Friday, June 29, 2018

On the Road: Munich (June 29, 2018)

Chandelier in the main building of Nymphenburg Palace
Today is my first day traveling alone after ten days as a chaperone with a youth orchestra touring Central Europe. I had hoped to continue reflecting my travels with the orchestra here in my personal blog, but blogging for the tour group left me no time. Now I find myself in Munich, staying walking distance from the Nymphenburg Palace, which turned out to be well worth the time it took to visit.

I spent about three hours seeing the main palace building and the extensive gardens around it, crisscrossed by paths and canals, with ponds large and small, the famous garden pavilions, and a museum of carriages and sleighs housed in what once were the palace stables. It's worth it to buy the ticket that gives access to all the sights on the grounds.

A Chinese-inspired wall decoration
The palace was built in the early 18th century as a summer retreat from court life for Bavaria's royal family, but was later expanded and modified. The rooms of the main building are interesting for their interior decorations, often using textiles or tiles in what was known as the "Chinese style," reflecting fanciful notions of life in China and a mishmash of Asian influences. Some of the decorations appear to have been authentically made in China, but they were made for the European export market rather than for domestic consumption and they have been tailored to European tastes, in some places incorporating Western-style linear perspective, for example.

Portrait of Katerina Botsari by Joseph Karl Steiler,
one of the 36 beauties in the Gallery of Beauties
I very much enjoyed seeing the famous Gallery of Beauties—36 portraits, painted between 1827 and 1850 (mostly by court painter Joseph Karl Stieler) for Ludwig I of Bavaria, reflecting the king's taste in women. I'd say he had a good eye; many are indeed beauties. I was rather taken by a number of them but perhaps liked Katerina "Rosa" Botsari best. According to Wikipedia, she was a member of the Souliot Botsaris family in the service of Queen Amalia of Greece and "admired throughout the European courts." King Ludwig also had a quite democratic outlook. Most of the portraits are of royalty or other nobility, but some of the women depicted are commoners.

Royal horse carriage
Carriages and sleighs may sound dull, but the Marstallmuseum houses a fabulous collection of royal conveyances that has to be seen to be believed. The one pictured here is among the simplest in the collection. Others are so heavily decorated with cherubs and sphinxes and all manner of other gilded ornament that it's a wonder they were able to move. The largest of them required a team of eight horses to pull. In addition to sleighs and carriages, the museum displays a wide variety of horse trappings, including a horse blanket with hundreds of bells attached used on horses that pulled sleighs through the snow. The horse must have been audible long before it arrived. A sign points out that one of the carriages cost the equivalent of about 140 times a baker's annual salary at the time, which, if my calculations are correct, would be the equivalent of going on $6,000,000 in today's money. These were the custom-built super-luxury yachts of their day.

Detail of ceiling decoration
in the Amelienburg
Each of the garden pavilions is interesting in its own way. The earliest, the Pagodenburg (1717-1719), is decorated inside with blue and white Dutch tiles. The design is supposed to evoke blue and white Chinese porcelain. The Amalienburg (1734-1739), decorated with mirrors and in silver and blue, the colors of the Bavarian royal family was a gift from Elector Karl Albrecht to his wife Amalia, who was a daughter of Emperor Joseph I. My online research suggests that many consider it to be the finest extant example of a European pleasure pavilion in the rococo tradition.

The Badenburg is remarkable for its tiled pool. According to the Munich Tourist Office, Josef Effner built the pavilion between 1719 and 1721, although it was later remodeled. The pool was heated. The walls on the upper level are made of faux-marble (stucco painted to look like marble). We saw a fair amount of this stucco marble on the orchestra tour, but none was as well done as this. Finally, the Magdalenenklause (Magdalene Hermitage) is a rather bizarre church built on the palace grounds between 1725 and 1728 as a place for religious reflection. It is decorated inside as a grotto with stone and shells. The effect is rather gloomy, but worth seeing once just because the place is so strange.

Interior of the Magdolenenkrause
The gardens themselves are very pretty. It was a pleasure just to stroll in the woods and meadows of the extensive grounds. Birds were singing everywhere, but I was unable to see many or identify any in the woods beyond the common Blue Tit and what I believe are Chaffinches. In the ponds and canals were European Coots, several types of geese (including Barnacle Goose, Canada Goose, and Greylag Goose), Tufted Ducks, and a couple of varieties of Grebe, one of which was a Great Crested Grebe (pictured)—among others.

A grebe in a canal at The Nymphenburg Palace


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