It’s no secret that mainland Europe is home to some of the most stunning Baroque aesthetics in the world. To the European colonialists at the time, this small continent was the centre of the world, in terms of commerce, people and culture. Europe was, ostensibly, the occident and everywhere else was the orient, as Edward Said so eloquently explained in his 1978 magnum opus, Orientalism.
Europeans saw their landmass as the beating heart of the world, and the powers that be were laying the foundations for the modern economic system we know today as neoliberalism. Duly, everything of percieved worth flowed into Europe, as ships set sail to foreign climes in search of unearthing new riches and fertile lands at the expense of the indigneous inhabitants.
The vast wealth that Europe acquired at the expense of the rest of the world was unfathomable, and if you take a stroll through the centre of any European capital, be it London, Paris or Vienna, you’ll see that much of the architecture of that time, the ultimate symbol of wealth, has survived, although it might now have double glazing, or an international bank wedged into its first floor.
While these cities were the economic centres of power, many of those who weld that golden, arbitrary signifier actually resided in the countryside, detached from the squalor of inner-city life, in vast estates built by the finest architects of the day, in the image of the wealthy beholder.
Every country of the former old powers of Europe is dotted with these estates. Be it The Palace of Versailles, Schloss Ludwigsburg in Stuggart or Castle Howard in England, if you were to be blindfolded and place your finger on a segment of countryside in Europe, you’d be sure to find a nearby country estate. Interestingly, these buildings were never too far away from the city. After all, why would someone of such eminent importance seclude themself from the newest advancements in science, fashion and cuisine? They were at arm’s length, but not so far away that business could not be conducted with leisure.
One country that is bursting with such architectural marvels is Germany, and one of the standouts remains the now-iconic Schleissheim Palace. Comprised of three individual palaces in a glorious Baroque park in the village of Oberschleißheim, a suburb of Munich, Bavaria, the palace was the residence of the Bavarian rulers of old, The House of Wittelsbach, one of the most powerful families of old Europe. They’ve provided two Holy Roman Emperors and one king of Germany in their long existence, reflecting just how ancient and important they once were, even if today they exist in relative obscurity. They also happened to be the house of Ludwig II, the ‘Swan King’, the builder of the fairy tale Neuschwanstein Castle.
Wittelsbach was deposed in 1918, and the estate is now in the care of The Free State of Bavaria. However, over the course of the 20th century, in the post-war period, Schleissheim found a new purpose as the backdrop to some of the most influential films of the era.
Stanley Kubrick’s surreal 1957 anti-war film, Paths of Glory, used the palace extensively. It served as the French Army division headquarters, and the grisly, emotionally affecting the execution of the French soldiers was filmed in the grand garden of the New Palace. Furthermore, the court-martial was filmed in the great hall. Kubrick’s take on the war that signalled the break from the old world by the emerging new one, was perfectly set amongst the fine opulence of Schleissheim. The rudimentary modern inventions were placed in stark juxtaposition to their historic backdrop.
Alain Resnais’ influential 1961 outing, Last Year at Marienbad was also filmed primarily at the palace. The grand, haunting space of the grounds brilliantly augmented Alain Robbe-Grillet’s mysterious script. In monochrome, the palace looks particularly ominous, and the shots in the gardens are some of the most hauntingly striking that we’ve ever seen. This showed the power of the palace’s architecture, and that in colour or not, it will still leave a mark on you.
Join us as we take a walk around this baroque ode to power.
The Baroque marvel Schloss Scheissheim:
The history of the palace started with a Renaissance country house and hermitage built by William V, close to the historic Dachau Palace. The central gate and clock tower that are still present today date back to this original building. Under the direction of William’s son, Maximillian I, the buildings were extended between 1617 and 1623 by both Heinrich Schön and Hans Krumper, to form what is now known as the ‘Old Palace’. In a testament to the rulers, the inner courtyard is dubbed ‘Maximilianshof’ and the outer, ‘Wilhelmshof’.
The rooms in the Old Palace were decorated by esteemed Mannerist Peter Candid, adorning them with his work. Unfortunately, much of this segment of the building was destroyed amidst the scorched earth of the Second World War, leading to heavy reconstruction. Luckily though, much of the chapel survived intact. Today, it houses two exhibitions, one on the history of Prussia, and the other on religious culture.
In the garden of the Old Palace is a memorial to the Royal Bavarian Air Force, who served in World War I at the airfield next to Schleissheim’s grounds.
Lustheim Palace was built in the Italian style of a garden villa by Enrico Zuccalli between 1684 and 1688 for Maximillian II Emanuel and princess Maria Antonia. It lies on a circular island which forms a point of view for the conclusion of the court garden. With two stories, the middle section is dominated by a belvedere, giving visitors a stunning wide view of the lush countryside.
In the middle of the building is the large banqueting hall. It houses frescoes done by Johann Anton Gumpp, Francesco Rosa and Johann Andreas Trubillio. Additionally, since 1968, the palace has housed an enormous collection of Meissen porcelain.
New Schleissheim Palace:
Zucalli also erected the Baroque ‘New Palace’ situated between the two other palaces between 1701-1750. However, after Maximilian Emanuel lost control of Bavaria in the bloody War of the Spanish Succession, the construction was halted. It was picked up again by Joseph Effner, who enlarged the building to become one of the most astounding baroque palaces between 1719-1726.
The Grand Hall, Grand Gallery and the chapel are hailed as significant examples of German Baroque architecture. In addition to this status, the four apartments are decorated with works by some of the most respected artists of the day. These include Dubut, Zimmermann and Amigoni.
Furthermore, the bright depiction of Venus in the dome fresco was the work of the late Baroque mastermind Cosmas Damian Asam.
The Gallery of Baroque paintings:
The gallery of Baroque paintings is owned by the Bavarian State Picture Collection and is exhibited in several rooms. There are works by famed Flemish Baroque painters Rubens and van Dyck, as well as other pieces by Reni, Giordano, von Sandrart, Loth, Cano and de Ribera.
There’s also a collection of French paintings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. For the most part, these are closely linked to Maximilian Emanuel. Some pictures by famed painter Pierre-Denis Martin depict his relatives. Interestingly, his sister was married to the Grand Dauphin, with the painter himself married to the daughter of the Polish king Jan Sobieski.
The Grand Park:
The estate’s crown jewel, the Grand Park is one of the rare preserved Baroque gardens in Germany. The canals and bosquet area were arranged by that man Zucalli again. Water forms the centre point of the garden, and its serenity is what helped to channel the eeriness of Last Year at Marienbad.
The Grand Canal is part of the Munich channel system and is connected to the glorious Nymphenburg Palace. The gardens are complete with separate lines of sight for Dachau Palace, Frauenkirche and Fürstenried Palace. Miraculously, the gardens are home to a 300-year-old tree that has survived wars, lightning strikes and the rest.
Now we get to the good stuff, for those of you not bothered by Baroque opulence or history. The beer garden – or Biergarten – holds seating for 1,000, so you’ll always be guaranteed a seat. Its roots trace all the way back to 1597, when the owner of the iconic Hofbraühaus, Wilhelm V, retired to a farm there.
Following the construction of the ‘New Palace’ in the 17th century, the palace restaurant provided catering to its employees, and a royal brewery soon followed. It enjoyed much success, and today is a global brand, and for anyone who’s been to Munich‘s Oktoberfest, you’re sure to have seen the company’s branded steins, with the white M in the blue oval dotted in the hands of drunken revellers.
Visit Schleissheim’s historic beer garden and sit under the shade of the old Chesnut trees, supping the glorious nectar of gods whilst taking in the picturesque views of the Baroque period. Be sure to stay for the sunset, as it closes the door on a day of historical journeying.
If you do visit, don’t forget where the economic capacity to build such an imposing delight came from. That’s the irony of such estates; they’re a beautiful reminder of the horrors of the Imperial period. Whilst the rulers frolicked in their palaces, the rest of the world was mired in total squalor.