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Neuschwanstein, Historicism, and Romanticism in Architecture


Romanticism expressed itself in an architectural style called Historicism — a nostalgic return to past styles. King Ludwig’s fanciful Neuschwanstein castle demonstrates how the pointiest buildings in Europe are not 13th century Gothic but faux Gothic…over-the-top 19th century Neo-Gothic.

Complete Video Script

[28] Dreamlike beauty…medieval themes…the wonder of nature…these elements of the Romantic style also came together — all across Europe — in fairy-tale castles.

[29, Pena Palace (1854, Sintra, near Lisbon), Peleș Castle (1883, Romania)] Built during the same generation, fanciful architectural dreams like these capped hills from Portugal…to Romania…to the foothills of Bavaria's Alps.

[30, Neuschwanstein Castle, c 1880, Bavaria] Neuschwanstein — which looks medieval — was built only in the late 1800s. When Bavaria's King Ludwig wanted an escape from the grinding reality of governing, he found it here.

[31, Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, reign 1864 to 1886] Ludwig — a romantic's romantic — had grown up in this castle. From his bedroom chair, reading medieval legends while surrounded by the grandeur of nature, he dreamed up the ultimate castle. And, just up the hill, he built it.

[32] His medieval fantasy was completely modern — with all the comforts of the 1870s. It sits on a hilltop not for defensive reasons, but because the king liked the view. Ludwig slathered the interior with misty medieval themes taken from operas written by his friend, the Romantic composer, Richard Wagner. The golden thrown room, saintly kings, and crown-shaped chandelier placed Ludwig among the great kings of old. With its natural setting, exotic décor, and joyous spirit of freedom, Ludwig's castle is a virtual theme park of Romanticism.

[33, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna] Ludwig's historic looking castle was an example of an architectural style called "Historicism." The style spread widely in the late 1800s, when Europe was prosperous and confident. In England it was the Victorian Age, in France, the "Belle Époque," or beautiful age. And here in Vienna, they built this. With the changes of the modern world, many were like King Ludwig…nostalgic for an idealized past. Historicism showed itself in a Romantic mix of both old and new.

[34, Berlin Cathedral, 1905, Berlin; Hungarian Parliament Building, 1902, Budapest] Nineteenth century architects looked back into history for inspiration. Taking a little from here and a little from there — and employing new advances in iron enabling bigger and more decorative architecture — they cobbled it into something that looked old but was new, or "Neo."

[35, Austrian Parliament building, 1883, Vienna; Sacré Coeur church, 1914, Paris; Houses of Parliament or Palace of Westminster, 1876, London] Neo-classical like here in Vienna, Neo-Byzantine here in Paris…and when London's medieval parliament building burned down, they rebuilt it in Neo-Gothic style, complete with a bell tower to match.

[36, Týn Church, Prague; The British Museum, London] The most elaborate medieval looking architecture — like this the spires of this church in Prague, or this castle in Segovia — is not 800 years old like you might think. It's actually Neo-Medieval — about 150 years old; all of this was built or rebuilt in the same generation as the Eiffel Tower. Whether neo-this or neo-that, this style was a romantic way to hang onto a nation's historical roots while embracing the fast-changing times.