Shahjahan in Germany

Heritage

Shahjahan in Germany

Magnificent:  A German peacock throne dating back to the 19th century.

But in the Moorish kiosk of the Linderhof Castle in the State of Bavaria in Germany, I saw a Peacock Throne, made in the 19th century, by the ‘Mad King’ Ludwig II, known as the ‘Shahjahan of Germany’.

Nearly 125 years after his death (or murder or suicide) in 1886, King Ludwig II is still the greatest benefactor of tourism in Germany, just as Emperor Shahjahan’s grand edifices in India, bring the rest of the world to see India. In fact, King Ludwig, who ruled Bavaria from 1864-86 admired Emperor Shahjahan very much and showed a great interest in the art and culture of India. The famous Indian drama Sakuntala was staged in one of his palaces, and it is interesting to consider the tragic saga of Germany’s most ‘prolific’ builder of castles and palaces.

Today Bavaria is one of the ‘Lander’ or provinces of Germany. But 150 years ago it was one of the numerous German - monarchial states, which the great statesman Bismarck united into a single German nation. Born in 1846 Ludwig became the King of Bavaria in 1864 at the age of 18. Linderhof was originally the location of a hunting lodge owned by Ludwig’s father. But the ‘Mad King’ converted Linderhof into a radiant ‘light’ palace. The palace completed in 1878 under George Dollman, is full of statues of marble, limestone, cast metal and gilded cast zinc — a unique synthesis of French and Bavaria rococo architecture.

In this palace, to quote a contemporary eyewitness, he created fantasies of unparallel elegance, “he boarded a gilt rowing boat in the shape of a shell and had himself rowed upon an artificial lake; while five different coloured illuminations were creating phantom effects for the shell vessel and the drifting dreamer king. A stirring finale with a waterfall aglow in yellow and red ended with a rainbow moving slowly across the scene.” The most interesting item in the Linderhof Palace is the Peacock Throne made by George Dollman for King Ludwig and kept in the Moorish Kiosk of the palace. The design for the Peacock Throne seems to have been made a number of times by the architect Seitz. He studied the plans of Shahjahan’s Peacock Throne.

Tavernier, the 17th century French traveller who had seen the Grand Mughal’s Peacock Throne had stated that there was only one peacock at the top of the throne. At this juncture, it appears that some other historian’s version showed the Mughal Peacock Throne to have two peacocks in it. The second plan with two peacocks was approved, replacing the former design with only one peacock. Finally, when the plans were completed, Ludwig had a Peacock Throne with three full sized Peacocks on it. In fact, Ludwig’s Throne comes nearer to the conception of a Peacock Throne than the Grand Mughal’s original. It was made by the French jewellers firm of Le Blancgranger of Paris in 1877. It consists of three peacocks, made of cast metal coated with enamel, placed around the head of a sumptuous divan. The central peacock is one with the height of 130 cm (51 inches)  and the full spread train at 195 cm (77 inches more than six feet). The other two peacocks have the spread train at 115 cms (45 inches) each. There is a divan on either side of the central seat. The peacock feathers are made of Bohemian glass.

The Moorish Kiosk housing the Peacock Throne is equally brilliant and to quote a historians “like a mirage, the Maurischer kiosk (Moorish kiosk) rises up in Linderhof Palace.” Ludwig acquired this Kiosk from the Bohemian castle Zbirow. Before that, this kiosk had been in the possession of the railway magnate Bethan Henry Strousberg of Berlin. Ludwig had the Kiosk, which was built of iron, re-modeled and newly furnished. The decorative structure is covered with pressed coloured panels of cast zinc; minaret like corner-towers sparkle, the massive central dome is a dazzling mass of gold. “Coming out of the Moorish kiosk and its hall with peacock throne is like stepping out of the Arabian fable of one 101 nights” according to travel writer Esther Knorr Enders.

But a small State like Bavaria was not able to support the construction of these extravagant palaces and by 1886 King Ludwig was beset with creditors clamouring for settlement of their dues. His Council of ministers unable to restrain the King from his grandiose declared him as  ‘Mad’ and the aggrieved king was forced to retire to his palace at Schlossberg as a prisoner. On June 13, 1886 his body was found floating in the nearby lake with that of his medical attendant… Whether it was a death by accident / murder/ suicide, has not been sorted out to this date.

But the grand ‘dreams’ converted as palaces by the Mad King are a source of immense revenue for Germany as millions of German and foreign tourists visit his fantastic architectural wonders in Bavaria. Germany has spent millions German marks in the maintenance of Linderhof palace alone, and in renovating the Moorish kiosk. King Ludwig’s Peacock Throne lords over the Linderhof palace in great magnificence.  Since 1918, over 60 million people have visited the Linderhof Palace. In the last decade more than 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer.          

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