There once was a princess of Bavaria… No, this isn’t the beginning of a limerick. For one, I’m not much good at rhymes. And for another, this line has too many syllables in it. So, no limerick. Just a little story that I stumbled across in my current research rabbit trails: the story of the Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria.
I was looking up the Gallery of Beauties, a collection of 36 paintings in Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, which I got to see last year on my trip to Germany (pardon the blurry photo). King Ludwig I of Bavaria was a notable connoisseur of feminine beauty, and so between the years of 1827 and 1850 whenever he met with a particularly beautiful young woman, he commissioned a portrait of her to be hung in his gallery. Yes, some of those ladies he had affairs with, but most of them are just beautiful girls he liked to look at. They came from all walks of life – one of the most famous one is “die schöne Münchnerin” (the beautiful Munich girl), Helene Sedlmayer, who was a shoemaker’s daughter and servant girl delivering toys to the royal palace.
But the one whose story caught my interest was about as far from a peasant as you can get – she was, in fact, Ludwig’s own daughter. Alexandra Amalie, born in 1826, really was beautiful (notwithstanding the weird early-Victorian droopy spaniel-ear curls she wore. Can’t blame her for the fashion aberrations of her time). And gifted, to boot – she has several published books to her credit.
But she was also a bit, um, disturbed. By the sounds of it, she was a germaphobe at a time when germs hadn’t even been discovered (the accounts describe it as “an obsession with cleanliness”). And then one day, when she was around 23, she was found to be sidling awkwardly down one of the corridors of the palace. Apparently she was of the firm conviction that when she was a child, she had swallowed a glass grand piano, which was still inside of her – so if she walked normally, straight on instead of sideways, she might get stuck in doorways. Or the piano would shatter, or something.
Yup. That’s some delusion alright. Then, so the story goes, one day when she was throwing up, some quick-witted servants chucked a little model piano in the bucket of barf, and told her that she had now vomited up the instrument and was rid of it. Unfortunately, the account I read didn’t say if it cured her of her grand delusion. But I do hope it did – it must be awfully uncomfortable to be living with a glass piano in your belly.
Incidentally, Alexandra Amalie was the aunt of Ludwig II, the Bavarian king who squandered massive amounts of state funds to live out his fantasies, building several “fairy tale castles” (including Neuschwanstein) so he could pretend to be a medieval monarch or be dining with the French Sun King Louis XIV (who’d been dead for almost two centuries by then). Apparently he came by his, uh, imagination honestly.
And those are the kinds of things you can learn about when you’re hopping down the research rabbit trails.
Life, the Universe, a Princess and a Grand Glass Piano. Aren’t you glad you know about her now?
PS: Most of this story I got from unverified Internet sources, chiefly Wikipedia and a couple of other sites. So it’s pretty much hearsay; don’t take it as quotable material – if you’re trying to do real research on the royal house of Bavaria, keep digging.
PPS: The English writer Deborah Levy wrote a radio play about Alexandra Amalie, The Glass Piano, which was produced by the BBC in 2011. Quite interesting – you can listen to it here.