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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Was German Emperor Wilhelm II gay?

The Emperor’s Achilles’ heel

4ftx 4ft 6 inches

towelling, thread, spray-paint, bitumen, acrylic, checked material.

This piece was inspired by a holiday to Corfu. Whilst walking around the grounds of the Archilleio summer palace in Gastouri, Corfu I stumbled upon the reclining figure representing The Dying Achilles, ’ Achilleas thniskon’. A marble statute by the German sculptor Ernest Herder, commissioned by Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1884.

It reflected her fascination for Greek culture. She wrote:

‘He represents the Greek spirit, the beauty of the land…’ and is ‘… as strong as proud and obstinate as a Greek mountain.’ Homer’s lliad describes Achilles as the warrior who both fought with and loved Patroclus, his best friend and comrade.

The dying Achilles lies semi-recumbent, his heel pierced by an arrow that will eventually kill him. His expression is ambiguous; he appeared pained or could be interpreted in another way. The face of the sculpture could be expressing his agony, his head looking skyward to the Gods awaiting his release to Olympia. The expression could also be reinterpreted viewing figure as a whole, he appears sexualised and looks like he’s just climaxed.

The sculpture is a titan of a male study, the photograph that I took on my phone doesn’t do it justice at all, it’s an epic dramatic piece which is hidden in the very back of the garden in a secluded spot. When I then found out about the palace is what drew me to my final piece.

I found that the palace including the surrounding grounds was acquired by the German Emperor Wilhelm II upon the death of Elizabeth in 1908.

I noted that the date of acquisition coincided with the end of the notorious homosexual trials involving high-ranking army officers, politicians and at the centre it all, the Kaiser himself. It seemed fascinating that the acquisition of the palace coincided with the end of these trials and it raised the question of why?

It may have been an idyllic, hidden, cliff-top retreat with beautiful gardens by the sea however it seems a strange choice given the circumstances of the trials themselves which implicated Wilhelm and placed him directly with the accused.

There was also another piece which the Emperor Wilhelm commissioned his own Achilles statue, ‘Achilles as Guardian’.

by the sculptor Johannes Götz who created a tall bronze sculpture known as the Guardian of the Gardens. This piece stood out facing north toward the city, so the public would see Achillies championing stance on the hill top looking down upon them, keeping them out

What I found particularly intriguing is that this defensive large figure guarded the public eye from the Achilleas thniskon and the privacy of the royals. I feel there is a poetic parallel of Wilhelm II and Achilles. Achillies was known as a warrior who could not be killed however, had a single weakness, his heel which ended his life when he was shot by an arrow. Compare this to the possibility that Wilhelm II may have had his own secret weakness, even with his wife and children, could he have been gay? A person in such a position of political power and stature would not be accepted in this time in history.

I was about to take my final year in University and whilst I was travelling took a lot of books to help me decide what my dissertation would be about. I came across a section in a book called: Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past

The book drew my attention to the trails called the Harden-Eulenburg affair’, which you can read a good overview on Wikipedia in more detail here.

Although the trails were not directly related to Wilhelm II however after the trails Augusta Sandel, Enlenburg wife later commented,

"They are striking at my husband, but their target is the kaiser." [

These articles make suggestion to Wilhelm’s sexuality however there isn’t any direct evidence that he was gay. I feel the Archilleio adds to the suggestion that he was at least conflicted with his sexuality.

He was also known for male-only hunting parties and long weekends. The stress of the scandal in 1908, caused many of those involved to fall ill, so on the one hand it can be seen as purely an escape but upon seeing it in reality, it is transparently a utopian gay retreat which would have been hidden away from the prying eyes of both journalists and general German public yet still accessible to the cognoscenti. In hindsight this aspect of Kaiser’s lifestyle is one that, although it had huge ramifications for consequent political events, is one that is hardly known and rarely discussed, even now.

Bringing the hidden history back to the surface, exposing events which have been whitewashed by the concerted efforts of partisan historians, and tourist boards who have chosen to ignore the clues that are so gloriously apparent at Palace of Achilleio. It is the overt dissonance between the public war-mongering, philistine and the private lover of Greek art and beauty that strikes one forcibly at the palace.

The piece comprises of a length of towelling that is hand-woven with thread and painted with bitumen.

The dichotomy between the pure, soft, white towelling against the thick viscosity of the bitumen with its connotations of staining darkness and sticky sordidness is emphasized by the use of binding that is a visual metaphor of social and sexual constraints imposed by state and society added by the colours of German flag which act as a wall behind the figure.

The viewer is left wondering about the subtle semiotics of which unveil the truth behind the public figure-what these conveyed during his lifetime and the contrast with what we perceive from them today.


  1. Thanks Zhenya, I think your work is amazing too!

    I love your drawings you create such clean lines with really fierce models in sharp outfits!

  2. Great blog.The articles are really interesting.

  3. Thank's I checked out your blog, what great place you have in Paraty! It looks like a wonderful retreat.

    Check it out people:

  4. Por gentileza,
    Gostaria de divulgar meu blog de POESIAS. Escrevo há algum tempo. Se você se interessa em poemas, literatura, poesia, acesse meu blog no seguinte endereço:

    Deixe por lá seus comentários. Vou adorar!
    Tenha alegrias duradouras e bastante saúde.
    João Ludugero.
    Se puder e quiser me adicionar. Obrigado! Adorei seu blog. Gostei muito de tudo que já li. Voltarei, de certo, para te apreciar. Abs.

  5. This is such a superb observation, and I am having myself a bit of a history lesson through your post. :)

    The Cat Hag

  6. A cultura grega por certo é uma cultura de tradição, mas a originalidade não está na cultura grega, ante uma análise da cultura universal; de certa forma, os gregos pouco foram pioneiros no conceito de arte ou democracia; ocorre por certo, que a cultura exemplar e genuína que clareou o universo artística vem do Egito e Oriente Médio.

    Belo post.

    Marcelo Portuária


  7. Thanks for you thoughts and positive guys, I used google translator to check out what Marcelo and Joao, it's nice to know the Blog is reaching out there!

  8. I've just found someone else's article on this subject which you can find here from 2005:

    Lee Hamilton has more recently upload an article as well

  9. I've just translated this bit which I find interesting:

    Homosexuality was a "springboard" into the inner circles of power have been. In this circumstance, there is an obvious interpretation: "Put in a nutshell, Wilhelm II was a homosexual," says Winzen. He stressed that this is likely, however, prove to be "inconclusive."

    He goes into detail on the "significant influence" of the imperial aides Gustav von Senden-Bibran that was previously not worked out so clear. Because of the many details surrounding the consultant William II Winzen comes to his thesis of "manipulation of the Emperor." With such findings, he hopes, not only the audience but also a broader readership interested in history to achieve. Reading provides many facts, but is not overcome without effort.

    Peter Winzen: "Dear friends at the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II," Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2010, ISBN 978-3-8391-5760-2, 188 pages, 12,90 €.

    Taken from here: