The Princess and the Glass Piano

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.

schonheitengallerie1I 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.

1826_alexandraBut 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.

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under this and that

10 responses to “The Princess and the Glass Piano

  1. Cool story! Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. She sounds like an unusual soul – brilliant and tortured. The glass piano thing is very strange indeed…

    Liked by 1 person

    • amo

      Apparently the “glass delusion” wasn’t all that uncommon; there’s several accounts of individuals who thought they, or parts of their body, were made of glass. It’s interesting though how often brilliance and a certain measure of mental/emotional disturbance go together.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It certainly is. I hadn’t heard about the ‘glass delusion’ before – it’s quite beautiful in a way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • amo

        Beautiful, but also difficult in many ways. The afflicted individuals usually were paranoid of being touched, or sitting down suddenly, etc, for fear of shattering. It would be hard to live that way.

        Like

  3. Rebecca Ouwehand

    Bavaria had a princess
    who wore a Victorian dress.
    A piano of glass
    was stuck in her … umm… tummy.
    Her family was known to obsess.

    (Sorry, guess I’m not very good at limericks either. I just couldn’t resist.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Mental illness, no matter how it manifests itself, is always sad and tragic. I thought the story was fascinating. You always seem to find these interesting little tidbits. 🙂 Life, the Universe, and always some good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • amo

      I just like my research rabbit trails… Really, if you want to write novels you don’t even need to make anything up – just dig for the stories that are already out there, floating around. So glad you found it interesting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s