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A Total Work of Art

Text by: Peri Musser

In the sweeping landscape of Bavaria, Germany lies "Schloss Neuschwanstein,"(or "Neuschwanstein Castle"), a Romanesque Revival palace commissioned by the famous King Ludwig II (1864-1886), also known as "The Fairy Tale King." Its commanding beauty and intricate detail are nothing short of idyllic, and the influence it has had, as well as the influence of the creator himself, is far from trivial.

Schloss Neuschwanstein was a place close to King Ludwig II's heart. The castle was one of many reconstruction projects he took up after coming to power in 1864 at the age of sixteen. He was attached to the ruins since his youth, even taking excursions to sketch them in his diary in 1859. It represented his own dreams of a happy life and a place where he could find peace and comfort from a troublesome and lonely childhood. He wanted to build a castle that reached to the heavens; he wanted something closer to paradise than his dark, medieval childhood castle called Hohenschwangau, which is located only a short walk down the mountain from Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig II wrote in a letter that "this castle would be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau further down, which is desecrated every year by the prose of [his] mother; they will take revenge, the desecrated gods, and come to live with us on the lofty heights, breathing the air of heaven."

King Ludwig II had an extreme passion for the arts - beautiful paintings, music, architecture, and artifacts. He was well-known for leading an eccentric lifestyle in an era that was turning towards socialism, science, and mathematics. And it was his lifestyle that was ultimately used against him in his demise. Regardless of his avid patronage of music and art schools, little support came through from these institutions. The politicians turned against him, convinced the kingdom he was crazy, and ripped away his power. King Ludwig II died mysteriously in the hospital he was committed to, drowned alongside his doctor. A tragic end to a tragic life filled with loneliness and depression. It seems the only glimmer of hope, and his only refuge, was the artistic imagination he never lost. His magical life and creations, such as Neuschwanstein Castle, are powerful additions to the lineage of art history.

Schloss Neuschwanstein purposefully paid homage to the operatic genius, Richard Wagner, a man King Ludwig II became close to throughout his life. The grandeur of Wagner's operas - or Gesamtkunstwerk (translated as "total work of art") - bore extreme aesthetic ideals, those of which Ludwig II could relate to. Wagner's sentiments were dramatic and passionate, and King Ludwig II was inspired to lace that into each element and detail of this glorious architectural structure.


He was particularly influenced by two of Wagner's operas: "Tannhauser" and "Lohengrin." The musical mythology of these works was threaded into the most minute details of the Castle. In 1868, King Ludwig II wrote to his friend that "the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of "Tannhauser" (Singers' Hall with a view of the castle in the background) and "Lohengrin" (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel) [...]" The castle is theatrically designed and knit together with motifs and themes from the sagas of Richard Wagner's operas - an entire theater room even boasting a permanent scene. Much of the castle's interior was a reflection of King Ludwig II's desire to escape. He wanted to feel, breathe, and live the myths and stories told in the artwork that paraded down the hallways.

King Ludwig II has inspired many who have followed. Because of his magnificent contributions, Germany is graced with beautiful works of art and a history that unifies the country. Neuschwanstein Castle is also the inspiration for Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty's Castle, an icon whose significance spans the world and has become synonymous with magic. This fantastical world of which it is a part has inspired creativity for many years and will for many more to come.

The magic in art is that it builds upon itself. There is evidence of a transfer of technique, ideas, and passion, each work of art building and improving upon something before it. Collaboration of multiple forms of beauty is a numinous experience. Schloss Neuschwanstein is, in all the essence of the word, a Gesamtkunstwerk.