From all quarters there are reports of cultural decline, but how bad can things really be when we have books like The House of Thurn und Taxis? This coffee-table book is above all a tribute to Princess Gloria Thurn and Taxis, the so-called “Princess TNT” who became famous for her friendships with figures like Mick Jagger and Prince. Here is a woman who nearly attended a Supertramp concert instead of accepting a dinner invitation from the man who would be her husband, who has often told Jeff Koons “I want to sell all I have and only collect your work!” (Has there been any more hilarious recasting of the parable of the rich young man?) I realize I am not exactly adducing evidence against pessimism, but it's hard to sit around and harrumph at a life lived with such gusto and piety, as the novelist Martin Mosebach points out in his contribution to the book:
Princess and mother-figure Gloria Thurn und Taxis possesses a courageous temperament that she manages to communicate to all around her. For her, “princess” is not simply a title, but also a duty. Under a monarchy, a princess had nothing of the private life our contemporaries hold so dear today. She had to lead her life in full public view, and was exposed to the criticism and scrutiny of friend and foe alike. Gloria Thurn und Taxis is not afraid of such a life that no one is demanding of her today. She seizes the good fortune of her birth as Countess of Schoenburg- Glauchau, a member of the Saxonian aristocracy, and her marriage to the late Prince Johannes Thurn und Taxis as a rare opportunity to live a life out of time with her times: as both feudal princess and democratic contemporary, as pious Catholic and collector of distinctly un-holy art, as patriotic Bavarian and member of the fashionable smart set who wander the world—all at once and at the same time without ever betraying a single one of these roles.
But the word “role” is misleading: Gloria Thurn und Taxis never play-acts; rather, she engages completely with every single moment of her life. Returning from a long period of travel, she bursts into the sleepy residence of St. Emmeram like a hurricane. The castle awakens and is filled with crowds of people. She organizes operas in the courtyard, as the princes of Thurn und Taxis once did in the Baroque period; she opens up the house and park to her guests and the people of the city; and she has revived the old tradition of glorious, multi-colored lights. At Christmas and during the summer, people flock to the castle in hordes, and it reflects the Princess’s style that her guests cannot be reduced to one “sociological common denominator.” She loves life with a passion, and she loves it wherever she finds it. Her parties are highly colorful, as befits a true court entertainment. And when most of the guests have left, there always remain some hundred and twenty people who are the princess’s favorites: the old and the sick who are cooked for every day at the castle, who can eat their meals in a beautiful dining room, or in their own homes.
After pushing through a massive reform of the aristocratic family's business interests, Princess TNT cut the family's personal expenses in half, all while keeping the poor and sick, her “favorites,” in mind. It's funny to think that the very reforms Pope Francis is trying to bring to his court came years ago to the House of Thurn and Taxis.
Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.