SEMPER, GOTTFRIED (1803-1879), German architect and writer on art, was born at Altona on the 29th of November 1803. His father intended him for the law, but his impulses towards an artistic career were irresistible. His early mastery of classical literature led him to the study of classic monuments in classic lands, while his equally conspicuous talent for mathematics gave him the laws of form and proportion in architectural design. At the university of Gottingen he fell under the influence of K. O. Miiller. His architectural education was carried out successively in Hamburg, where later, upon his return from Greece, he built the Dormer Museum, in Berlin, in Dresden, in Paris under Gau and in Munich under Gartner; afterwards he visited Italy and Greece. While in Greece he made observations which showed that in ancient architecture the use of polychrome was frequent. In the diffusion of this discovery he was much aided by Jacques Ignace Hittorff. In 1834 he was appointed professor of architecture in Dresden, and during fifteen years received many important commissions from the Saxon court.
He built the opera-house in Renaissance style, the new museum and picture gallery, and a Byzantine synagogue. In 1848 his turbulent spirit led him to side with the revolution against his royal patron; he furnished the rebels with military plans, and was eventually driven into exile. Semper came to London at the timeof the Great Exhibition of 1851, and Prince Albert found him an able ally in carrying out his plans. He was appointed teacher of the principles of decoration; his lectures in manuscript are preserved in the art library, South Kensington. He was also employed by the prince consort to prepare a design for the Kensington Museum; and he made the drawings for the Wellington funeral car. In 1853 Semper left London for Zurich on his appointment as professor of architecture, and with a commission to build in that town the polytechnic school and the hospital. He also built the observatory and the railway station in that city. Here, too, he made plans for a large theatre in Rio Janeiro. In 1870 he was called to Vienna to assist in the great architectural projects since carried out around the Ring. A year later, after an exile of over twenty years, he received a summons to Dresden, on the rebuilding of the first opera-house, which had been destroyed by fire in 1869; his second design was a modification of the first. The closing years of his life were passed in comparative tranquillity between Venice and Rome, and in the latter city he died on the 15th of May 1879. In 1892 a bronze statue of Semper, by Johannes Schelling, was unveiled on the Briihlsche Terrasse in Dresden.
Semper's style was a growth from the classic orders through the Italian Cinque Cento. He forsook the base and rococo forms he found rooted in Germany, and, reverting to the best historic examples, fashioned a purer Renaissance. He stands as a leader in the practice of polychrome, since widely diffused, and by his writings and example did much to reinstate the ancient union between architecture, sculpture and painting. Among his numerous literary works are Uber Polychromie u. ihren Ur sprung (1851), Die Anwendung der Farben in der Architektur u. Plastik bei den Allen, Der Stil in den technischen u. tektonischen Kiinsten (1860-1863). His Notes of Lectures on Practical Art in Metals and Hard Materials: its Technology, History and Style, were left in MS.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)