The Gallery of Beauties was commissioned by King Ludwig I and painted between 1827-1850, mostly by court-appointed painter Joseph Karl Stieler. It features 36 women, selected by Ludwig, from the nobility and middle classes of Munich. Two additional paintings, done by Friedrick Dürck, were later added to the collection.
I don’t have photos or stories for all of the women featured in the collection, but will start my discussion with those that I do.
The Beauty of Munich
One of the best-known portraits of the collection is that of Helene Sedlmayr (1813-1898), a shoemaker’s daughter and member of the lower class. Her inclusion in the Gallery gave her notoriety as “the beauty of Munich.” Ludwig met her because she supplied toys to his children. He commissioned the painting of her in 1831 and supplied her with a dress to wear for the sitting, since she didn’t have a suitable outfit of her own. That same year, Helen married the King’s valet, Hermes Miller¹, and they would have ten children.
The next four women in this post were rumoured and actual mistresses of King Ludwig I. As you might guess, the man who commissioned a “Gallery of Beauties” had an interest in attractive women.
Popular actress Charlotte von Hagn (1809-1891) is another well-known painting in the Gallery. Her portrait, commissioned in 1828, features her in character for Friedrich Schiller’s play Wallenstein. Charlotte von Hagn was celebrated on stages in Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, Dresden, St. Petersburg, and Hamburg, among others. She was renowned for her beauty and demeanour, her talent for comedy, and for her skill as a conversationalist and a wit. She competed with actress Karoline Bauer; theatre audiences were divided into “Hagnerians” and “Bauerians.” She married landowner Alexander von Oven in 1848 and retired from the stage, but they divorced in 1851. She had an affair with Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt, and was rumoured to have had an affair with King Ludwig I. Franz Liszt, who might have had a case of the sour grapes, called her the “concubine of two kings.”
Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (1821-1861) was born in Grange, County Sligo, in Ireland. At the age of 16 she eloped and married her first husband, Lieutenant Thomas James, in 1837. They separated five years later and she became a professional “Spanish” dancer (yes, although she was actually Irish) under the name of Lola Montez, which she is better known by. She tried to dance in London with disappointing results, and moved onto Paris. She began accepting favours from wealthy men and was regarded by many as a courtesan. She met and had an affair with Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt (yes, the same guy who had a dalliance with our above German beauty, Charlotte von Hagn), who introduced her to George Sand’s circle. Lola was soon moving around in bohemian literary circles, and may have even had an affair with Alexandre Dumas. She had an ill-fated romance with newspaperman Alexandre Dujarier. The story goes that Lola and Alexandre argued over Lola’s attendance at a party; Alexandre went to the party, got drunk, offended a man, was challenged to a duel by that man, and was then shot and killed in that duel. It was more a series of poor choices made by Alexandre that led to this tragic outcome, but Lola was at the epicentre of the scandal. And all of this before she even made it to Munich!
Lola came to Munich in 1846 and became King Ludwig I’s mistress. She was not popular, and the public would lose their respect for Ludwig because of his involvement with her. Lola’s significant influence on political matters, as well as Ludwig granting her the title of Countess of Landsfeld and a large annuity, did not sit well with anyone. Her portrait, commissioned in 1847, was Steiler’s penultimate contribution to the Gallery. He was not excited about it, and was even fearful about the public’s reaction. He originally painted Lola in the costume of a Spanish dancer, but Ludwig had him paint over it with an outfit of black velvet instead.
Ludwig was forced to abdicate following the German Revolution of 1848 in favour of his son, Maximilian II. Lola fled Bavaria for Switzerland, where she waited (in vain) for Ludwig to join her. When he didn’t show up, she went to France, and then London. That is where she met and married her second husband, George Trafford Heald. Due to legal issues concerning her first marriage, Lola and George absconded to France, and then Spain, to escape a bigamy suit filed by George’s aunt. Two years later, the sheen of the marriage had rubbed off, and George reportedly drowned. Lola went to America to make a fresh start.
In America, Lola performed as a dancer and actress before marrying her third husband, Patrick Hull. This marriage also failed, and a doctor involved in her divorce suit was murdered. High-stakes drama just seemed to follow Lola around!
Lola went on tour in Australia to entertain gold miners. She scandalized the city of Melbourne with an erotic “Spider Dance” in which she lifted her skirts so high that the audience could see she wasn’t wearing any undergarments. She also allegedly attacked the editor of a small city paper in Ballarat, Victoria, with a whip after he wrote a bad review of her performance. On the return trip via ship from Australia to San Francisco, her manager ended up going overboard and was lost. More bad luck for Lola Montez?
It’s been suggested that Lola was the inspiration for the character of Irene Adler in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Like Lola, Irene is a performer who influences national politics through her relationship with a powerful man. This literary connection inspired the title of this post.
Marianna Marchesa Bacinetti (1802-1870) was an Italian noblewoman and translator of philosophical texts. Her portrait was commissioned in 1831. She was smart, educated, witty, and hosted cultural gatherings and salons. She studied natural sciences and published her ideas on socialism and communism. She married twice: to her first husband, Ettore Florenzi in 1819, and to her second husband, Englishman Evelyn Waddington, in 1836. She was a friend and mistress of King Ludwig I for forty years, and he often sought her advice. 3,000 of her letters to him (and 1,500 of his replies) survive. She was not pleased when she was told that Lola Montez’s portrait would hang next to hers. She threatened to withdraw her favour. She must have got her way, because I did not see Lola and Marianna beside each other when we toured the Gallery.
Lady Jane Digby (1807-1881) was an English aristocrat famed for her love life, which included four husbands and many lovers. Her father, Admiral Henry Digby, established the family fortune in 1799 by capturing the Spanish treasure ship, Santa Brígida, and taking home a tidy share of the prize money.
In 1824, Jane married her first husband, Edward Law. He was a Baron, an Earl, and then later the Governor General of India. They had one son who died at the age of two. Jane and Edward were divorced in 1830 by an Act of Parliament because of Jane’s affairs. Her lovers included Colonel George Anson (a cousin) and Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg (Austria). Jane had two children with Felix. The eldest, a daughter, was raised by Felix’s sister. Their son, Felix, died just a few weeks after his birth. Their affair ended soon after that.
Jane moved to Munich and met King Ludwig I, and it’s rumoured they were lovers. Her portrait was commissioned in 1831. In 1833, she married her second husband, Baron Karl von Venningen. They had a son (Heribert) and a daughter (Bertha).
In 1838, Jane started seeing Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis. Karl found out and challenged Spyridon to a duel, in which the latter man was wounded. Karl released Jane from their marriage and assumed the care of their children. Although Jane was not legally divorced until 1842, she and Spyridon got married in Marseille in 1841. They moved to Greece soon after. They had a son, Leonidas, but he died tragically by falling off a balcony in 1846. Jane and Spyridon divorced soon thereafter.
Jane then took on King Otto of Greece, King Ludwig I’s son, as her next lover. Then she had an affair with Greek hero and revolutionary General, Christodoulos Chatzipetros.
At the age of 46, Jane traveled to the Middle East where she met her fourth and final husband, Sheik Medjuel el Mezrab. Although he was twenty years younger than her, Jane found her happily ever after. Their marriage lasted until she passed away 28 years later.
Fun fact: she was fluent in 9 languages! Neil would be super jealous of that.
Auguste Stroble (1807-1871) was the daughter of a royal chief accountant. She was not a mistress of Ludwig I, but he did write poems for her. In 1831, with his approval, she married a forester, Hilber von Ergoldsbach, and they had five children. Ludwig visited her in 1835 and offered her one last poem.
Auguste’s portrait was one of the first to be commissioned for the Gallery in December 1826. However, Ludwig did not like the first version of the painting of Auguste, which he felt overemphasized her “goose-neck.”
The second version was painted almost immediately after the first version, in January 1827. Stieler used a different angle and a necklace to disguise the length of Auguste’s neck. Ludwig only had the second version of the painting exhibited in his Gallery, and the first one became lost. It resurfaced in 1976 at an art auction, was bought by the Munich Residenzmuseum, and then added back to the collection at Nymphenburg Palace.
The next group of portraits include women who were related to King Ludwig I in some way.
Princess Alexandra Amalie (1826-1875) of Bavaria was the youngest daughter of King Ludwig I and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Her portrait was commissioned in 1845. She never married and, instead, was appointed abbess of the Royal Chapter for Ladies of Saint Anne in Munich and Würzburg. Louis Lucien Bonaparte, the third son of Napoleon’s surviving brother, Lucien Bonaparte, asked for her hand in marriage after divorcing his first wife in 1850. Ludwig refused him, using Alexandra’s “delicate health” as an excuse.
Alexandra dedicated her life to literature. She published several collections of stories and essays. She also did extensive translation work in German, English, and French.
Princess Sophie Friederike von Bayern (1805-1872) was Ludwig I’s half-sister. They shared a father, Maximilian Joseph IV (Elector of Bavaria) and I (King of Bavaria), but had different mothers. Sophie and her identical twin sister, Princess Maria Anna, had Maximilian’s second wife, Karoline of Baden, as their mother. Sophie’s portrait was commissioned in 1841. She would marry the Archduke Franz Karl of Austria in 1824, becoming an Archduchess. Their eldest son, Franz Joseph, reigned as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and their second son Maximilian reigned as Emperor of Mexico (until the monarchy was abolished and he was executed in 1867).
Sophie’s husband, Franz Karl, was said to be somewhat feeble-minded. Her ambition to get her husband to give up his rights to the throne for their eldest son, Franz Joseph, during the Revolution of 1848 earned her a reputation for being cold and cunning. After Franz Joseph acceded to the throne, Sophie became the power behind the throne. She was said to be “the only man at court.” She was also noted for her close relationship with Napoleon II.
Personally, I love the hair bow she has going on at the back of her head. She’s one of my contenders for best hairstyle.
Are you interested in Sophie’s identical twin sister, Maria Anna? I know I am. Let’s sidetrack for a minute outside of the Gallery canon. Below is a picture of Maria Anna, also by Stieler. In 1833, Maria Anna married Crown Prince Frederick of Saxony. Her older sister, Amalie, had been married to Frederick’s brother Prince John, but she had died the year before. In 1836, Frederick became King and Maria Anna became Queen of Saxony. They did not have children. Prince John would then succeed to the throne of Saxony, and his and Amalie’s eldest son would follow after him.
I’m so curious about how they decided which sister would end up marrying Archduke Franz Karl of Austria. I’m also interested in knowing why only one sister was chosen to be in the Gallery of Beauties when they were identical.
Here is a picture of the two sisters as children with their younger sister, Ludovika, also painted by Stieler.
Marie Friederike (1825-1889) was the daughter of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia.She married Ludwig’s son, Maximilian II of Bavaria, in 1842. Her portrait was commissioned in 1843. Maximilian and Marie had two sons: Ludwig II and Otto I. Maximilian would become King and Marie would become Queen of Bavaria in 1848 when Ludwig I was forced to abdicate.
Auguste Ferdinande (1825-1864) was the daughter of King Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his first wife, Maria of Saxony. In 1844 she married King Ludwig I’s son, Prince Luitpold. Her portrait was commissioned in 1845. She and Luitpold would have four children. Auguste died of tuberculosis at the young age of 39. Her husband would later ascend to the throne and become Prince Regent of Bavaria after his nephews, Ludwig II and Otto I, were declared mentally unfit for rule. Auguste and Luitpold’s son, Ludwig III, succeeded his father as Prince Regent in 1912, and then as King from 1913-1918. Ludwig III was the last King of Bavaria.
Stories of the Other Beauties
Amalie von Lerchenfeld (1808-1888) was an illegitimate daughter of Duchess Therese Mathilde Amalie of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and a Bavarian diplomat, Maximilian-Emmanuel Graf von und zu Lerchenfeld von Köfering und Schönberg. (Good God, that’s a mouthful). Amalie’s mother, Therese, was an aunt of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Russian Tsar Nicholas I. Theresa’s husband, Karl Alexander Fürst von Thurn und Taxis, was invited by Napoleon to live in Paris and work with him on some projects. He was gone for years and, while he was gone, Therese had a passionate love affair with the Bavarian diplomat, Maximilian-Emmanuel. Maximilian died one year after Amalie was born. Amalie was raised by some relatives of her mother’s, and then later by her father’s von Lerchenfeld relations in Munich.
When she was fifteen, in 1822, Amalie met Russian poet and diplomat Fyodor Tyutcheve. She was the inspiration behind several of his love poems. Although she returned his affections, Amalie was pragmatic and ended up marrying Baron Alexander von Krüdener in 1825. Fyodor and Alexander almost had a duel over Amalie on January 19, 1825. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Amalie and Fyodor moved in the same circles but were able to see each other as friends. Amalie and Alexander had their first child in 1826. While in Munich, Amalie came across King Ludwig I and his brother Karl, who were both captivated by her beauty. Her portrait was commissioned and completed in 1828.
In 1836, Alexander was given a promotion and they moved to Russia. Amalie had her share of admirers there as well, including famed Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, Count Alexander von Benckendorff, and Tsar Nicholas I himself. Nicholas sent her a luxurious fur coat as a gift. Not bad, girl!
In 1848, Amalie gave birth to an illegitimate child fathered by 29-year-old Count Nikolay Adlerberg. Alexander was given an appointment as Ambassador and Envoy at the Court of the King of Sweden and Norway. Amalie pretended to be ill and stayed at home in St. Petersburg. She wouldn’t see her husband again, as he passed away in Stockholm in 1852. In 1854, Amalie opened an orphanage with her own money. In 1855, she married Nikolay Adlerberg.
Caroline Maximiliana Maria Freiin von Spiering (1815-1859) was a German noblewoman. In 1831, at the age of 16, she married Carl Theodor Graf von Holnstein. Her portrait was commissioned in 1834. Although her husband’s position brought her new opportunities at court, Caroline was bored living among the nobility. At a banquet she met and fell in love with a married nobleman, Wilhelm Freiherrn von Künsberg. They saw each other in secret. When his wife passed away, he moved into Caroline’s Spiering castle, Schloss Fronberg. He left his mounted cavalry regiment (known as the cuirassiers, they were armed with armour and firearms) at her request. Her husband, Carl Theodor, tolerated her relationship but did not give her an official separation. He even allowed her legitimate (there were three) and illegitimate (four) children to be educated together. When Carl Theodore passed away, Caroline and Wilhelm were free to wed, which they did in 1857. Her children with Wilhelm were legitimized.
I think she wins the best braid crown category of all the beauties in the Gallery.
The last woman that I have both a story and a photo for is Ekaterini Botsaris (1820-1872), also known as Katerina. Ekaterini was the daughter of Greek chieftain and revolutionary hero, Markos Botsaris. When the Greek Revolution broke out in 1821, she and several other women were taken captive and held in a distant land in the Ottoman Empire. During her captivity, Ekaterini was put under the protection of upper-class Ottoman women. She was later returned to her family after a prisoner exchange. She became a lady-in-waiting at the court of Queen Amalia of Greece. She accompanied Amalia on her court visits to other European countries. Her portrait was commissioned in 1841. In 1844, she was honoured by King Ludwig I with a Golden Cross. She won the admiration of the Bavarian public for her beauty and for being the daughter of Markos Botsaris. In 1845, she married Greek Prince and General Georgios Karatzas. They had four children. In 1856, a Damask rose species was bred and named Rosa Botsaris after her.
Now, in no particular order, are women whom I have a photo for but not enough information to make a compelling story about (unless I do a deep research dive, which I still might do later).
Maximiliane Borzaga (1806-1837). Her portrait was also one of the first to be commissioned, in 1827. She married Joseph Krämer, a doctor in Kreuth, around 1830.
Isabella von Trauffkirchen-Engelberg (1808-1855). Her portrait was commissioned in 1828. She married Count Hektor von Kwilecky auf Kwilcz around 1830.
Antonietta Cornelia Vetterlein (1811-1862). Her portrait was commissioned in 1828. She married Reichsfreiherr Franz Ludwig Friedrich von Künsberg auf Hain-Schmeilsdorf around 1843. She was rocking “The Princess Leia” long before Carrie Fisher. Kudos for the fabulous use of a pearl necklace as a diadem!
Nanette Kaula (1812-1847). Her portrait was commissioned in 1829. She married Salmon Heine around 1838. I like her bejewelled arrow hair accessory.
Regina Daxenberger (1811-1872). Her portrait was commissioned in 1829. She married Heinrich Fahrenbacher around 1832.
Amalie von Schintling (1812-1831). Her portrait was commissioned in 1831. She was betrothed to Fritz von Schintling, but died before the wedding. Now that is a tragic story I need to learn more about!
Also, her hairstyle might be my favourite. It’s a great combination of braids and is reminiscent of “The Princess Leia”, but consists of curls on the side, not braids. Also, excellent use of a double strand of pearls and a golden pendant with an emerald centre as diadem.
Jane Erskine (1818-1846). Portrait was commissioned in 1837. She married James Henry Callander, Esquire of Craigforth, around 1837. (The green line is a reflection from a light in the room, and is not on the original painting).
Theresa Spence (1815-?). Her portrait was commissioned in 1837. She has the best “do I really have to wear this laurel wreath and hold this harp?” face ever.
Wilhelmine Sulzer (1819-?). She married Karl Schneider, registrar, around 1838. Her portrait was commissioned in 1838. She is the only redhead!
Josepha Conti (1823-1881). She married Anton Conti around 1840. Her portrait was commissioned in 1844. I love a great flower crown, and this is one of those.
Antonie Wallinger (1823-1893). Her portrait was commissioned in 1840. She married Friedrich von Ott around 1860.
Friederike von Gumppenberg (1823-1916). Her portrait was commissioned in 1843. She married Ludwig Freiherr von Gumppenberg around 1857. Top-notch ringlets.
Rosalie Julie von Bonar (1814-?). Her portrait was commissioned in 1840. She married Freiherr Ernst von Bonar. She also has a great flower crown.
Irene von Pallavicini (1811-1877). Her portrait was commissioned in 1834. She married her first husband, Count Theodor von Holnstein aus Bayern around 1831, and then her second husband Freiherr Wilhelm von Künsberg von Fronberg around 1857. She has everything: bejewelled hair pin, pearl necklace as diadem, side curls, and what looks like a braid crown at the back of her head.
Caroline Lizius (1825-1908). Her portrait was commissioned in 1842.
Mathilde Freiin von Jordan (1817-1856). Her portrait was commissioned in 1837. She married Freiherr Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust around 1843.
Emily Milbanke (1822-1910). Married Sir John Milbanke, British envoy in Munich around 1843. Portrait commissioned in 1844.
Elise List (1822-1893). Portrait commissioned in 1842. Married Gustav Pacher around 1845.
Caroline von Oettingen Wallerstein (1824-1889). Commisioned in 1843. Married Count Hugo Philipp von Waldbott-Bassenheim around 1843.
Anna Hillmayer (1812-1847). Portrait commissioned in 1829. The picture I had taken of her had some major light glare on it, so the picture below is from Wikipedia.
I also used a Wikipedia picture below for Maria Dietsch (1835-1869). Her portrait was commissioned in 1850. This was Steiler’s last painting done for the Gallery.
Luise von Neubeck (1816-1872). She was the daughter of the royal chamberlain and officer Baron Karl von Neubeck and his wife Leopoldina. She became the canoness of the Holy Spirit in Munich. Her portrait was commissioned in 1839, but it went missing between 1921 and 1937. There was a photograph taken of it, which is included below.
There are 36 portraits on display at Nymphenburg Palace. Since Luise’s portrait is missing, both versions of Auguste Stroble’s portrait are displayed. This makes for a symmetrical exhibit of 36 paintings, grouped in six.
Below, note that Marianna is not sharing a wall with Lola Montez.
Ludwig commissioned two other paintings for the Gallery of Beauties. Stieler had passed away at this point, so he had Friedrich Dürck paint them. Dürck was Stieler’s nephew, and had studied under him. He had helped his uncle with his portraits, and had also copied a few of them on his own. If you can’t get Stieler, Dürck would have been the next best thing.
The portraits aren’t exhibited at Nymphenburg Palace, so I’ve pulled the portraits for these women from Wikipedia. I’m not sure why – maybe because they would upset the gallery symmetry? Maybe it was a choice just to include Stieler’s works?
Anna Bartelmann von Greiner (1836-?). Portrait commisioned in 1861, and done by Dürck.
Carlotta Freiin von Breidbach-Bürresheim (1838-1920). Portrait commissioned in 1863, and done by Dürck. She was the daughter of Baron Philipp Jacob von Breidbach-Bürresheim and his wife Caroline. She was a lady-in-waiting to the Grand Duchess Mathilde of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1858, Carlotta visited the Munich court with the Grand Duchess. She met Ludwig I at the time, who had been widowed since 1854. He admired Carlotta and wrote her 250 poems, and may have proposed marriage. In 1863, Carlotta married Count Philipp Boos of Waldeck. They had six children.
The Men Behind the Gallery
Ludwig I (1786-1868) was the son of Maximilian IV (Elector of Bavaria) and I (King of Bavaria). Louis XVI of France was his godfather and namesake. This connection might later explain why his grandson, Ludwig II, felt connected to the Bourbon dynasty. (Understandably, the Sun King and his legacy was a better one to model oneself after). Ludwig I’s marriage to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen was the occasion of the first-ever Oktoberfest. They would have nine children. He became King when his father passed away in 1825. He was a lover of art, women, and the German Middle Ages. He was also a notoriously bad poet. (Maybe that’s why Carlotta turned him down? 250 bad poems can’t really speak in your favour). He was forced to abdicate following the German Revolution of 1848, but remained a generous patron of the arts.
This portrait of King Ludwig I was also done by Joseph Stieler. This was painted in 1825, at the start of Luwig I’s reign, when he would have been around 39 years old.
Joseph Stieler (1781-1858) was born in Mainz into a family of engravers, punch cutters, and die makers. Joseph received some artistic training from his father, but mostly taught himself. He began his career as a painter of miniatures, which became highly sought after. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and spent some time working in a Paris studio. He established himself as an individual portraitist in Frankfurt in 1808, and then worked as the Bavarian court painter from 1820-1855.
Below is a self portrait of the artist.
One of his most famous pieces is his portrait of Beethoven (shown below).
I love this painting, as well as all of the ones he did for the Gallery. He was very talented!
I hope you enjoyed this long post. It’s always fun to write and learn more about female figures in history.
One more post is forthcoming on Munich, this one about royal carriages and sleighs!
¹A note on names: it can be hard to decide which name to associate each woman with. Some of the women may keep their maiden name, and most will change their surname to their husband’s when they get married (but not always). It gets trickier when a woman has more than one husband as she may cycle through a few different surnames, occasionally interspersed with her maiden name if she obtains a divorce. A woman’s name at the time her portrait is painted might be different from the name she is associated with for most of her life. To try and avoid confusion, I am using bold typeface to indicate maiden names and the surnames of their husbands, to indicate other possible name combinations the women may have gone by. It’s not a perfect system, but I hope it helps.