‘Mad’ king’s lost gift to Wagner gets rare show

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Culture & Arts -

KEPT safe in a silk-lined box by its Bel­gian “cus­to­dian” lies a piece of the his­toric legacy of Ger­man com­poser Richard Wagner that was nearly lost for­ever.

The Lo­hen­grin vase, made of porce­lain, was given to Wagner more than 150 years ago by Lud­wig II, the “mad king” of Bavaria, whose pas­sion for build­ing fairy­tale cas­tles was matched only by his love of Wagner’s op­eras.

It was be­lieved lost af­ter Al­lied bomb­ing in World War II de­stroyed much of Bayreuth, the town where Wagner built the leg­endary the­ater that now hosts an an­nual mu­sic fes­ti­val.

But one frag­ment emerged af­ter the war and was taken to the Bel­gian cap­i­tal, Brus­sels, in 1949, where it has largely re­mained out of sight in the in­ter­ven­ing years.

A group of Wagner devo­tees re­cently re­ceived a spe­cial view­ing dur­ing a pro­duc­tion in Brus­sels of the opera “Lo­hen­grin” - the work that first be­witched Lud­wig - and an Agence France-Presse (AFP) re­porter was given a rare glimpse.

Pa­trick Col­lon, the renowned or­gan maker and art ex­pert who now owns the frag­ment, said that “Lud­wig was barely 18 years old when he started think­ing about this vase, and he ob­sessed about it for six months. His di­aries are full of it.”

“Af­ter Lud­wig be­came king he sought out Wagner, who was hid­ing from his cred­i­tors, all over cen­tral Europe. He found him a year later and gave him this vase in May 1865 for his 52nd birth­day,” added Col­lon, 75.


Saved from the ru­ins of the de­feated Nazi Ger­many in 1945, the frag­ment at first looks in­signif­i­cant, con­sist­ing of just the blue and gold base of the urn-like vase, and part of one rounded side.

But it sheds an in­trigu­ing light on the ex­tra­or­di­nary friend­ship be­tween the young Lud­wig and the older Wagner.

The ec­cen­tric Lud­wig is best known for de­sign­ing the fan­tas­ti­cal Neuschwanstein near Mu­nich which served as the model for Dis­ney’s Sleep­ing Beauty Cas­tle.

A mi­nor king un­der whom Bavaria lost its in­de­pen­dence to Prus­sia, Lud­wig has nev­er­the­less gone down in his­tory as a pa­tron of the arts, es­pe­cially of the equally er­ratic Wagner. Lud­wig was just 15 and in­fused by the old Ger­man leg­ends when he first saw Wagner’s “Lo­hen­grin,” based on the tra­di­tional story of the Swan Knight, and which later be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for Neuschwanstein Cas­tle.

Two years later, Lud­wig be­came ob­sessed by cre­at­ing a porce­lain vase fea­tur­ing scenes from Lo­hen­grin.

“It was Lud­wig’s first cre­ation. He didn’t make it him­self but he imag­ined it, he dreamed up the scenes that were painted on it by his draw­ing teacher,” the Ger­man land­scape pain­ter Leopold Rottmann, said Col­lon. Rottmann’s wa­ter­col­ors of the re­cep­ta­cle - the only sur­viv­ing ev­i­dence of what it looked like in full -show four scenes from the opera and have a lid and han­dles in the shape of a swan.

The frag­ment in Brus­sels shows a gilded swan, the tragic hero­ine, Elsa, on a bal­cony, and the two vil­lains Tel­ra­mund and Ortrud. It is the only piece that sur­vived the Al­lied bomb­ing of Bayreuth on April 5, 1945. Two other sim­i­lar vases - a Tannhaeuser Cup and a Fly­ing Dutch­man Cup - were de­stroyed on that day.


“It was said that it had dis­ap­peared and that noth­ing was left of it. But in 1949 the Wagner broth­ers (Wagner’s grand­sons Wolf­gang and Wieland Wagner) were able to get a piece in a pretty box to a Bel­gian bene­fac­tor,” said Col­lon.

“At the end of her life, she gave it to a mu­si­cian friend. When the friend died it was passed to me.”

The bene­fac­tor, iden­ti­fied by Col­lon only as Juli­ette, con­trib­uted to the post­war re­open­ing of the Bayreuth fes­ti­val in 1951 and was nick­named “Joan of Arc” by the Wagner broth­ers.

The Brus­sels frag­ment is an ob­ject of fas­ci­na­tion for mu­sic lovers.

“A smart friend once said to me: ‘in the end, it’s mov­ing be­cause it’s bro­ken,’” said Col­lon.

“This frag­ment has sur­vived all the hor­rors of war.”

A piece of the “Lo­hen­grin Cup,” cre­ated by Lud­wig II of Bavaria for the late Ger­man com­poser Richard Wagner.

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