Beyond Ludwig’s dreams

Beyond Ludwig’s dreams

What could be conceivable as more kitsch – in its common meaning of the dreadful combination of ‘excess’ and ‘bad taste’ – than a huge and pompous castle that is at once neo-Byzantine, neo-Romanesque, neo-Gothic and at times even neo-Renaissance, built with ‘modern’ means and techniques at the end of the 19th century?

In the Neuschwanstein Schloss(1), commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria, it seems as if all the factors of falsification, subrogation, and invoked sentimentalism that commonly characterize the aesthetic and semantic sphere of kitsch coexist to the point of exasperation.

In addition to the most immediate considerations concerning the formal aspects – by now actually historicized – some issues are more directly linked to the prevailing ‘pop’ logic of the mass culture. The same logic, indeed, that made Walt Disney recognize the Bavarian castle as the perfect icon of an ideal ‘enchanted kingdom’ model to be infinitely replicated and successfully sold to millions of consumers(2).

Yet Ludwig intended this residence as a jealously private place, a proper mise-en-scène – without spectators, staged by himself in the dual role of director and protagonist – to escape from a cold and tormented reality, and certainly not to ‘impress’ the endless hordes of tourists who crowd the castle today. If the cliché of the eccentric ruler may be persuasively representative of the theme of ‘excess’ – intended as an excess of power, ready to overflow into an excess of form, by its very nature enemy of the ‘good taste’ – at the same time, the lonely king clearly had very little in common with the desire for status-symbol that the Kitsch-man described by Dorfles so craves(3). Therefore, what does distinguish Ludwig’s castle from the opulent villas or magniloquent lofts inhabited by the contemporary ‘new rich’ people? How blurred is the boundary between the conscious and amused pastiche of an intellectual bored by reality and the outright mess of those who pursue, using the representative power of architecture and without any awareness, a statement in society ‘at all costs’? And is a deliberately and subtly ironic use of unscrupulous kitsch language somehow ‘legitimate’ today?

«Ars est celare artem» states a well-known and fortunate classical aphorism. Art, to be so called, must conceal itself, appearing as much as possible to be the outcome of a spontaneous, ‘natural’ process. The artist is entrusted with the task of hiding all the efforts that may have been made to achieve the final result, if not, the artist loses that essential ‘sprezzatura’(4) so widely praised from Baldassarre Castiglione onwards. This principle, despite all the obvious limitations and inevitable paradoxes that it has been calling into question for centuries, highlights certain aspects of a new and sordid kind of kitsch typical of our times. A kitsch, that is much less noisy, and therefore in many ways much more difficult to recognize, emerges with increasing evidence in the architecture of those who strive to appear unnaturally ‘sophisticated’. Once the anachronistic capitals, stuccoes, cornices, and golds have been forgotten, today’s bourgeoisie wishes to identify itself in a badly misunderstood ‘minimalism’, as much pretentious as it is crawling. Yet, in certain circumstances, ‘even the absence of ornamentation makes ornamentation […], simplicity can be a fanciness, naturalness an artifice’(5). Today’s displays of mannered sobriety often reveal all the flatness of a way of thinking that is as inconsistent as it is addicted to the logic of consumerism, ready to echo the ‘rise of insignificance’ described by Cornelius Castoriadis(6).

In a world that, certain of being able to recognize the ‘bad taste’ resulting from an excess of signs, is increasingly indulging in sneaky, insidious, sterile, and aseptic kitsch, we should perhaps reconsider the inventions of those who, still today and with the best version of a negligent nonchalance, attempt to move beyond the canons of cliché, beyond Ludwig’s dreams.


1. See G. Knapp, Neuschwanstein, Axel Menges, Stuttgart-London 1999.

2. See M. Augè, Disneyland e altri nonluoghi, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1999.

3. See G. Dorfles, Il Kitsch. Antologia del cattivo gusto, Gabriele Mazzotta editore, Milano 1968.

4. See B. Castiglione, Il libro del Cortegiano.

5. P. D’Angelo, Ars est celare artem. Da Aristotele a Duchamp, Quodlibet, Macerata 2005, p. 42.

6. C. Castoriadis, La montée de l’insignifiance, Seuil, Paris 1996.


Mattia Cocozza, architect and engineer, is PhD in Architectural Design (Iuav University of Venice) and Post-Doc Research Fellow at University of Naples Federico II. In 2022 he curated the monographic exhibition “Stefania Filo Speziale. Abitare la città mediterranea” (promoted by Open House with the Italian Ministry of Culture) and published the related book (Clean, Naples 2022).