The archaeologist and painter Leo von Klenze (1784-1864) was born on February 29 as the third child of a nine-member family in Boklah, near the village of Schladen am Harz in Lower Saxony. At the age of 16 he began studying law in Berlin, which he interrupted and switched to architecture, possibly influenced by his acquaintance with the architect W. Gilly. As an architecture student he met art historian and classical archaeologist Aloys Hirt (1759-1837), who was a professor of archeology at the newly established University of Berlin and co-founder of the Berlin and Bauakademie museums. Hirt was the one who inspired his love for antiquity to young Klenze. Upon graduating from the Bauakademie, Klenze received the title of Architectural Supervisor (Kondukteur).

His first contact with antiquity takes place, as for most German Philhellenes, in Italy, which he visited during 1806 – 1807; more specifically the cities of Rome, Naples and Venice. He visited Italy two more times, accompanied by his patron, the Bavarian king Ludwig I. (1786 – 1868). In Paestum he discovers the Doric temples of Magna Grecia; like his ancestor, Winckelmann, almost 40 years earlier. He visits the ancient colonies in Akragas, Selinunda, Segesta, and captures, as a charismatic painter, his impressions in oil paintings, in an attempt to better study and understand the laws of analogy of the Doric temples. The Doric rhythm is ideal for Klenze and will be the object of his study over time.

“There was and there is only one architecture and there will be no other architecture than one; that is, the one that found its perfection in the great hour of Greek history and culture”.

After completing his studies, he worked in Kassel as the Architect of the court of King Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. During this period, some buildings are constructed based on Klenze’s designs. The ballroom at the Wilhelmshöhe castle (Schlosspark 1), intended to be used as Bonaparte’s courtyard theater, is his own creation; the Pavillon is his first building.

Klenzestrasse reminds of his presence in the city today. In Kassel he met his future wife, singer Felicitas Blangini, whom he married on August 28, 1813. The couple had two sons and three daughters.

The fall of Napoleon in late October of the same year leads the couple to Munich. They are accompanied by his wife’s brother, Felix Blangini, who has good connections with King Maximilian I and the Bavarian court. Klenze’s attempt to connect professionally with Prince Ludwig of Bavaria fails and he moves to Paris. A little later he managed to meet the Bavarian king, and finally to realize his ambitions.

1815 is a fatal year for Klenze. His perseverance, charismatic personality and diplomatic talent seem to have convinced Ludwig I; to such an extent that established him as the king’s architect of trust. In fact, Klenze overshadowed important personalities from the monarch’s close circle. Among them, the royal art adviser and painter, Martin von Wagner (1777 – 1858), the archaeologist and architect, Carl Haller von Hallerstein (1774 – 1817), and the architect, Friedrich von Gärtner (1791 – 1841). Fascinated by classical antiquity, Ludwig I had begun, since he was a prince, to expand the collection of his House. He assigns Klenze to act as an art expert and entrusts him with the task of searching works through auctions and various private collections. Knowing that it is impossible to compete with the museums of Rome, Paris and London, Ludwig aims exclusively at acquiring objects of exceptional quality, setting quantity aside.


The “Athens on the Isar” visionary

Ludwig’s artistic endeavors did not have his personal satisfaction as a sole purpose. Above all, he wanted to establish his monarchy through monumental buildings and art collections, taking as an example the tradition of 19th – century monarchs. He also wanted to keep close to him the educated and wealthy elites of the time. His aim was to turn Munich to a capital of European scale, and for this reason he entrusted Klenze with the work of its urban planning. Klenze’s performance will be recognized, and he will be promoted to the Royal Adviser for Architecture about a decade later.

Klenze is for Munich, what Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781 – 1841) is for Berlin. He is the architect and visionary of the “Athens on the Isar”, as Munich is still called today. Isar is the river’s name that flows through Munich; “Spree-Athen” is Berlin, where the Spree river flows. Although Klenze was, back in his days, considered to be more conservative as an architect than “poetic” Schinkel, and without the latter’s instinct for innovation, he seems to have been much more practical in the solutions he came up with.

The “new”, classic Munich came to life thanks to Klenze; it gained its distinction after the completion of the Sculpture Gallery in Munich (Glyptothek) and the exhibition of its collections, with the foundation of the Royal Building (Königsbau) and the old Gallery (Alte Pinakothek). The city gained a reputation as the most beautiful in Germany after the design and construction of Ludwigstraße. The buildings at Königsplatz and the Hall of Fame (Ruhmeshalle), are directly related to classical Greek architecture. The renewal of the city, by order of Ludwig I, took place in parallel with the revival of Greece, after its liberation from the Turkish yoke.

The parallel “renaissance” of Athens and Munich is related to the same monarch and the same architects, Klenze and his great rival, Gärtner, who created a special bond between the two capitals with their work. Klenze, along with Schinkel, is the most important propagandist of the image of ancient Athens in a German city, as he could conceive it based on his imagination and document it with his field and theoretical research.

For the famous Glyptothek (1816 -1830), Klenze envisioned a classicist “Gesamtkunstwerk”, without copying the originals; its facade with Ionic columns is based on ancient Greek temples, but the interiors with their vaulted ceilings, remind of thermal baths. He designed interior rooms as well, and selected the exhibits. Across the Glyptothek in Königsplatz, the collection of Greek pottery was housed in the then “Museum Antiker Kleinkunst”. Today, the collections of ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman artefacts in Munich are called “Staatliche Antikensammlungen” (State Collections of Antiquities). The building of the collection with the Corinthian columns façade was built by Georg Friedrich Ziebland (1800 – 1873) between 1838 – 1848. The buildings complex was completed with the construction of the Propylaea at the western end of the square, in honor of the struggle of the Greeks for independence. The Propylaea were created between 1840 and 1860, modeled on the classic gate of the Acropolis of Athens from the 5th century BC, following the Doric style on the outside and the Ionian style on the inside.


The Propylaea in Munich (for detailed information please see here).


Russian Emperor Nicholas I commissioned Klenze in 1838 to design a building for the New Hermitage, the public museum that housed the Romanov collection of antiquities, works of art, coins, books, etc.

The buildings on the Königsplatz provide the historical center of the city of Munich, which was expanded with the construction of the Alte and Neue Pinakothek (The Old and the New Art Gallery).

As King Ludwig’s architect, Klenze completed the following projects.

The Leuchtenberg Palace, on the main street Ludwigstraße (1817 – 1821), the Odeon (Munich Concert Hall) and the Biederstein Palace in Schwabing, Munich (1826 – 1828), the Monopter in the “English Garden” of the city (1832 – 1837). The Wallhala and the Pantheon in Regensburg, Bavaria (1830 – 1842) are impressive. In Wallhala, Klenze combined central European and Scandinavian mythology into a building modeled on the Parthenon. In addition to the above works, Klenze was commissioned to design the iconostasis in the Salvatorkirche in Munich, when, by decision of Ludwig I, the church was ceded to the Greek community of the city and converted from Catholic to Orthodox.


Leo von Klenze in Greece

During a mature phase of his professional career, when he had already proven his skills in the conception and implementation of emblematic architectural works in Munich and in Bavaria, Klenze takes on a special and important mandate from Ludwig I. Between July and November 1834, he was asked to go to Greece having a political and an artistic mission. His political mission was to recall regents Georg Ludwig Von Maurer (1790 – 1872) and Karl von Abel (1788 – 1859), between whom there was intense friction. His artistic mission was to supervise and settle issues related to the urban plan of the new capital, submitted by the architects Eduard Schaubert (1804 – 1860) and Stamatis Cleanthis (1802 – 1862).

In July 1834 he visited Corfu and designed the Doric temple in Kardaki. In Corinth he got impressed by the temple of Apollo. He visits Nafplio, Epidaurus, and continues his wandering in Poros and Aegina. In the temple of Aphaia he observes the traces of color in its parts which were already excavated in 1811. The issue of the colors of ancient temples concerned him. Thus, in his ideal depiction of ancient Athens colors appear on the buildings of the city (Ideale Ansicht der Stadt Athen in antiker Zeit, 1862). This idea, however, was neither popular nor dominant in his time; in fact he is the first classicist architect to propose colorful designs. Impressed by the Doric temples, which for him were the ideal, archetypal form of ancient Greek architecture, he praises the mental and aesthetic purity of the Greeks, which keep nothing secret to their recipient. In fact, he notes the following:

“The whole Greek temple, even its smallest part, has nothing hidden, enigmatic … we have the whole architectural alphabet at our disposal … if we write with it we will be able to create new and exceptional works”.


Idealized view of the Acropolis and the Areopagus in Ahens, 1846, oil on canvas, 102.8 x 147.7 cm.

Leo von Klenze: Ideal view of the city of Athens in ancient times, 1862, οil on canvas, 104.5 x 131.5 cm.


Klenze remains between August 14 and September 15, in Athens, which is not yet the capital of the new Greek state. King Othon (1815 – 1867) commissioned him to design the city based on classical standards and choose the location of the palace. As far as the second issue is concerned, Klenze disagreed with his colleague, Schinkel, who envisioned a building palace on Acropolis. Fortunately, Klenze found the idea unrealistic, among others due to climate and geology and rejected it. He also rejected proposals by Schinkel’s students, Cleanthes and Schaubert, to make Omonoia the center of the city and build a palace there.

Klenze envisioned a royal residence on the beautiful Hill of the Nymphs with sea view, safely distanced from the crowds of the city. The plan was considered expensive and was not implemented. Frictions developed between him, Cleanthes and Schaubert, both on the issue of the palace and on other interventions in the image of the city. Klenze wanted to give it the air of an Italian big city. He considered that the heavy architecture of Central Europe would not satisfy the Greek spirit, but rather harm it. He believes that the continuous construction mode suits better the character of a Mediterranean city and changes the city’s density and plan. Moreover, he disagreed with the position of Schaubert / Cleanthes for a construction mode based exclusively on single- and two-floor buildings in the city. The frictions arising from the reluctance of his colleagues to modify their plans, led to their removal from the public sector in November 1834.

Klenze is perhaps less known to Greeks, or maybe the subject of severe criticism, due to his opposition to Schaubert and Cleanthes. He is criticized for reducing the roads’ width, limiting the city plan, reducing the surface of ​​public spaces, etc.

Another reason for which he got criticized, is that due to his classical orientation he seems to have overlooked the value of the Byzantine –orthodox tradition. In several cases he did not hesitate to propose the demolition of churches, when standing in the way of his urban plans. The church of Kapnikarea on Ermou Street was saved by coincidence. Klenze probably did not pay due attention to Byzantine monuments, for reasons ideological and political as well. For him, Germans and Greeks shared a common historical origin as Indo-Germans / Indo-Europeans, they were distinguished by their physical beauty and their tendency towards the True / Great / Beautiful (“Entwicklung des Wahren – Großen – Schönen”). He did not recognize these tendencies in other peoples, for whom he believed that were unable to reach a higher anthropocentrism / anthropomorphism in their art because of their religious fixations. The theoretical background of his thinking, may allow us to better understand some of his urban proposals.

During his time in Greece, he came close to its people and developed sincere feelings of love and friendship for the Greeks. He even went so far as to openly criticize Bavaria. In the city of Athens there are quite obvious traces of his presence. The “Athenian trilogy of neoclassicism” was his inspiration; though these three emblematic buildings were eventually constructed in frontal arrangement, and not in a Π-shape, as he wished. The church of Agios Dionysios of the Catholics on Panepistimiou avenue was erected based on his designs, but with some interventions in his original plan (e.g. without the same bell tower as it was designed by him). Unfortunately, he did not manage to see a museum for the Acropolis, as he wished, or a “Pantechneion”, a museum that would also function as a school of Fine Arts, as he had suggested.


Leo von Klenze as an archaeologist

Leo von Klenze’s decisive contribution on the protection of antiquities in Greece is not widely known. Thanks to him, the law “on the discovery and preservation of antiquities and their use” was adopted in Nafplio, May 1834, which also covered Christian antiquities. The decision that archeological sites should be guarded is due to his initiative. He also started recording antiquities in the country, and proposed to start the restoration work on the Acropolis.

By decree of king Othon, the Acropolis hill was cleared by the presence of the army. Thanks to the interventions of Klenze and Ludwig Ross (1806 – 1859), it was ensured that the Acropolis would not be used as a military fortress again. According to Klenze, “this hill had to be liberated as soon as possible from the ugly and ruined buildings of the barbaric times” (“Dieser Berg sollte, […], sobald als möglich von den ruinierten und schlechten Bauwerken der barbarischen Zeit”). The cleaning and restoration works of the Acropolis, officially started on September 10, 1834, in a festive atmosphere with the participation of the people and Klenze’s presence. This work continued for many decades.

Klenze left Athens on September 15, 1834. He crossed Tiryns and Mycenae and visited the Lions’ Gate, Tegea, Mantineia, Megalopolis and Lycosura. He also visited Olympia. Actually, he produced oil paintings from the archaeological landscapes he visited in Greece (Kardaki, Corfu, Temple of Aphaia in Aegina, St. George Square in Nafplio, Tower of the Winds in Plaka, etc.), and completed some of them in Munich (e.g. Ideale Ansicht der Stadt Athen in antiker Zeit, 1862, the Acropolis of Athens and Areopagus, 1846). The lithographic reproduction of his works contributed to the dissemination of the image of Greece in Europe, as his other Philhellene colleagues had already done, such as Ferdinand Stademann, Karl Freiherr von Heideck, Carl Rottmann, Ludwig Lange, Peter von Hess and Joseph Petzl.

After completing his mission in Greece, Klenze did not want to come again as Othon’s permanent adviser, as Ludwig I suggested. However, he tried to continue the supervision of the restoration works on the Acropolis from Munich. He died in Munich in 1864, almost forgotten. Unlike his colleague Schinkel, who, although he died earlier than him in 1841, was mourned by lots of his students and admirers, Klenze left without such worship manifestations.

During his lifetime he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1852) and a year later the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Arts and Sciences (1853). In 1863 he was proclaimed honorary citizen of Munich for all his contribution. He was honored even after his death. Many streets bear his name (Klenzestraße) in the German cities of Munich, Kassel, Werries, Tutzing and Regensburg. His name was also given to the Klenze High School in Munich, the state vocational school in Ingolstadt (Staatliche Berufsschule II Ingolstadt) and the city park (Klenzepark). From 1996 onwards, the Bavarian Ministry of Interior awarded the “Leo von Klenze” medal for outstanding achievements in architecture and urban development.


Klenze’s grave in Munich


SHP and Greece honor the great architect who spread the classic line in architectural design in Europe, inspired by ancient Greece, and laid the foundations for the urban design of the modern city of Athens.


Sources and bibliography

  • Bernhard Schulz, Leo von Klenze: Der Baumeister eines griechischen Bayern, Der Tagesspiegel, 24.02.2001.
  • Frese, Peter, Ein griechischer Traum. Leo von Klenze. Der Archäologe, München, Staatliche Antikensammlung und Glyptothek 1985, München 1985 (κατάλογος έκθεσης).
  • Fuhrmeister, Christian, Jooss, Birgit (Hg.), Isar/Athen. Griechische Künstler in München- Deutsche Künstler in Griechenland. München 2008 (κατάλογος έκθεσης).
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  • Μπαδήμα-Φουντουλάκη, Μαρία, Σταμάτης Κλεάνθης: 1802-1862: αρχιτέκτων, επιχειρηματίας, οραματιστής, Δήμοι Αθηναίων και Βελβεντού, 2011.
  • Παπαγεωργίου-Βενετάς, Αλέξανδρος, Ένα όραμα του κλασικισμού. Καπόν, Αθήνα 2001.