King Ludwig I of Bavaria had a thing for the ladies, and he filled a hall at Schloss Nymphenburg, the summer palace near Munich, with portraits of his favorites.
Ludwig I (grandfather to “Mad King” Ludwig II, builder of Neuschwanstein Castle, who was born at Nymphenburg Palace) was a passionate admirer of classical beauty. Not so hard on the eyes himself, he passed his time collecting Greek and Roman statuary, designing neo-classical buildings around Bavaria, and collecting classically beautiful women. He was married to the fetching Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen at the age of 24 in October, 1810 in a wedding which set the precedent for Octoberfest celebrations ever since.
There are 36 portraits of young women in the king’s special collection in the Southern pavilion. Most of the paintings in the gallery were created by the court portraitist Joseph Karl Steiler, with a few additions by Friedrich Durck. They include local beauties like Helene Sedlmayr, whom the king happened to meet when she came to the palace to deliver some toys the queen had ordered for the children, and became known as the “Schöne Münchenerin,” setting the standard of loveliness for Munich girls for a generation.
Lola Montez, the mistress that cost him his crown, is less innocent.
Born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland, by the time she met Ludwig in Munich at age 25 Lola Montez had already been shuttled around family in India, England, and Scotland, scandalized London with her “Spanish dance” burlesque, been married and divorced, and hooked up with both Franz Liszt and Alexander Dumas in Paris. She was known for her darkly glamorous looks and her feisty temperament, alternately described as violently obstinate or merely mischievous – possibly depending on whether the speaker was sleeping with her at the time.
She met Ludwig in 1846 and they quickly became a couple to the general displeasure of his family and country, particularly when he made her “Countess of Landsfeld.” He abdicated the crown in 1848 as riots broke out in Munich, at least partially because of his unpopular and public affair. Afterward he attempted (unsuccessfully) to follow Lola out of the country. She came out of the scandal none the worse for wear, however, and was married again shortly thereafter. She went on to stir things up elsewhere in Europe, then in Australia, San Francisco, and New York City, where she died in 1860.
Another less-famous woman of derring-do who graces the walls of the Schönheitengalarieis is the English adventuress Jane Digby, a striking blonde beauty, daughter of a daring sea captain and friend of Sir Richard Burton. She not only took up with Ludwig I, she later had an affair with his son, King Otto of Greece. After other assorted affairs and marriages, she set off for the Middle East, eventually settling in Damascus with a dashing sheikh half her age.
On a more tender note, another notable entry is another mistress, the Florentine Marianna Marquesa Florenzi, a gifted and intelligent woman known for her translations of European philosophical works into Italian, who was King Ludwig’s lover, friend, and confidant for some forty years. Some 4,500 letters passed between the two of them survive to this day.
Know Before You Go
20 minutes from Munich via tram #17 towards Amalienburgstraße