Tuesday, January 17, 2012


("Marie, Queen of Bavaria", Joseph Stieler, 1842, Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich)

Isn't it heavenly when you discover a kindred spirit?

That's what happened to me when I was walking through art-drenched Munich last year.

It didn't take long for me to see that King Ludwig I of Bavaria and I have a lot in common.

Allow me to begin by saying that we're both fanatical lovers of art.

To say that the King and I are admirers of the Italian Renaissance is undoubtedly the understatement of all time.

"Luddy" and I can't walk by a glowing Madonna without stopping to reverence her majesty.

But it doesn't stop there.

Ancient Greece touches our hearts as well.

Especially classical Greek architecture.

I'm crazy about majestic columns and angled pediments.

"Luddy" erected bunches of columns and pediments when he built his neoclassical buildings in Munich.

That's what happens when you are the king.

("King Ludwig I in Coronation Robes", Joseph Stieler, 1826, Neue Pinakothek, Munich)

You get to dip your sticky fingers into the royal treasury and pull out a boatload of bucks.

And before you know it, your name is splashed all over everything artsy in Munich!

Years later, art lovers like myself stroll through Munich thinking to ourselves,  "Ludwig, you little devil!  You're a man after my own heart."

But art wasn't the only thing Ludwig loved.

He loved the ladies as well.


Sounds like I need to reevaluate my "kindred spirit" relationship with Luddy.

Claudia Lanfranconi has the inside scoop:

"King Ludwig I of Bavaria was susceptible to feminine charms from an early age.  On his journey to Italy in 1817 he raved about "the eyes of Sicilian women, which glow with passion and with an unutterable yearning."

Goodness me, Ludwig, I'm blushing like a rose!

How about dialing it down a notch or two?

Well, now, that's not gonna happen.

Instead, ladies man Ludwig will decide to create a monument to the glories of feminine beauty.

Isn't that just like a man?

Just once in my life I'd like to see a male create a monument to the glories of normal looking women.

Yup......that's right.

Normal looking women who have inner smarts, inner humor, inner "beauty" coming out the ying yang.

Forgive me for being cynical, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen.


In 1826, Luddy commissioned his court painter, Joseph Stieler, to paint portraits of 36 lovely-to-look-at ladies.

The alpha dog himself - King Luddy - selected the models for these portraits.

No surprise there.

I do have to give the guy creds for including the "ordinary women of Munich" as well as the ladies of the court in his lineup of beautiful "Miss Munichs."

Claudia Lanfranconi tells us more:

"The main criteria for inclusion were outstanding attractiveness and a spotless character.  Entirely in the spirit of German idealism, Ludwig equated external beauty with high morality and human integrity."

Of course he did!

He's chock full of male chromosomes which means that his brain may not be cookin' on all its burners.

If I understand Luddy correctly, he's saying that it is impossible for a woman to possess inner beauty unless she is drop dead gorgeous on the outside as well.


I can't believe I actually thought this idiot - excuse me, man - was going to be my art lovin' soulmate!

Portraitist Joseph Karl Stieler was trained in the Parisian workshop of the esteemed realist Francois Gerard.

Eventually, Stieler was asked by Ludwig I to paint his pretties for the so-called "Gallery of Beauties" which would be on display in the royal residence in Munich.

This he did.

Stieler's most notable painterly characteristic was his ability to focus on the sitter.

The usual decorative additions are omitted in many of Stieler's portraits.

As a rule, you're not going to see a gaggle of columns, draperies and furniture in Joseph's paintings.

(Stieler's above portrait of King Ludwig is an obvious exception.)

Hence, there is nothing to distract the viewer from her or his enjoyment of the painting's subject.

Joseph Stieler successfully achieved this goal by deliberately using the contrast of light and dark in his works.

This technique helps to accurately characterize the facial features of Stieler's sitters.

Such was the case when Stieler painted "Marie, Queen of Bavaria" - one of the last women to be included in the "Gallery of Beauties."

Marie was born and raised in Berlin.

She was the daughter of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and his wife, Landgravine Marie Anna of Hesse-Homburg.

In 1842, Marie married the Crown Prince of Bavaria who later became King Maximilian II.

This lovely woman was adored by the Prussian population which was mostly Lutheran and by Bavaria's Roman Catholics as well.

That's not an easy thing to pull off, by the way.

An important emphasis of Marie's royal good works was the reactivation of the Bavarian Women's Association whose objective was to care for and support wounded soldiers in the field.

The Bavarian Red Cross was officially founded as a result of the Bavarian Women's Association.

Those were some of Marie's good works.

And they were, indeed, good works.

Now, let's examine her stunning portrait.

As mentioned, Stieler used an economy of color and composition in Marie's portrait.

We see a pretty woman looking exquisitely royal in this painting.

Look no further than her ermine-bordered robe for that visual announcement.

Stieler has used raven-hued black, ruby red, creamy whites and a million shades of silvery gray to paint his portrait of Marie.

The effect is beautiful, isn't it?

I love his inclusion of two tiny spots of blue-gray which fill her eyes with clarity and life.

Marie is obviously an attractive woman.

Luddy got that right.

Her silvery gown is charmingly bowed and laced.

It is feminine to the max.

Marie's face is classically beautiful as well.

A simple strand of shimmering pearls loosely encircles Marie's neck.

Those splendid pearls, situated as they are in the middle of the painting, draw our eyes into the portrait.

Any further addition of accessories would take our gaze from the sitter herself.

Art museums are filled with portraits of women who are overdressed and over-jeweled.

Many of these painted ladies seem desperate for our attention.

Though, in fact, they may not be.

Marie, on the other hand, appears to have no such concerns.

She is tastefully adorned, simplistically beautiful and......

refreshing to the eye.

Marie's portrait is a perfect example of the truism "less is more."

King Ludwig I gallantly selected Marie for his "Gallery of Beauties."

Joseph Stieler masterfully painted her striking likeness for all to admire.

But that's as far as their visions and talents could take them.

Did they create the woman we see in this portrait?


Marie composed that picture all by herself.

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