It’s been an incredibly busy week here in Germany.
we went on a 40km long bike tour through the Danube valley,
we caught up on mundane stuff like laundry,
we traveled through the mountains to see castles,
we visited my elderly Aunt in the country and made our way to Ulm,
we toured the Ulmer Münster, (climbing up and down all 786 stairs of the the tower), walked the Altstadt and toured a couple convent churches,
another Convent church and a museum tour of artist Kuen and travel to Munich… whew!
Add to that the scorching summer temperatures and yeah, we are very tired now. The highlight of this crazy busy week, for me, came through in the form of royal textiles.
So, let’s backup to Monday. With my cousin driving, we headed out in the morning to take in a marathon of castles. We started with Neu Schwangau, where we were able to see both the Neu Schwangau and Neu Schwanstein castles. They are located in relatively close proximity to each other. Without booking months in advance, it’s pointless to try to get in for the tour. We had to be satisfied taking some photos and appreciating the gorgeous setting. Neu Schwangau is the yellow castle and Neu Schwanstein is the one you’ve probably seen on about a gazillion puzzles and posters. (Think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.)
Next stop was at Linderhof. This was the favourite castle of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 1800’s. So in a nutshell: Ludwig was the second son in line for the throne, his dad died, his brother died and at around 18 years of age Ludwig was crowned King. Buuuuut… because he was so young, a Prince Regent was assigned to rule. Ludwig was a soft sort who really wasn’t suited to the hard job of running the country. The Prince Regent held onto the power and Ludwig was simply a Royal figure head. Now what was an essentially powerless king to do with all that spare time? Why, build fairytale castles and run the country into bankruptcy along the way, of course.
“Get to the textiles already!” You say? I’m getting there, honest.
Ludwig had a love of artistry and longed for the power that absolute kings like Louis XIV of France had. So he fashioned his castles to give the appearance that he had real power. The rooms were fashioned to reflect the Baroque era with gold leaf, crystal and fine porcelain chandeliers, exquisitely crafted inlaid furniture, a cabinet made almost exclusively of tortoise shell and gold and yes, luxurious textiles unlike anyone could even imagine.
Sadly, we were not allowed to take photos inside any of the castles. We toured Linderhof and the castle at Herren Chiemsee. Where Linderhof was a residence (we were told he spent 2 weeks each month there), Herren Chiemsee was a tribute to Versailles and the French absolute kings of the Baroque era. There isn’t any hint of German or Bavarian anything anywhere in this incredible structure. The castle was never completed but the rooms that were, will take your breath away.
There were two main forms of tapestries that really stood out. There were drapes and the coat of arms textile hangings.
The drapes were primarily velvet; the colour was determined by the room they were in. From softest lilac and rich scarlet to the king’s favourite, blue. Rich, thick, gorgeous velvet. But wait, they were so much more! Depending on the room, they were richly embroidered with strands of silver and gold. Yeah, real silver and real gold. The motifs that resulted were three dimensional because of the thickness of the threads and the density of the stitching. Fringes of silver and gold adorned the edges of the valances, drapes and pull backs.
The wall hangings that displayed the coat of arms (usually French), we’re stitched using a technique referred to as “needle painting”. Each square centimetre held 100 stitches. That’s 645 per square inch! In fabric terms that’s 25.4 count… we’re talking petit point here. These hangings are massive and were as much as 4 feet wide and 8 feet high. They portrayed life like human figures showing off the symbols that related to that room’s heraldic theme.
One room alone took 30 highly skilled needle artists working full time seven years to complete. Imagine the cost! That was just the textiles from one room in one castle.
If you are familiar with Baroque and Rococo decoration you won’t be surprised that everything was very busy, flashy and well, kinda gaudy. However there is no denying that these resplendent displays of wealth, desired power and station are a testament to the legions of exquisitely talented craftspeople who pushed the boundaries of their respective arts to create these historical monuments. Whether King Ludwig II was a little crazy and self indulgent or not, the legacy he left to Bavaria is undeniable. I walked away feeling deeply proud of my German heritage and inspired to grow in my own creative avenues.
Here’s to what inspires us!