Monday, March 26, 2007

Inside Ludwig's Castles

When James and Henry Lee parachute behind enemy lines at the climax of Valhalla, they stumble onto (or into) two of Ludwig's castles, the Schloss Linderhof and Neuschwanstein (which are a few miles apart in southwestern Bavaria). As you can see from the following photographs, playwright Paul Rudnick has hardly exaggerated the extravagance of these castles' interiors (although in general, Neuschwanstein is underdecorated; only fourteen rooms, on the third and fourth floors, were completed before Ludwig's death; the first and second floors are largely bare brick to this day).

Neuschwanstein is comprised of a gatehouse, a "Bower," the Knight's House with a square tower, and a Palas, or citadel (above), with two towers to the Western end. On the exterior, it is a fanciful pastiche of medieval and Romanesque elements; its interior, however, was intended as an even more flamboyant evocation of the chivalric ethos of Richard Wagner's operas.

The rooms within the Palas that were finished by Ludwig are so overdecorated as to be almost overwhelming; the Throne Room (above) in particular was intended to resemble the legendary Grail-Hall of Parsifal (father of Lohengrin), and so was designed in an elaborate Byzantine style by Eduard Ille and Julius Hofmann. Inspired by the Hagia Sophia, the two-story Throne Room was only completed in the year of the king's death; the throne itself was never made.

The Grotto, which was not underground, as one might expect, but was located between Ludwig's living room and his study, was one of the most unusual rooms in Neuschwanstein, and was used by the increasingly-isolated king as a refuge in which to indulge his melancholy moods. Its artificial stalactites were built of oakum and plaster-of-Paris by the famed landscape sculptor Dirrigl of Munich. Dirrigl had already built a far more extragant grotto in the park of the Schloss Linderhof. This artificial lake was designed as a kind of real-life stage set for the "Venus Grotto" scene from Wagner's Tannhäuser (see below). It is in this underground boudoir, with its far more erotic atmosphere, that James and Henry Lee first encounter Ludwig's legacy in Valhalla.

The Venus Grotto at Schloss Linderhof.

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