Ludwig II of Bavaria identified with Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. (In German, Ludwig is the same name as Louis). The trouble was, the French King Louis XIV actually was an absolute monarch who expanded and presided over quite a large and powerful empire.
Louis XIV was also a warrior. He actually led his own forces in the battlefield. Ludwig? Not so much. And he had little interest in the day-to-day work of government. Ludwig was a monarch of the kingdom of Bavaria, which was much smaller and less powerful than France. Through no real fault of Ludwig’s, Bavaria was more or less eaten up by Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia, during his reign. But while Bavarian independence lasted, Ludwig was a much-loved monarch of a proud independent kingdom.
He visited Versailles early in his reign. When he came home, he decided to build a dream home–or maybe two or three or four dream homes. Linderhof Palace, where he actually spent a lot of time, was designed as a mini-Versailles-for-one. It is in French Rococo style and has any number of references to the Sun King, including this ceiling medallion in the main entry.
But Ludwig called himself the Moon King. He often stayed up all night and slept all day. He was fond of moonlit sleighrides. Pulled by four white horses, he rode in solitary splendor, enjoying the spectacular Bavarian landscape of mountains, foothills and farms.
During these forays into the countryside, he would often stop and visit with the locals, who adored him. His life was lonely, but by all accounts at least some of his servants and a few of his peers became loyal and trusted friends. The movie Ludwig, directed by Luchino Visconti, touchingly describes some of these friendships, which lasted to the untimely end of Ludwig’s life.
If I had to make a modern comparison, I would compare Ludwig IV to Michael Jackson. I would not want to offend fans of either man by carrying the comparison too far. But both of them were romantic, idealistic, talented, misunderstood, and wildly famous but still lonely. Both of them died far too early in mysterious circumstances. And both died accompanied only by their physicians. Sometimes the past can help us understand the present.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!