This is the other face of Bayreuth`s history, the beautiful, intelligent and enlighted Markgravine Wilhelmine
She is considered as one of the most outstanding women of the 18th century. The Bayreuth of her epoch with its attractive palaces and parks, designed for the enjoyment of life, is largely the work of Wilhelmine, an expression of her personality, her thinking and her artistic preferences. Unlike czarina Kathrine or Maria Therese for example, Wilhelmine’s successes were achieved not in politics but in the intellectual and artistic world. She represented an epoch of change, the Age of Enlightenment.
Only a hundred years later the sky on German history darkened, nationalism and anti-Antisemitism started to dominated the political debates.
Wilhelmine was brought up to be the future Queen of England. 1714 George I became King of England. He was very orientated to Germany and founded the Dynasty of the House of Hanover from where Wilhelmine descended. The planned marriage failed for political reasons. So she dedicated herself to the fine arts. She painted, composed, wrote works for the stage, occasionally acted as well and directed. She was an important international writer who corresponded with the great intellectuals of her days. The great french philosopher Voltaire was so fascinated of her that he came to Bayreuth to visit her.
What a picture! Both adored theater, both appeared in public together on stage. The great enlightened France and the small provincial Bayreuth Margraviate together performing on stage! How different the German history would have been if …
Wilhelmine had a major influence on the planning and furnishing of the Bayreuth palaces and the design of the gardens. She was very gifted in all these areas and viewed culture as a whole as an integral part of life. Excellent artists came from Italy, France and from all over Germany to Bayreuth. The Italians, Guiseppe and Carlo Bibiena, father and son, the most important theater architect of that time, created a outstanding baroque treasure: the Margraves Opera House, which is considered the most beautiful baroque theater still in existence in Europe.
And there are the famous gardens! The style of gardening of the Baroque and Rococo epoch is still alive in the „Hofgarten“ at the New Castle, but above all in the Hermitage, we see here in this video one of the most important examples of German garden design, influenced, partly by the ideas of the Margravine Wilhelmine. My friend Winfried Parkinson, TV-author has produced this lovely video. He called the gardens of the Hermitage „A Kingdom of Fantasy“.
A last very sympathetic picture:
In these beautiful historic gardens of the Hermitage with its mysterious caves and water fountains, we see them both absorbed in excited discussions – the Margravine of Bayreuth and her friend, the great philosopher Voltaire, and in the evenings listening to music composed by herself, Wilhelmine, the beautiful Markgravine.
But – what an irony of history! It was the Margravine Wilhelmine who, by building the Opera house, aroused Richard Wagners interest for Bayreuth about hundred years later. Together with his wife, Cosima, he came to visit the Opera House, which was considered to be the biggest in Europe at the time. But during his visit he realized that it wasn’t suitable, considered to be to small for his great dreams of music theater. But far-sighted city councilors offered the composer a free plot of land to build the festival house according to his own ideas. And Wagner stayed in Bayreuth. With him, the other part of German history began … nevertheless also a new epoch of European musical history.
Margravine Wilhelmine died at the age of 49 on 14 October 1758.
Richard Wagner came to Bayreuth in spring 1972