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Wilhelm von Glúden, Baron of the Court of the Hohenzollerns, was born in Schloss Volkshagen, near Wiemar, in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg, a city on the Baltic Sea in what is now Germany. His father, Baron Erminio von Glúden, had married the widow of Herr von Raab and had died shortly after his birth.

His mother re-married with Wilhelm Joachim von Hammerstein who was a well-known, and well-to-do, journalist. His stepfather, also a Baron, was also a counsellor and friend to Kaiser Wilhelm. Wilhelm von Glúden was thus raised a nobleman, affluent and classically educated in the highest circles of the Prussian elite. But Wilhelm had no interest in politics.

Instead, he gave himself over to art and aesthetics. The study of ancient civilizations was then more popular than at any time since the Renaissance, and Wilhelm became a student of antiquity. After briefly studying art history (1876 - 1877), he turned to the study of painterly composition under Professor C. Gehrts in Weimar, an education he was forced to break off prematurely once diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis.

Wilhelm claimed to have been an illegitimate child in the family line of the Kaiser, because of which he was persuaded to become an exile from his native land, and for which exile he received a regular stipend from Berlin - on condition that he never return.

In reality, suffering from tuberculosis, at the time one of Europe's great scourges, von Glúden was advised to seek a warmer, drier climate. While recuperating at a Baltic sanatorium, von Glúden became acquainted with Otto Geleng, a man involved in developing the tourist trade of Taormina, Sicily. Geleng persuaded von Glúden to take up residence there in order to fully convalesce from his illness. Wilhelm von Glúden's step-father provided him the means to live in some splendour in Sicily.

He settled in Taormina, a hillside town on the northeast coast of Sicily which at the close of the nineteenth century was a small, impoverished Sicilian town unknown to tourists, to regain his physical and mental health (the psychological distress he experienced as a gay man unable to indulge his erotic fantasies). Although von Glúden originally travelled to Italy for reasons of health, he found there his "paradise on earth", as he himself put it.

In 1876, after arriving in Taormina, which at the close of the nineteenth century was a small, impoverished Sicilian town unknown to tourists, not only did health and psyche improve, but von Glúden was able to embark upon his artistic career. From Taormina he travelled often throughout Italy and in Naples would visit his cousin, Wilhelm von PlŁschow, a commercial photographer who taught von Glúden photographic techniques and inspired von Glúden to dedicate himself to the craft of his newly discovered photographic hobby.

On the day Wilhelm arrived in Taormina, the song of a burro driver - a handsome youth of sixteen or seventeen - was assigned to him to act as a guide. Wilhelm kept the boy with him the whole day, and, as fate would have it, for most of the night. Stretched out together on the uppermost tier of the ancient Greek theatre, they talked and laughed and watched the brilliant Mediterranean stars above. Later, they lay together in the warm meadows of Monte Ziretto with the sound of summer cicadas singing in the cool of pre-dawn. This was the start of what Wilhelm called his long starry nighter ecstasy, a delirium of carnal and spiritual rapture.

Taormina sits high above the sea, Originally a Greek outpost, and then a Roman possession. Taormina hangs between the sky and the transparent blue Mediterranean with breathtaking panoramas of the rugged coastline. Snow-capped influences of the previous civilizations - the Greek amphitheatre and columned temples, the Roman aqueducts still providing water - are everywhere. Above all, there are the people themselves, with their beautiful mixture of Greek, Roman, and Arabic features.

Being a Bohemian at heart, Wilhelm took up quarters in a modest villa with a lovely secluded garden-terrace where he would feed his birds and photograph his models. This terrace often appears in his photos, sometimes with a spring of a fennel tree propped in one corner (or in a Greek urn) for its picturesque effect, often with an animal skin draped over the bench upon which would be seated an artistic nude.

Though ill, Von Glúden retained his immense charm, which attracted to him ordinary people, as well as those closer to his rank and background. Everyone agreed that his company was a pleasure, and he soon was called to happily by the townspeople as Guglielmo, the Italian equivalent of William. He made no attempt to conceal from the citizens of Taormina what he was - a practicing homosexual in a time of strong social intolerance. He believed that human sexuality was to be enjoyed, and made this belief manifest in the way he lived his life.

His life harmed no one. People were never coerced into doing anything that they did not wish to do, and Von Glúden never prescribed sexual conduct for anyone. It is said that whenever a new model appeared uneasy at being photographed, the Baron would strip off his own clothes, don the leopard-skin, and together they would gambol about like young animal pups until the model lost his shyness.

During 1877 - 1878, von Glúden undertook his first photographic attempts, receiving instruction from local photographers. While on an excursion he visited Naples, where he established contact with photographer Wilhelm von PlŁschow, a distant relative. Von PlŁschow encouraged von Glúden in his ambition to become a serious photographer. Both men shared an interest in nude studies: both envisioned an antique revival via photographic composition. Von Glúden's travels took him, among other places, to North Africa.

Although rumours circulated that other boys in Taormina of whom he took nude photographs also became Gloeden's bedfellows, he remained a respectable resident of the small town. The townspeople chose to ignore Wilhelm's midnight orgies, even though they involved their own sons. They loved him as a kind, reliable friend - a giver of employment when money was sorely needed, and one who touched their ordinary lived with the class of rank and intimate graciousness. When a local family had a setback, Wilhelm would often invent some work to be done in order to justify a gift of aid, which would not be otherwise accepted by the proud people.

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The Baron in 1878 engaged the services of a fourteen-year-old boy, the handsome Pancrazio Bucini (c. 1864 - c. 1951). A dark-skinned lad with large eyes, Wilhelm gave Pancrazio the nickname "Il Moro" (The Moor) because of the Arabic strains in his blood. Il Moro, after being one of his first models, became his assistant.

Wilhelm's affection for IL Moro grew rapidly and was returned. The youth tended to Wilhelm's illness: administering medications, bargaining with the townspeople for special restorative foods, preparing the warm salt water baths prescribed by the doctors, and arranging for many local youths to participate in the midnight revels that Wilhelm offered his house guests. Il Moro was not just a servant but a much-loved friend, lover, and ally. He would stay on as Wilhelm's personal assistant for the rest of Wilhelm's life, and became the heir of his photographic legacy. Von Glúden and Bucini were, in a sense, monogamous lovers, for il Moro was still with the Baron when the latter died in 1931. Wilhelm followed his own private cure which consisted of taking a bath every morning in fresh water mixed with sea water which men had to carry up the mountain for him. He could well afford this because his stepfather was a very rich and powerful man.

As of 1883 his images began to appear in such important exhibitions as the annual exhibition of the Royal Photographic Society, and that of the London association for artistic photography, "The Linked Ring". From 1895 von Glúden was deprived of his financial independence when von Hammerstein, his stepfather, lost his fortune. Grand Duke Friedrich III of Mecklenburg-Schwerin came to von Glúden's assistance, presenting him with a large format plate camera.

This encouragement helped von Glúden climb from amateur ranks to establish his career as a professional artist photographer. The period from 1890 to the outbreak of the Great War was the most fruitful of von Glúden's career, accounting for the major portions of his glass negatives. From 1895, Taormina had become a favourite destination of affluent society.

He secretly provided dowries for daughters of poor families whose potential husbands were young men of whom Wilhelm was fond. He would later establish a system of accounts which provided, "royalties," to the boys who posed for his cameras. The money allowed many young men to start businesses or purchase boats with which to earn a living, or seek an education in the city. Many Taorminese families owe their present level of prosperity to a grandfather or great uncle who modelled for Von Glúden.

In 1889, von Glúden's stepfather, the Baron, had angered the Kaiser by printing an account of a secret meeting with foreign officials. The state confiscated the Baron's estate and all his possessions, and would have locked him in prison for life had he not been able narrowly to escape capture. He fled to Greece, unable to join Wilhelm in Sicily, since the Kaiser had agents who would seek him out and have him killed. Wilhelm now found himself with no source of income, his regular remittance cut off by the Kaiser.

Wilhelm considered journeying to Germany to plead his case, but decided - wisely - that this would be too risky of a venture. He had no choice but to let go of his staff of servants, even Il Moro. But the youth refused to leave. Saying that he had been with Wilhelm in riches, he would now stay with him in poverty.


Self-Portrait in a Turban
Many of the pictures were taken in the decade before WWI when the artist was about 40 years old. Evidently, he adored the local culture.

Self-Portrait in a Suit
A more formal picture, taken 1891. It's hard to imagine him wearing such attire on any average day. Not the clothes of a free spirit!

Self-Portrait as Theatre
This self-portraits conveys well the defiance of a life lived freely, much as Oscar Wilde did before the trial.

IL Moro
When the 23 y/o von Gloeden settled in Taormina, he was met by a 14 y/o whom the artist called Il Moro (The Moor). They remained lovers for the next 51 years

Burial Place of von Gloeden
16 February 1931 - Tacrmina
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