"Mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria, The Drowned Swan King, von Frz. Werner, Munich, Cabinet Card, 1886
King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) was noted for his bizarre behavior, attributed perhaps, to syphilis. He drowned under mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, three days after being declared legally insane. Ludwig Friedrich Wilhelm’s extravagances ranged from his obsession with swans, the building of fairy-tale style castles, his latent homosexuality and his relationship and patronage to composer Richard Wagner. His excessive behavior kept him in the public eye. It earned him many nicknames, including “Mad Ludwig,” “The Swan King,” as well as “The Dream King.” His unusually designed anachronistic castles, such as Neuschwanstein, are now important Bavarian tourist attractions. The castles were inspired by Wagner’s operas. Most postmortem photographs of European leaders and nobility are simple dignified compositions. However, this postmortem image of King Ludwig II, with his casket surrounded by candles, was perhaps inspired by his love of Wagnerian opera. He is depicted as a quintessential Wagnerian hero returning as a warrior to his maker.
From Sleeping Beauty II - Grief, Bereavement and the Family in Memorial Photography by Stanley B. Burns, M.D.