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  • The Utility of Splendor: Ceremony, Social Life, and Architecture at the Court of Bavaria, 1600–1800
  • Robert Oresko
Samuel John Klingensmith. The Utility of Splendor: Ceremony, Social Life, and Architecture at the Court of Bavaria, 1600–1800. Edited for publication by Christian F. Otto and Mark Ashton. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1994. Pp. 315. $45.

Bavaria was one of the most important states of the second rank in early modern Europe, and Klingensmith’s penetrating and meticulously researched study of its court would have been welcome alone for drawing Anglo-American attention to an area neglected in all but the German-speaking world. Its importance is much greater, however, because of its fundamental contribution to the debate over court studies, now at a crucial point in their development. Far too much scholarly work on the Continent continues to focus on the literary and visual elements of court representational culture, and with a few honorable exceptions, such as Béatrix Saule’s studies on princely dining, the French bear a weighty responsibility for cloaking such essentially formalistic analyses with a veneer of semiotics and for driving the argument remorselessly back to the Versailles system as, purportedly, the automatically copied model. It is surely significant that Klingensmith’s book follows shortly the publication of Robert Bucholz’s impressive study of Queen Anne’s court and anticipates William Ritchey Newton’s dissection of royal space at Versailles, thus indicating that important breakthroughs for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are coming from American historians influenced by the pioneering exploration of court etiquette and the planning of baroque state apartments published by Hugh Murray Baillie in 1967 in Archaeologia.

Common to all these studies is the central role accorded to function in understanding the early modern court, a grasp of the practical and political imperatives imposed by ceremony and everyday business that can be acquired only by profound immersion in primary, archival documentation. Klingensmith’s understanding of the Munich sources was exemplary and has already provoked public statements of admiration from Bavarian colleagues. He begins his book with an analysis of the Munich Residenz, the official seat of the Wittelsbach court in the capital, from the reign of Maximilian I, the first Bavarian elector, but then quickly moves out to the country palaces, Nymphenburg and Schleissheim, amongst others, which were in easy traveling distance of the Residenz. The court was not itinerant; it used different palaces at different [End Page 111] times of the year for different purposes, frequently dictated by the hunt. Klingensmith demonstrates how the workings of each palace determined its role in a larger, unitary system, so that, on one level, his study provides a functional analysis of the relationships between individual buildings, more precisely, individual palace compounds.

Moving inside the palaces, he focuses upon the distinctions made between public and private space and defines the activities that were specific to the rooms in these different zones. Historians of art and architecture must ponder what role this model leaves for personal taste in the design of palace buildings, their interior decoration, and provision of three-dimensional objects for use therein. The exclusivity of the private section triggered a proliferation of rooms in Bavarian palaces to accommodate a system of frontiers, creating spaces defined by function and regulating access to the elector. These were of such a number and complexity that, as Klingensmith tellingly observed, “in Germany, Louis XIV’s apartment would have been sufficient only for a prince of very minor rank” (125).

The distribution and use of internal space, including the critical question of the placement and function of staircases, demand a profound understanding of etiquette and ceremony, and here Klingensmith placed the academic community in his debt by providing, in his appendices, tables charting the monthly itineraries of the court and the codes governing the reception of official visitors of different ranks. These will serve as models for future court studies. My sole methodological caveat is the self-confessed (248, n. 7) inability to utilize diplomatic correspondence from foreign courts; the Archivio di Stato di Torino alone has some thirty boxes of reports documenting the daily activities of the Munich court from 1650 to...

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