Masters of Mobility


5.4 Architects and Building Entrepreneurs

The central figure behind the projects in Berlin, Oranienburg and Potsdam was architect Johann Gregor Memhardt (1607-1678). Born in Austria, he came to the Dutch Republic as a child of refugees. Circumstantial evidence hints that he was probably educated in Leiden, and in the year 1638 - the same year Friedrich Wilhelm concluded his time in the Low Countries - Memhardt came to Brandenburg, as an engineer and fortification engineer.1 Memhardt made drawings of Dutch watermills, studied pump systems driven by horses and tested instruments for fortress building. A while he was responsible for the fortifications in East Prussian harbour city of Pillau and in the middle of the 1640s he stayed for a longer time in Kleve and made plans to reinforce Kalkar.2 In 1650 he was called to Berlin, again around the same time the Great Elector and his wife decided to move there. A year later he led the construction of Oranienburg. Memhardt was assigned as a court architect, supervised the extension of the Berlin quarter Friedrichswerder and designed its streets and parcels.3

In practical matters, many of Memhardt’s designs were turned into reality by entrepreneur and organiser Michiel Matthijsz. Smids (1626-1692) from Rotterdam [11].4 Probably in 1652 Smids had come to Berlin as a ship builder to stay in Brandenburg until his death in 1692. He would not only gather fortunes in building projects, wood trade and industry, but he was also responsible for the practical execution of most of Friedrich Wilhelm’s building projects, like Oranienburg and its surrounding buildings, church and houses.5 A few years later, in 1665, Louise Henriette founded an orphanage in Oranienburg, the first in Brandenburg.6 Already in 1660 Smids had sent Louise Henriette a design and a tender for the orphanage. It was a modest brick building with colossal pilasters and festoons [12].

An important project in improving Brandenburg’s infrastructure was the digging of the Oder-Spree canal. Plans for the connection of the rivers Oder and Spree dated back to the 14th century, but it was under Friedrich Wilhelm, that these plans were realised.7 In 1662, Michiel Matthijsz. Smids was commissioned to dig a canal of 20 metres wide, which took hundreds of diggers and carpenters until 1667 to finish it. Engineer Joachim Ernst Blesendorf did the technical planning and Michiel Matthijsz. Smids was responsible for the practical execution and the financing of the project.8 Thirteen locks and eight bridges were realised, for a total sum of about 40,000 thaler.9 In 1668, the first ship passed the canal.10 The connection between Oder and Spree increased trades in Berlin. Now, ships could sail from Silesia via Berlin to Hamburg.11

Andries Vaillant after Jacques Vaillant
Portrait of Michiel Mathijsz.Smids (1626-1692), dated 1685
paper, engraving 295 x 215 mm
lower left : J. Vaillant Pinx.
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv./ RP-P-1883-A-6999


The orphanage in Oranienburg, built by Michiel Smids, 1663
Photograph from around 1925 (Brandenburgisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Wünsdorf)

It was people like Johann Gregor Memhardt and Michiel Matthijsz. Smids who were willing to stay in Brandenburg for a longer time, because of the fact that they were able to make a good living. Like Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, they were an exception.12 The friendship between the elector and Johan Maurits went back to the 1630s. Between 1636 and 1644 Johan Maurits had been in Brazil, where he had stayed for reasons of colonisation. During his absence in The Hague his famous Mauritshuis was built. In Brazil he mapped the land, cultivated it, built a palace in classicist style and founded Mauritsstad. He drained the land, built bridges, planted trees et cetera.13 The many scientists that came with him to Brazil, documented the foreign land, that was painted by Frans Post (1612-1680), the brother of architect Pieter. When he was back, Friedrich Wilhelm appointed Johan Maurits vice-regent of Kleve, in 1647.14

As Friedrich Wilhelm was reorganising his financials and started to delegate the many trivial matters that reached his desk,15 he was able to surround himself with people who were able to help and support his restoration politics.16 The examples of Berlin, Oranienburg and Potsdam had to be copied and taken over by others. With this intention, the elector appointed Johan Maurits Herrenmeister of Sonnenburg, todays Słońsk , at the east bank of the River Oder, near Frankfurt.17 Sonnenburg was an important seat of the Knights of St. John, first mentioned in 1295.18 In the 16th century the Johannites had converted to the Lutheran side. After 1641 there had been no Herrenmeister on Sonnenburg. Like everywhere in Brandenburg the castle and its belongings suffered severe damage in the Thirty Years’ War, and its condition was poor at the time Johan Maurits visited Sonnenburg for the first time in December 1652.19 To improve things, Johan Maurits took Dutch craftsmen with him, among whom the land surveyor Arnold van Geelkercken (1622-after 1677). He was to map all the belongings of Sonnenburg, reported about their state and made proposals for improvement.20 Like Friedrich Wilhelm and Louise Henriette, Johan Maurits tried to interest people to come to Sonnenburg.21 In January 1662, shortly after he had made preparations for the building of the palace in Potsdam, Johan Maurits had decided to finance or pay most of the castle’s rebuilding out of his own funds. The design was made by himself, probably with the help of the architect of his dwelling house in The Hague, Pieter Post [13]. It is certain however, that architectural prints have played a role; around Amsterdam a small booklet occurred with twelve prints of new festoons, designed by Jacob van Campen for the new Amsterdam town hall. As Sonnenburg was finished ten years later, one of these festoons was decorating the façade of the castle [14].22

For the organisation of the works Jean de Bonjour was responsible. His father probably had accompanied Johan Maurits as steward to Brazil.23 Practical works were lead by master carpenter Cornelis Ryckwaert (1652-1693) and master mason Gorus Person or Perron.24 Except for Ryckwaert and Person another 12 Dutch craftsmen were present in Sonnenburg, together with German carpenters and masons. In 1665 Gorus Person’s appointment was terminated and Cornelis Ryckwaert became the leading master.25 In 1667 Sonnenburg was inaugurated in the presence of Johan Maurits.26 Although some of the medieval walls were incorporated in the new castle, it appeared as a Dutch Classicist building and had similarities with Huis Ten Bosch in The Hague. Both buildings have garlands under the central windows of the upper floor and also the division of spaces has similarities, like the double staircase in the back of the vestibule with a big hall behind it. Other elements like pillars decorated with niches and hanging garlands are motives that appear more often in the work of Pieter Post, like in the Mauritshuis.27

After the works in Sonnenburg were completed, Cornelis Ryckwaert was appointed as the elector’s fortification engineer in Küstrin.28 This city had turned into a modern fortress in the second half of the 16th century and was one of Brandenburg’s main strongholds.29 About Ryckwaert’s backgrounds in the Netherlands nothing is known.30 Outside of Küstrin, many architectural projects of Ryckwaert are known. One of the first assignments for Ryckwaert may have been the centralised church of Lindenberg (Lkr. Oder-Spree) of 1667, one of the first to be built after the Thirty Years’ War [15].31 Much is known about Ryckwaert’s role in the building of the palace of Schwedt an der Oder. In 1670, the elector’s second wife Dorothea bought the old and damaged castle for her son Philip Wilhelm.32 After signing a contract in Potsdam, on 8 October 1670, Ryckwaert started construction works, together with a group of Dutch masons and carpenters.33 The design – probably by Johann Memhardt – already existed. The ceilings were to be made of stucco. This work was executed by the Italian Giovanni Belloni, who was along with other Italians well known as a pieceworker in Brandenburg in the end of the 17th century. The result was a main building of three storeys high and of 17 bays. Side wings were to be added later. It was one of the major Brandenburg palaces of that time. To the garden side, a large hall reached over more storeys, just like in Sonnenburg and Potsdam [16].34

Other building projects of Cornelis Ryckwaert outside of Küstrin were the Junkerhaus in Frankfurt an der Oder [17],35 the renewal of the castle of Zerbst, for Carl Wilhelm von Anhalt-Zerbst,36 the reformed Trinitatis Church in Zerbst [18]37 and the castle of Oranienbaum for Henriette Catharina of Orange [19].38

Pieter Post and Cornelis Ryckwaert
Palace of Sonnenburg, 1662-1667
? x ? cm
Sonnenburg (Preussen), private collection Oskar von Preussen

Michiel Mosijn after Francoys Dancx after Jacob van Campen
Festoon of shells and flowers, between 1655-1678
paper, engraving 152 x 207 mm
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-1964-2431


The evangelical church of Lindenberg (Landkreis Oder-Spree), probably designed by Cornelis Ryckwaert, 1667-1669
Brandenburgisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Wünsdorf


Schwedt an der Oder, former palace from the north west
The corps de logis was built between 1670 and 1688 by Cornelis Ryckwaert. Destroyed in 1945/ 1961, photograph from around 1925
Brandenburgisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Wünsdorf


Frankfurt an der Oder, former Junkerhaus, nowadays Museum Viadrina. Restoration and enlargement by Cornelis Ryckwaert, 1670-1690, photograph from 2002
Brandenburgisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Wünsdorf


The Trinitatis Church of Zerbst, built by Cornelis Ryckwaert in 1683
Collection Technische Universität Berlin

Castle Oranienbaum, built by Cornelis Ryckwaert and Johann Tobias Schubart


1 Van Veen 1939 and Oudesluijs 1994, p. 13.

2 Galland 1911, p. 27.

3 In 1653 he was awarded the first building lot on the Friedrichswerder, where he would build a dwelling house. Galland 1893, p. 214; Galland 1911, p. 212 and Heckmann 1998, p. 60.

4 Van Tussenbroek 2004; Van Tussenbroek 2006.

5 Boeck 1938, p. 19. On 60 and 61 he signed a contract in which was described how to execute the work. Schönfeld 1999, p. 139-140.

6 Lademacher 1999, 8/87 and 8/88.

7 Berghaus 1855, p. 178; Trebbin 1938 and Uhlemann 1994, p. 77-80.

8 Tribbin 1938, p. 32-34; Galland 1893, p. 222; Heckmann 1998, p. 77-79 and 95-97.

9 Uhlemann 1994, p. 81-83. About the payment of Smids: Galland 1893, p. 214; Glaser 1939, p. 33-34.

10 Glaser 1939, p. 34.

11 For Dutch ship builders in Brandenburg: Glaser 1939; Galland 1893, p. 192. On Raule: Häpke 1923; Gieraths 1924; Rachel 1938, p. 79-84 and Jorberg 1965, p. 2-3. Especially Benjamin Raule from Middelburg organised Brandenburg’s fleet and ship building activities. On Raules Dutch influenced Estate Friedrichsfelde: Wipprecht 1981; Rohrlach/Badstübner-Gröger 1994; Heckmann 1998, p. 128 and Hahn/Lorenz 2000, II, p. 155-156. For its garden: Hennebo 1955; Küchler 1979, p. 456.

12 Friedrich Wilhelm had tried to get prominent painters to Berlin, but they would not have an appropriate selling market, so they stayed in Holland. Seidel 1890, p. 125; Börsch-Supan 1980; Börsch-Supan 2000, p. 9.

13 Galland 1893, chapter 1; Bots 1979; De Moulin 1979; Palm 1979 and Terwen 1979.

14 Opgenoorth 1979.

15 Beuys 1980, p. 96 and 153.

16 Bahl 2001, passim.

17 Galland 1893, p. 94-96 and Rödel 1979.

18 After castle was built, in 1426 it came to the Markgraf of Brandenburg, who gave it almost immediately to the Herrenmeister of the Knights of St. John. Galland 1893, p. 93; Blok 1935; Kubach 1960, p. 185ff; Terwen/Ottenheym 1993, p. 71-82 and Kleiner 1998.

19 Galland 1893, p. 97-99 and Van Kempen 1924, p. 198.

20 Ottenheym 1999, p. 297.

21 Galland 1893, p. 101; Kubach 1960, p. 188.

22 Galland 1893, p. 110 and 120-127; Terwen/Ottenheym 1993, p. 80; Ottenheym 1999, p. 296 and Vlaardingerbroek 2004, p. 46.

23 Galland 1911, p. 78.

24 Galland 1893, p. 110-111 and Galland 1911, p. 79; Van Tussenbroek 2019.

25 Blok 1935, p. 123 and Galland 1893, p. 120ff; Van Kempen 1924, p. 202.

26 Galland 1893, p. 112-113; Van Kempen 1924, p. 208.

27 Van Kempen 1924, p. 204 and 206; Terwen/Ottenheym 1993, p. 80-81.

28 Galland 1911, p. 229.

29 Gebuhr/Theissen/Winter 2001, p. 30-33. On Küstrin: Fredrich 1913; Berg 1916; Hoppe 1928 and Melzheimer 1989.

30 Possibly he was related to poet and medic Justus Ryckwaert from Brielle, who was acquainted with Caspar van Baerle (Barlaeus), who went to Brazil with Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen. Van Haute 2000, p. 7-12 and Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek II (1912), 1248-1249; III (1914), 1114-1115 and IX (1933), 917-918. In general: Van Kempen 1924.

31 Vinken 2000, p. 596-597, although the attribution is not documented by written sources. The building commissioner was Raban von Canstein from Westphalia. Schönfeld 1999, p. 90ff.

32 Galland 1911, p. 83.

33 Böer 1979, p. 25-38 and 170-171.

34 Van Kempen 1924, p. 216.

35 Ladendorf 1937, p. 161; Nülken 1992, p. 5, 61, 67-68 and Hahn/Lorenz 2000, vol.1, p. 63, vol. 2, p. 353.

36 Herrmann 1998, p. 11-16. Cf. Galland 1911, p. 233-234.

37 Galland 1911, appendix III; Van Kempen 1924, p. 230-245.

38 Bechler 2002, passim.

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