Birlinghoven Castle is a unique monument of cultural history from the period around the turn of the century. It is one of the few residential castles erected especially to house an art collection.
As in other 19th century structures, a key feature here is the combination of various elements from historical architecture, sculpture, arts and crafts to make one complete work of art.
In the Middle Ages, the Birlinghoven seat was a two-part moated castle located in the Lauterbach valley before the mouth of the Pleisbach. Shortly after 1900, a residence was built in place of the manor house on an island. One of the two post-medieval wing structures of the gatehouse was extended in the 19th century. The new Birlinghoven Castle was designed after the fashion of an English country mansion in the years 1900 to 1902. It was erected above the old castle in a commanding position, with a view of the Siebengebirge hills and liberally appointed with old works of art. It was built by Theodor Damian Rautenstrauch, and the plans were supplied by Cologne architect Edwin Crones. The red clay bricks required for the construction work were imported especially from England. They were shipped up the Rhine, reloaded onto horsedrawn carts at Beuel, north of where the Kennedy Bridge now stands, and then brought to Birlinghoven. Other material for the castle building was obtained from a stone factory of the day at Birlinghoven. Following Theodor’s early death, the property passed to his brother Eugen von Rautenstrauch, Cologne banker and sponsor of that city’s Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum for Ethnology. In 1917, the Schloss Birlinghoven was bought by Privy Councillor of Commerce Dr. Louis Hagen of Cologne and extended to include a chapel, which was dedicated in 1920. In 1932, the castle passed to his daughter Elisabeth, who was married to Clemens Freiherr von Wrede at Melchede Castle, Arnsberg district. In December 1967, the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by Federal Minister for Scientific Research Dr. Gerhard Stoltenberg, purchased the castle and grounds.
Birlinghoven Castle was endowed by its builder with numerous old works of art, some of which can still be seen there today. This is true of the collection of paintings in the big Central Hall (Mittelsaal). The works are hung tier upon tier in the Great Hall (Grosser Saal). Other paintings are on display in the Red Hall (Roter Saal) and elsewhere in the castle. The curving staircase is bordered by a wrought-iron lattice railing, mid-18th century, said to be from Berlin. The high octagonal Great Hall has two fireplaces with heavy chimney pieces in red marble, featuring angel’s heads in white marble, certainly Italian work of the 17th century. Mounted behind the fireplace are two identical 17th century cast-iron plates depicting the Judgement of Paris. In the wall niches opposite we find two figures from Late Antiquity, Minerva and Mercury, which have been extensively restored and retouched. They are from the Palazzo Giustiniani Bandini in Rome. The room adjoining on the south, the Green Hall (Grüner Saal) has a marble basin with a dolphin in white marble, 62 cm high, certainly 17th century Italian. The Eastern room, the Red Hall, has some exquisitely carved panelling, dated 1699, presumably the back of the choir stalls from a church in the Belgian province of Limburg. Set between pilasters with ornamentally framed cartouches are angel’s heads in full relief.
The collection of paintings is primarily of Italian and Dutch work from the 16th to the 18th century. There are also a large number of portraits. The paintings do not appear to have any underlying theme. Alongside cycles like those from the Heisterbacher Hof in Königswinter and the illustrated months belonging to the work of Peter Candid and the four Italian ruin landscapes in the Great Hall, we find mythological and Biblical representations, like the fiddling Orpheus, probably from Genoa, 1610 to 1620, Venus and Adonis, presumably a French copy based on Titian, as well as the representation of Bathseba, close to Guercino, in the Red Hall, and the Massacre of the Innocents in the Great Hall.