the lower line is mostly hidden by a protruding cornice; it is visible only if one crosses the street and descends to the shore of Hertha Lake);

to the left: NIL SINE MAGNO VITA LABORE / DEDIT MORTALIBUS (Horace, Satires 1.9.59f.: Life gives nothing to mortals without great labor); CARPE DIEM (Horace, Odes 1.11.8: Seize the day); to the right, the upper line: ARCHITECTURA MATER ARTIUM (Architecture is the mother of all arts; of course this is not an ancient quotation: here the builder himself praises architecture); the lower line contains only two words, shifted to the right and thus clearly separated from the upper inscription; some letters are missing: SENTEN[TIAE] MI[LI]TIAE (Mottos for military service; this can hardly refer to the praise for architecture inscribed above it, but is probably to be understood as the title of the whole group of Latin quotations found on the building). The most conspicuous element on the whole central risalit is the high-relief frieze crowning the ground floor: in the middle, Jupiter sits on his throne in a frontal view before a celestial globe; in his right hand he holds a scepter, in his left a goddess of victory on a (smaller) globe. The Father of Gods is flanked by weapon-wielding centaurs and dancing musicians; the frieze continues around the corner and shows on each side a mounted warrior in levade (vaguely deriving from the Parthenon, western frieze slab VIII).

On the right wing of the building, a picture panel between the two windows shows a young armored warrior with shield and helmet; beside him is an archaistic Athena with a lance; in addition, there is the inscription: FAS EST ET AB HOSTE DOCERI (Ovid, Metamor-phoses 4.428: It is proper to learn even from an enemy). The outermost corner is decorated with three panels; below: Athena Promachos looking to the left; her shield shows an animal-combat group; at her feet is a rooster; above that: TU NE CEDE MALIS, SED CONTRA AUDENTIOS [sic! correct would be: audentior] ITO (Virgil, Aeneid 6.95: Yield not to evils, but proceed more boldly against them); in the middle: two armored warriors in front of a goddess in a peplos with a scepter; above this: PICTORIBUS ATQUE POETIS QUIDLIBET AUDENDI SEMPER FUIT AEQUA POTESTAS (Horace, Ars poetica 9f.: Artists and poets have always had the same power to dare all things conceivable); above: Apollo.

The pictorial program is dominated by manly prowess and divine promise of victory. The many inscriptions make a claim to classical education – with a clenched fist, so to speak. But little is left of the classical education apart from a confused, incoherent heap of familiar quotations mobilized as mottos for military service (“sententiae militiae”): one would like to know whether the corresponding inscription in the round gable foreshadows the imminent war or already assumes its outbreak.

Luca Giuliani