King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Germany, built three great castles in his life – Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, and Neuschwanstein – and each of them were representations of his personal desires. The design of Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee was inspired by the architecture of Versailles. Linderhof was built between 1870 and 1878. Herrenchiemsee was built between 1878 and 1879 and is a more accurate replica of Versailles. Ludwig sent the architect Georg von Dollmann to do studies of Versailles, which is reflected in the Hall of Mirrors as well as a garden front that figure prominently at Herrenchiemsee. However, it is Schloss Neuschwanstein that best illustrates the ideals and longings of Ludwig more than any of his other buildings.
Ludwig II grew up as a king in waiting surrounded by culture and events that would influence Neuschwanstein. He was very involved in the decoration and building design of Neuschwanstein and would refuse any suggested alterations. He did not allow any earlier works of art into his castles, and all were made directly under his watch. As such, the interior and exterior constructions and decorations are direct projections of Ludwig’s personality. During his tenure as King of Bavaria, he spent over thirty-one million marks building the three great castles. Although this spending would prove to be a factor in his demise, all of the money has since been recovered through tourist income. A mere seven weeks after Ludwig’s death, on August 1, 1886, Neuschwanstein was opened to the public. Today, there are approximately 1.3 million visitors each year, and the castle can accommodate no more than eleven thousand visitors a day. During the summer, there are about six thousand visitors a day, and during high season twice that many line up in hope of entering Ludwig’s fantasy castle, Neuschwanstein.
This essay will identify the factors that influenced Ludwig and his romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages as expressed in his dream castle Neuschwanstein. Certain architectural and design features of four buildings – the Wartburg and Nuremberg in Germany, Château de Pierrefonds in France, and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – influenced Ludwig in his efforts to selectively replicate aspects of medieval architecture that he found particularly inspirational. Access to the latest building technology and materials of the day was also influential in that it allowed Ludwig to push the boundaries of his interpretations of medieval architecture. As such, the impact of this affordance on the design of Neuschwanstein will also be explored. Finally the overwhelming influence of and fateful relationship with the composer Richard Wagner and, in particular, his three operas Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and Persifal will be analyzed as significant factors in Ludwig’s motivation to build Neuschwanstein. Five rooms in the castle, namely the Salon, the Singer’s Hall, the Study, the Throne Room, and the Bedroom, will provide examples of Ludwig’s inspirations in the creation of Neuschwanstein as a poetic and extravagant castle.
A brief review of Ludwig’s background and upbringing provides a more complete picture of his passion for building, which lead him to create a structure as monumental as Neuschwanstein. Ludwig was born on August 25, 1845. He was King of Bavaria from 1864 to 1886 and was not yet nineteen years old when he officially accepted the role of King. It has been recorded in several accounts that Ludwig had always had an affinity for building, and architectural drawings Ludwig created when he was thirteen years old have survived. Ludwig’s mother, Queen Marie, referenced in her diary Ludwig’s love for building that started at the young age of six, writing: “Ludwig soon showed an interest in art, he loved building with toy blocks, especially churches and monasteries.” When Ludwig subsequently ascended to the throne he found the responsibilities and duties of ruling to be mundane and to be an intrusion on his personal freedom and pastimes. For this reason, he began to build a dream world around himself as an escape from reality and plunged himself into his own world of fantasy. As time progressed, Ludwig became more and more withdrawn from society and in 1875 he began sleeping during the day and was awake at night.
Ludwig’s upbringing and the surroundings of his youth were contributing factors to his obsession with building as well as his preoccupation with creating and living in a dream. In the summer, his family would visit Hohenschwangau, which was purchased by Ludwig’s father, Maximilion II, and renovated between1832 and 1885. Hohenschwangau dates back to the twelfth century, to the Lords of the Schwangau who ruled over the surrounding territories. This line died out in approximately 1536, and suffered great damage as their heritage, wealth, and status declined. When Maximilian renovated Hohenschwangau, he kept the building that dated from a previous reconstruction in the sixteenth century and added Gothic detailing, which is reflected in the balconies and ornamentation of the windows. Experiencing first hand the building of a medieval castle was an essential moment in Ludwig’s life that allowed him to see the possibility of making dreams become a reality.
Hohenschwangau was also the capital of swan country. In his youth, Ludwig saw swans everywhere – on the lake just outside the castle as well as painted on vases, murals, and countless knick-knacks. This exposure had a strong impact on Ludwig, and the swan motif is repeated multiple times throughout Neuschwanstein on everything from paintings and textiles to toiletry sets. Ludwig’s first contact with the great Germanic legends was at Hohenschwangau where various artists, working from interior sketches of Mortiz von Schwing, decorated the walls with legends of the grail; Tannhäuser; and the swan-knight Lohengrin, who according to tradition once inhabited Neuschwanstein. Three of the legend figures that made an impact on Ludwig in his youth – Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and Persifal – also became prevalent in Wagner’s operas and would subsequently be prominently featured at Neuschwanstein.
When Ludwig was thirteen years old, he first heard from a governess about the Munich production of Wagner’s Lohengrin. The following Christmas in 1858, he was given a copy of Wagner’s Opera and Drama, and he soon immersed himself in the stories of Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. In February 1861, Ludwig heard his first Wagner opera, Lohengrin, and later in December 1862, he heard Tannhäuser, which would have an even greater impact on him than Lohengrin. Once Ludwig was King, he sent for Wagner, and their first meeting was on May 4, 1864, a time when Wagner’s music was in debate all over Europe. In 1865, Ludwig invited Wagner to stay in Bavaria, where he became a guest in Hohenschwangau and would play piano for Ludwig. It has been recorded on several occasions that Ludwig did not particularly have an ear for music and often had difficulty differentiating between various chords and performers. It seemed that Ludwig was more interested in the dream world evoked by Wagner’s operas than the music itself. There was some debate at the time about Ludwig and Wagner having a romantic relationship. Ludwig was homosexual, but Wagner was not. Ludwig merely idolized Wagner and worshiped him as an artist.
Ludwig spent lavishly on Wagner, and this attention angered many court officials. Ludwig’s spending on Wagner came from the civil list, which was an amount of money made available to the crown by law annually. Over their nineteen years of friendship, Ludwig spent 562, 914 marks on Wagner, which included rent, gifts, salaries, as well as financing for all of his operas. Soon, however, the Munich society started to grow tired of Wagner’s arrogance and became jealous of his influence on Ludwig. It was feared Wagner would try to influence Ludwig on political matters, and as such a movement began to have the King distance himself from the composer. On December 10, 1865, Ludwig was forced to ban Wagner from Munich. At this point, Wagner fled to Switzerland to a house rented for him by Ludwig, and as a result, Wagner would never step foot in Neuschwanstein, despite the influence he had on its design.
Along with Wagner, there were certain architectural structures and styles that influenced Ludwig. In 1867, Ludwig visited the Wartburg in Germany and saw the minstrel’s hall that Wagner set as the location for his stage design for the singer’s contest in his opera Tannhäuser. The twelfth-century Wartburg appealed to Ludwig’s medieval interest, and its stage design became another influence on Ludwig’s dream world. Ludwig borrowed various elements of the Wartburg such as the tower design as well as various characteristics of the interior. The Wartburg Minstrel’s hall originally dates from 1170 and was said to be the official site of the “contest of Minnesingers” of 1206 to 1207. The final result of The Singer’s Hall of Neuschwanstein was a combination of the hall at the Wartburg as well as stage designs by Angelo Il Quaglio for act II of Wagner’s opera.
The design elements of another architectural structure in France also had a profound influence on Ludwig and are evident at Neuschwanstein. In the summer of 1867, Ludwig travelled to Château de Pierrefonds, and witnessed the reconstruction of the building as directed by Viollet-le-Duc. The interior paintings, decoration, and particularly the towers of the Château de Pierrefonds’ reconstruction, which could be considered an iconic aspect of the structure, had a significant impact on Ludwig as they were partially replicated at Neuschwantstein.
In designing Neuschwanstein, Ludwig employed many different people. The first design was that of his court architect, Eduard Riedel, who drew up plans that consisted of a three-story building that was more closely linked to the late Gothic reflection of the Nuremberg in Germany. A second design was completed in 1868 and reflects what is seen today and included five stories; however, the Gothic elements in Riedel’s design were replaced with more Romanesque features in the construction. Riedel prepared the architectural plans for Neuschwanstein, and Christian Jank provided atmospheric visualizations for the King. Jank was a scenic painter, and in 1868 he was commissioned to prepare designs for Neuschwanstein that were based on stage sets. His task was mainly to transpose Riedel’s architectural drawings into more picturesque works of art for Ludwig to visualize. Jank submitted several drawings for the outside appearance of Neuschwastein, mainly done in the Gothic style, and Ludwig consistently modified the designs, imposing more Romanesque features.
The construction of Neuschwanstein began in the summer of 1868 and required that eight meters of stone outcrop be removed to make way for the foundations. It remains difficult to find exact records of building information as Ludwig ordered the destruction of any architectural drawings and decorative designs. Most of the information known about the building instructions of Neuschwanstein was acquired through written accounts of the people commissioned to work on the castle. These accounts reveal that the latest building techniques were used as foundations were cemented and the walls were built of brick, which was then covered with a light-coloured limestone. Machines, particularly cranes driven by steam engines, assisted in the overall construction. By using a combination of new building techniques and new materials, a modern version of medievalism was created and perfected to suit Ludwig’s every demand.
Neuschwanstein is considered a total work of art and was created by a host of artists all under direction of Eduard Riedel, who was later succeeded by Georg von Dollmann and Julius Hofmann. The castle is unique in that it is more an example of historicism than it is a copy of any pre-existing building. Ludwig drew on the historical styles of medieval buildings and perfected these styles using the latest technologies of the day, particularly iron. It was at Neuschwantstein that Ludwig truly escaped from reality and retreated into an imagined and poetic world of the Middle Ages.
Neuschwanstein was largely designed as a place of retreat. The gateway building was the first to be completed, and was ready for occupation in 1873. Ludwig would inhabit the upper floor of this building when he visited the site to make provisions. By 1883, the Great Hall was finished, along with the interiors on the ground, first, third, and fourth floors. In 1884, the King’s apartment on the third floor was ready for occupation. The decoration and technical fittings for the interior were also finished in 1884, but without their final details. Ludwig made constant revisions and alterations. It did not matter whether a part of the building was already started or completed, or whether his alterations would add to the cost: he would modify as he saw fit. It is largely due to the constant changes and revisions of Ludwig that Neuschwanstein still remains unfinished to this day. Ludwig played a very active role in the selection of colour schemes, textiles, the swan motif, and the overall pictorial programs, including the themes from Wagner’s operas.
To a certain extent, Neuschwanstein can be seen as theatre translated into architecture. It was at Neuschwanstein where Wagner found the subject matter for three of his great operas, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Parsifal. Wagner spent much of the 1840s assimilating medieval ideas through the translations of early texts and scholarly writings of important figures of the day. The picture cycles of Neuschwanstein were inspired in particular by the three aforementioned operas as well as the medieval legends that surrounded Ludwig as a child at Hohenschwangau. Set designs by Christian Jank gave Ludwig his first vision of his new castle, in particular the scene for the second act of Lohengrin. Ludwig’s interest in stage sets designed for Parsifal was also significant, and was incorporated into the Throne Room at Neuschwanstein. The stage designs and architecture had everything to do with Ludwig’s dream world and very little to do with Wagner’s own vision of his works.
The decoration of the interior of Neuschwansten began in 1881. Julius Hofmann completed the complex based on Riedel’s plans from 1886 to 1892 and designed the entire Romanesque interior with furnishings in accordance with Ludwig’s ideas. The King’s Salon, located on the third floor, contains murals that depict picture cycles from the Lohengrin Saga. Ludwig was captivated with the Lohengrin figure more than others due the character of the grail knight and the swan motif. In fact, Ludwig identified with Lohengrin to the point of playing the role of the knight himself in reenacted plays. The swan motif is also reflected in this room, particularly in the curtains and coverings.
The Study, located on the third floor, depicts murals from the Tannhäuser saga. Most notable is the mural of the Singer’s Contest in the Wartburg. Another notable mural depicts the scene of Venus in the grotto with Tannhäuser. Ludwig was so inspired by this scene that he created an artificial grotto that was located between the Study and the Salon. It was modeled after the grotto of Venus and contained an artificial moon, waterfall, and coloured lights to suit the King’s mood.
The story of Parsifal is depicted directly in the murals located in the Singer’s Hall. However, the theme of the Holy Grail derived from the Parsifal story is seen in the Throne Room. These two rooms are considered to be the two most important rooms in Neuschwanstein. The Singer’s Hall was considered to be one of the King’s favorite projects and occupies the whole eastern section of the fourth floor. Ludwig made specific instructions that the Singer’s Hall of Neuschwanstein should be modeled directly after the Wartburg, and it is thus a combination of the Wartburg as well as the Singer’s Contest featured in Wagner’s Opera. The murals depict the Singer’s Contest, as well as the saga of Parsifal and the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is not primarily a theme in Wagner’s Parsifal, but also occurs in medieval literature. This room was never used for large banquets or musical performances, as was done at the Wartburg, but was primarily Ludwig’s monument to the Kings and legends of the Middle Ages.
The Throne Room is considered to be the most important room in Neuschwanstein. It was built between 1879 and 1887 and is located on the third and fourth floors. It is here that the use of new construction technology is most evident as cast iron columns, H-girders, and iron framework were used to build this room and support the dome. Without this technology, construction of the Throne Room could not have been completed to the dimensions it ultimately reached as masonry alone would not have been able to support the dome. The Throne Room was still incomplete at the time of Ludwig’s death. The great chandelier was not built and installed until 1904, and was installed as an attempt to give the room a sense of completion. Any attempts of this nature were based on the original drawings approved by Ludwig. There is a two-storey balcony on the west end, and the walls are arcaded on two levels. There is a mosaic of plants and animals on the floor, and the colour scheme for the room is based on ideas from Viollet-le-Duc from the reception hall at Château de Pierrefonds. Originally, the Throne Room was designed to have two domes, but it was later decided only one would be built. This is yet another example of Ludwig’s constant requests for alterations and was a contributing factor to this room never being fully completed.
The Throne Room is constructed in the Byzantine style. It was inspired by the All Saint’s Church in Munich, which was constructed between 1826 to 1837 and destroyed during World War II. The All Saint’s Church was influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which dated from 523 to 537 AD, and was Rome’s Eastern Byzantine Empire. As such, the roots of the Throne Room originated from the Hagia Sophia. This room combines the concept of the Holy Grail as derived from Wagner’s Parsifal, with the historic reference to Hagia Sophia. The concept of redemption associated with the Holy Grail is one that tormented Ludwig as he was constantly weighed down by a sense of guilt about his homosexuality. It might be concluded that the concept of redemption in association with the Holy Grail was Ludwig’s attempt to redeem his soul and ease his sense of guilt.
The art of the Throne Room is in itself not important in terms of artistic creativity and innovation but rather in its significance in communicating the story and depicting the scene accurately. Nothing in the Throne Room is of direct reference to the Grail, Persifal, or Lohengrin. Instead, the apse section of the Throne Room is decorated with six canonized Kings as well as a figure of Christ. Below this scene, there is a white marble staircase and an empty platform. A throne was to be located in this spot and was meant to signify the Holy Grail; however, it was never completed. There were ongoing disputes regarding the throne, and in 1884, Ludwig issued specific instructions for a chair to be completed in bronze and ivory and worked in relief. Ludwig was persistent about the construction and insisted that it reflect a historically accurate depiction of thrones that were used in the Middle Ages. The Court Secretariat, however, refused to issue the commission, possibly due to the high price of such an item. A debate occurred regarding the commissioning, and as a result, the throne was never constructed.
The King’s Bedroom is located on the third floor and was one of the first rooms to be completed. While most of Neuschwanstein was constructed in the Byzantine and Romanesque style, this room, designed by Peter Herwegen, creates a contrast and was constructed in the Gothic style. The bed is considered one of the most striking features of this room, and took seventeen wood carvers four and a half years to make. While the picture cycles in this room depict the story of Tristan and Isolde, another of Wagner’s operas, the swan motif is still prevalent. Rather than a representation in a picture cycle, however, this swan motif is seen in the washstand set, which consisted of a swan shaped faucet, soap dish, sponge holder, and water jug and is yet another example of Ludwig’s obsession with the swan.
It is also interesting to note the connection of Neuschwanstein and Ludwig to another German ruler, Adolf Hitler. Both men were obsessed with creating a world modeled after their desires and obsessions. While Ludwig concentrated on creating Neuschwanstein as a reflection of his thoughts and ideals, Hitler set out to rule Europe in his image and purge it of those he deemed unfit while at the same time amassing a fortune in great artwork. While in power, Hitler systematically looted thousands of artworks from prominent Jews, which he planned to display in what would potentially have been one of, if not, the largest museums in the world. Storage of these looted artworks in fact took place within Neuschwanstein. By the end of the Second World War, artworks and objects from Hitler’s plunder were removed from Neuschwanstein and packed tightly into forty-nine train carloads, which took one year to empty. It is interesting to consider the political agenda behind Hitler’s fantasy world and draw a parallel with Ludwig’s fantasy world, in which he alone would become immersed. While Hitler was trying to force the entire world to take part in his fantasy, Ludwig was building a private form of escape. In this way, Neuschwanstein seems to have been used by these two German rulers as a vehicle to make their dreams become a reality.
There are some current issues that are of concern at Neuschwanstein. Movement in the foundations is constantly being monitored, and the rock walls are repeatedly being secured. The harsh climate has had a detrimental effect on the limestone in the building and over the past few years it has been renovated section by section. The castle features some examples of modern technology, such as central heating, running water on every floor, a kitchen with hot and cold water, toilets with automatic flushing systems, an electric bell system to summon servants, telephones on the third and fourth floor, as well as lifts between floors to carry meals.
Ludwig built for the purpose of giving substance to his dreams. He was not interested in leaving monuments that would outlast him like previous Kings throughout history. It is also somewhat ironic that Neuschwanstein did not become the official name of the castle until after Ludwig’s death. In 1886, he was declared insane by a medical practitioner and taken from Neuschwanstein and incarcerated in Schloss Berg at forty-one years old. On June 13, 1886, his body, along with that of his medical practitioner, was found in Lake Starnberg. Given the circumstances, foul play has been suggested but never proven, and Ludwig’s death is a mystery that is to this day unsolved. His reckless indulgences as well as his building hobbies lead to the neglect of his state duties and can be considered an essential part of his downfall. According to the German art historian Udo Kultermann: “The King’s preference for music, theatre, painting and architecture instead of politics, bureaucratic routines and warfare made Ludwig II and unorthodox monarch.”
Ludwig was very influenced by his upbringing: life at Hohenschwangau, swans, and the Germanic stories introduced to him a young age all had on impact on his later life. The architecture of the Middle Ages, the Wartburg, Nuremburg, Château de Pierrefonds, and Hagia Sophia were particularly significant. Stories and operas by Wagner, including Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal, were featured throughout Neuschwanstein, and in part as stage settings helped make Ludwig’s dream world become a reality. Neuschwanstein was thus the epitome of all of Ludwig’s desires to make his dreams come true. As such, and to make a contemporary comparison, it seems fitting that the Disney Corporation selected Neuschwanstein as the wedding cake model for the iconic Disneyland castles built in the United States and Europe.
1. Debrett Cooper-Hewitt, Designs for the Dream King: The Castles and Palaces of Ludwig II of Bavaria. Mossop Street (London: Debrett’s Peerage Ltd, 1978), 68-69.
2. Wilfrid Blunt, The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria. (Southgate, London: Westerham Press, 1970), 138.
3. Klaus Merten, German Castles and Palaces. (New York: Vendome Press, 1999), 242.
4. Ines Holzmüller and Dr. Jan Björn Potthast, Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlosser, Garten und Seen: Neuschwanstein. http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/palace/index.htm (accessed October 28, 2009).
5. Christian W. Thomsen, Visionary Architecture: From Babylon to Virtual Reality. (New York and Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1994), 74.
6. Jonathan Carr. The Wagner Clan: The Saga of German’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family. (England: Faber and Faber Limited, 2007), 40.
7. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
10. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
11. Blunt, 230.
12. Blunt, 12.
13. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
14. Blunt, 15.
15. Merten, 230.
17. Blunt, 15.
18. Blunt, 17.
19. Ibid., 18.
20. Udo Kultermann, “The Castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria: Architecture and the Power of Imagination.” Architecture and Urbanism 113 (1980-2): 122.
22. Greg King, The Mad King: The Life and Times of Ludwig II of Bavaria. (Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1996), 85.
23. Barry Millington, The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to Wagner’s Life and Music. (America: Schirmer Books, 1992), 123.
25. Blunt, 138.
26. Merten, 86.
27. Marcus Spangenberg, The Throne Room in Schloss Neuschwanstein: Ludwig II of Bavaria and his vision of Divine Right. (Regensberg: Schnell and Steiner, 1999), 7.
28. Merten, 234.
29. Blunt, 139.
31. Thomsen, 74.
32. Spangenberg, 8.
33. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
34. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
35. Blunt, 232.
39. Millington, 165.
40. Kultermann, 122.
41. Patrick Carnegy, Wagner and the Art of the Theatre. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), 55.
42. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
44. Kultermann, 122.
45. Blunt, 141.
46. Holzmüller and Potthast, (accessed October 28, 2009).
47. Spangenberg, 5.
48. Ibid., 6.
49. Ibid., 30.
50. Ibid., 11.
51. Ibid., 6.
52. Ibid., 29.
53. Blunt, 141.
54. The Rape of Europa, directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, and Nicole Newnham (Menemsha Films: 2008).
55. Blunt, 141.
57. Blunt, 137.
58. Blunt, 230.
59. Cooper-Hewitt, 10.
60. Kultermann, 122.
Blunt,Wilfrid. The Dream King: Ludwig II of Bavaria. Southgate, London: Westerham Press, 1970.
Carnegy, Patrick. Wagner and the Art of the Theatre. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
Carr, Jonathan. The Wagner Clan: The Saga of German’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family.England: Faber and Faber Limited, 2007.
Cooper-Hewitt, Debrett. Designs for the Dream King: The Castles and Palaces of Ludwig II of Bavaria. London: Debrett’s Peerage Ltd, 1978.
Dorf der Konigsschlosser Neuschwanstein und Hohenschwangau, Schwang.de-Startseite. King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Biography. http://www.schwangau.de/en/king_ludwig2.html.
Holzmüller, Ines and Dr. Jan Björn Potthast. “Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlosser, Garten und Seen: Neuschwanstein,” http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/palace/index.htm.
King, Greg. The Mad King: The Life and Times of Ludwig II of Bavaria. Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1996.
Kultermann, Udo. “The Castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria: Architecture and the Power of Imagination.” Architecture and Urbanism113 (1980-2): p.117-128.
Merten, Klaus. German Castles and Palaces. New York: Vendome Press, 1999.
Millington, Barry. The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to Wagner’s Life and Music. America: Schirmer Books, 1992.
The Rape of Europa. Directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, and Nicole Newnham. Menemsha Films, 2008.
Spangenberg, Marcus. The Throne Room in Schloss Neuschwanstein: Ludwig II of Bavaria and his vision of Divine Right. Regensberg: Schnell and Steiner, 1999.
Thomsen, Christian W. Visionary Architecture: From Babylon to Virtual Reality. New York and Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1994.