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Bayreuth, the Margravine Wilhelmine


The redoubtable Margravine Wilhelmine was the eldest daughter of Frederick William I of Prussia and favourite sister of his son Frederick the Great of Prussia. Her mother had ambitions for her to marry her Hanoverian nephew, Frederick Prince of Wales, with reasonable expectations of his becoming King of England and her becoming his Queen.


But plans were thwarted by her father, who, partly for political reasons, partly out of loathing for his wife's British relatives married her off instead to a minor royal and distant relative, Friedrich von Brandenburg-Bayreuth, the future margrave of the insignificant Franconian micro-state of the same name. With her money, education and intellect she turned the Bayreuth backwater into one of the most important cultural centres in Europe.


Wilhelmine commissioned the Italian theatre designer Giuseppe Galli Bibiena and his son, Carlo, to redesign the opera house in the Rococo style, rebuilt the Palace in Bayreuth, created the Hofgarten and remodeled the Old Palace of the Hermitage, just outside town, and added the fashionable amusements of water games, grottoes and other features. She was an accomplished musician and wrote an opera in which she also performed in the beautiful new opera house. The Margravial Opera House is now considered the finest surviving example of the period.


Opposite the Opera house the court architect, Joseph Saint-Pierre, built the Schlosskirche, or court chapel, from 1753 to 1758. Wilhelmine died the year it was completed and she is buried in a vault in the church's delicate Rococo interior, along with her husband and daughter, Friederike, Duchess of Württemberg, who was considered by Casanova to be the most beautiful woman in Europe.


As part of her plans to turn Bayreuth into a version of Potsdam Wilhelmine created the Neues Schloss in Bayreuth from a number of existing buildings. In conjunction with her expert craftsmen she created a delightful Rococo interior. Her particular concern was for her own private apartments; the Japanese room, where she appears as an oriental woman in the ceiling decoration; the Mirror room, where she figures as a Chinese woman; and the old Music room. The Italian wing has recently been reopened after a thirty year restoration. The beautiful painted plaster designs were made to give the appearance of porcelain.


The Margrave Georg Wilhelm, Friedrich's uncle laid out a park and Schloss in imitation of the English style outside Bayreuth, known as the Eremitage (or Hermitage). Here he and his court could live a simple life, dressing in monks' habits, sleeping in cells and eating soup from brown earthenware bowls. When Friedrich acceded as Margrave in 1735 he gave this house, now known as the Altes Schloss to Wilhelmine. She immediately set about having the Schloss extended, creating a series of magnificent Rococo rooms that counterpointed Georg Wilhelm's original austerity without eradicating it. There are themes to suit all tastes, a room portraying life in a Chinese Court, the music room created round Orpheus, the walls representing stucco musical instruments.  Many themes relate to the idea of an exile as Wilhelmine considered herself to be. From around 1750, Wilhelmine set about replanning the park, building a crescent-shaped Orangerie as a centerpiece. This is now known as the Neues Schloss the focal point of which is the domed, circular Sonnentempel, topped with a gilded representation of Apollo's chariot.


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Margravine Wilhelmine