Men and women do think differently—at least about architecture. Or such has been the conclusion of our meditation on the subject for this month’s special section, Robb Report Home: Power Design. Though reflections upon the theme of gender tend to lead us down philosophical culs-de-sac, one might argue that, while women build for a variety of reasons, the underlying motivation behind men’s forays into the realm of home design is to master, in personal ways, our public environment.
This thesis finds sturdy support in the historic example of Ludwig II of Bavaria. Despite his status as royal heir, young Ludwig received only 12 guldens a month from his father, Maximilian II, who commanded him to maintain careful records of expenditures, which Ludwig did not. He spent his allowance (about half the average worker’s monthly wage) on cuff links and rare books, and was usually short of money—as was his younger brother (who, incidentally, was once punished for offering to sell his molars to a court physician). Ludwig’s profligacy did not achieve its full expression, however, until he came to power in 1864, only a few years before the Franco-Prussian War, which ended with the subjugation of Bavaria to Prussia under a united Germany. His political decline encouraged him to prop up his prestige through the medium of architecture, which he employed to translate into steel and mortar heroic ideals worthy of his protégé, Richard Wagner.
Probably no other monarch in Europe (other than Louis XIV) could match Ludwig for pure excess. The most famous of his follies is Neuschwanstein—a Wagnerian crescendo in white stone, perched like a stylized Gothic swan atop Jugend Mountain. Its oriels, Romanesque arches, and turrets only hinted at the elaborate medieval conceits of its interiors, set like stages for a performance of Lohengrin. The king’s bedroom arched upward to cathedral heights, its walls ornamented with carved monks’ stalls, the windows with stained glass; on the ceilings, murals recounted the tragedy of Tristan and Isolde. Adjoining this chamber was an artificial grotto, complete with purling waterfalls and a mechanical moon. “The outraged gods,” Ludwig wrote Wagner, would “take refuge” on the “lofty heights” of this summit, “fanned there by the celestial breezes.”
Though celestial in appearance, Neuschwanstein seemed rather too modest to Ludwig in the wake of a visit to the International Exposition in Paris in 1867, which convinced him that he should erect his own version of Versailles. The site initially chosen for this flamboyant experiment was Linderhof (pictured), his father’s hunting lodge in the Graswang Valley, but the topography of this estate was deemed unsuitable to the formal vistas that Ludwig had so envied of the Sun King. His vision of Gallic grandiosity was therefore relocated to an island in the middle of Bavaria’s largest lake, the Chiemsee, roughly 50 miles from Munich. Herrenchiemsee, as this palace came to be known, became the most lavish of his edifices. A copy of the Escaliers des Ambassadeurs led to the state rooms, which were laid out en enfilade and included copies of the Salon de la Paix and the Salon de l’Oeil de Boeuf, as well as a replica of the Hall of Mirrors that measured nearly 100 feet longer than the original.
This magnificence came, of course, at a price. Ludwig had spent over 6 million marks on Neuschwanstein and more than 8 million on Linderhof. Herrenchiemsee had cost him in excess of 16 million marks and remained unfinished. For this ruinous price, which did much to bankrupt his treasury, Ludwig enjoyed exactly nine days at his lake retreat. During an evening stroll on his first visit, he tapped his cane on a piece of statuary, which crumbled to pieces: Due to a lack of funds, his builders had substituted plaster for marble. “Everything is false!” he cried and never returned. Thus did this most splendid of designs also prove, in the end, the most fitting testament to the power of the House of Wittelsbach.
Senior Vice President, Editorial