Second post of the year already! My how time flies.
My parents and sister visited us in Switzerland over the holidays (which really helped make our new home feel like HOME), and we spent a few impromptu days together in Munich, whence they flew home. Silly family! I hope they wanted to spend the day in 19th century splendor, for they all deferred to me on the question, “What should we see in Munich?” A quick Google search revealed the words Nymphenburg Palace to this eager historian’s eye, and we spent an amazing afternoon (or at least I did) in what proved a paradise for the Janeite. What does this Bavarian palace, favored summer home to the rulers of the former kingdom, have to offer fans of a quintessentially British author? Oh so very much.
Nymphenburg is home to the Gallery of Beauties, a collection of 36 portraits commissioned by King Ludwig I and painted between 1827 and 1850 by court painter Joseph Stieler. The notion was to not merely capture the most beautiful female faces in Munich at the time; each sitter’s beauty was to be a manifestation of her moral integrity. The portraits are intended to capture the full spectrum of feminine perfection and yet reflect a single, unified ideal. To this end, each painting is the same size and scale. My first impression upon stepping into the gallery, displayed in a square room, in six sets of six paintings each, was that I had found an author’s treasure trove of inspiration. Keep in mind this is a portrait gallery where everyone is beautiful: not a hook nose or weak chin to sully the lot. That was overwhelming in itself. Each of the 36 ladies would make an excellent book cover. As soon as I found my bearings I began to play Austen’s game of searching for her heroine’s in the portraits displayed (see letter 61), and I hit the jackpot coming face to face time and again with a multitude of beloved characters. Allow me to introduce to you to these ladies while sharing some of the other treasures of the palace.
Catherine Morland (aka Rosalie Julie Baroness von Bonar)
…her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind — her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty — and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is. -Northanger Abbey
What would Mr. Tilney say about the maintenance of this gown? The material is sure to snag, especially those precariously pinned sleeves. Nymphenburg happens to be fitted with a Rococo cabinet that would delight the imagination of this young heroine, entirely fitted out with panels from Chinese lacquer screens, which Catherine would have called “Japan” and was the height of 18th century fashion. Don’t you wonder whose laundry receipts might be in the chest?
Isabella Thorpe (or Amale von Lerchenfeld)
Catherine, looking up, perceived Captain Tilney; and Isabella, earnestly fixing her eye on him as she spoke, soon caught his notice. He approached immediately, and took the seat to which her movements invited him. His first address made Catherine start. Though spoken low, she could distinguish, “What! always to be watched, in person or by proxy!” – Northanger Abbey
Nymphenburg has the most astounding carriage museum imaginable, housed in the former royal stables. The collection is large and ornate: a testament to the decadence of the Bavarian kings. Here are some of the more humble equipages, though still far grander than John Thorpe’s second-hand gig, silver moulding not discounted.
Elinor Dashwood (Regina Daxenberger, daughter of a coppersmith)
She had an excellent heart;–her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught. – Sense & Sensibility
Astute and amused, this lady screamed Elinor to me. In a nearby state bedroom, a gorgeously worked fireplace screen also brought her to mind. It is not painted like the set Elinor made for her brother and sister-in-law, but it is far too beautiful not to share.
Marianne Dashwood (Nanette Kaula, daughter of a Jewish Court Agent)
Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows,
her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. – Sense & Sensibility
Those brooding eyes – here is a young lady who takes herself very seriously. Ironically, she seems to have been struck by cupid’s arrow, much like Marianne when she is rescued by the seemingly gallant Willoughby.
Fanny Dashwood (or Marianna Marchioness Florenzi)
Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:–he might even have beenmade amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself;– more narrow-minded and selfish. – Sense & Sensibility
I feel bad about associating Ludwig I’s lifelong friend with a troll like Fanny, but in the portrait she does not look to me like a pleasant woman.
Lucy Steele (or Katharina Botzaris)
“And yet I do assure you,” replied Lucy, her little sharp eyes full of meaning, “there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in your manner that made me quite uncomfortable.” – Sense & Sensibility
Notice how Miss Botzaris isn’t quite looking the viewer in the eye? I can see Lucy being painted thus, after her marriage to Robert Ferrars.
Elizabeth Bennet (Auguste Strobl)
“I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.” – Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice
This is the second portrait of Miss Strobl commissioned by Ludwig. He rejected the first portrait, pictured to the right. Both capture Lizzy quite nicely, I believe, but I agree with the King in preferring the version in which she glances at us over her shoulder.
And for all my fellow Austen Authors who have penned scenes of sleigh rides at Pemberley, what think you of these? Not quite what you had in mind, I imagine.
From the plaque at the Carriage Museum:
The hunting sleighs belonging to the Munich court were not only used when court society rode out on festive occasions, they were also employed in the so-called carousel. This was the name given to the mock tournament which used magnificently decorated hunting sleighs and which had grown out of a courtly game played by knights called ’tilting at the ring’. A marked course was staked out on a square enclosed by galleried for spectators and loggias for the royal house. Couples lined up against each other in the competition and consisted of the cavalier steering the sleigh and the lady being driven by him. The sleigh driver had to use as much skill as possible to pilot his partner to several of the stations built up along the course. The woman then had to hit a mounted target with a lance, a sword or a pistol. In the simplest of cases this target was a ring, but heads made of paper mache were also very common. These had to be run through, toppled, or hit in some other way.
Jane Bennet (aka Amalie von Schintling)
“Oh! she is the most
beautiful creature I ever beheld!” – Mr.
Bingley, Pride & Prejudice
The sad story behind this portrait is
that the young lady
pictured died later the same year it was painted of tuberculosis. This tragedy aside, I find her serenely beautiful: every inch Charles’ reserved angel.
Fanny Price (Alexandria Amelia Princess of Bavaria)
“She was then merely a quiet, modest, not plain-looking girl, but she is now absolutely pretty. I used to think she had neither complexion nor countenance; but in that soft skin of hers, so frequently tinged with a blush as it was yesterday, there is decided beauty; and from what I observed of her eyes and mouth, I do not despair of their being capable of expression enough when she has anything to express. And then, her air, her manner, her tout ensemble, is so indescribably improved! She must be grown two inches, at least, since October.” – Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park
Hard to imagine this princess was as sweet and mild as she looks, but as the portrait presents her she is quite the perfect Miss Price. The lady represented on the cup is undoubtedly her mild-mannered aunt, Lady Bertram.
Emma Woodhouse (aka Caroline von Holnstein)
“Such an eye!—the true hazle eye—and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a firm and upright figure! There is health, not merely in her bloom, but in her air, her head, her glance. One hears sometimes of a child being ‘the picture of health;’ now, Emma always gives me the idea of being the complete picture of grown-up health. She is loveliness itself. Mr. Knightley, is not she?” – Miss Taylor, Emma
Who else could this saucy yet elegant lady be? While Miss Woodhouse would like to see Mr. Knightley arrive in a carriage as befits a gentleman, I think she might have considered this conveyance, Ludwig II’s new dress coach, a bit over the top.
Jane Fairfax (Anna Hillmayer, daughter of a Munich merchant of game meat)
“I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way–so very odd a way–that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outree!–Those curls!–This must be a fancy of her own. I see nobody else looking like her!–I must go and ask her whether it is an Irish fashion. Shall I?–Yes, I will–I declare I will–and you shall see how she takes it;–whether she colours.” – Frank Churchill, Emma
Harriet Smith (Frederica Catharina, called Wilhelmine Sulzer, illegitimate child of a bookkeeper and court theater actress)
Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history…
She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness, and, before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance. – Emma
So the eye color is wrong. The rest of the description fits nicely.
Anne Elliot (Caroline Lizius)
She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, “That man is struck with you, and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.” – Persuasion
Elizabeth Elliot (or Marie Crown Princess of Bavaria)
It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth, still the same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago … –
How Elizabeth and Sir Walter might have refurnished the drawing-room were they not economizing: in the Egyptian style, the height of Regency fashion.
My time at Nymphenburg has fueled my longing to see the other palaces of the Bavarian kings, particularly those of Ludwig II. As I visit them, I will be sure to share my adventures with you here, as they shall certainly further inflame my Jane-obsessed brain.