Copenhagen

In many respects, Copenhagen resembles Amsterdam with its docks reclaimed from the sea, its gabled merchant’s houses and its canals. Unlike Holland though, Denmark has no history of republicanism and was an absolute monarchy for much of recent history. The city is accordingly filled with towering baroque churches with copper spires, moated palaces, domes and towers. Statues of mythical creatures rear out of every corner. Copper statues fill all the parks, from the monsters in front of the Radhus to the Greek statues in the Botanical Gardens. Beginning in fron the Radhus’s gothic towers, the lure singers statue and the three gothic gargoyles by its balustrade, I walked past Tivoli, the last pleasure gardens in Europe, down the main shopping street to the Vor Frue Kirke, the city cathedral. The interior is white and spartan, showing a distinct neo-classical influence; the only ornament is from Thorvaldsen’s statues of the saints, which line either side the nave. Although the tone is in keeping with Lutheran theology, the results nonetheless seem odd for a Protestant church. The rest of the building was designed by C.F. Hansen, who also created neo-classical designs for the law courts and palace chapel. Nearby is the Sankt Petri Kirke, the oldest preserved church in the city centre of Copenhagen. Nearby to that is the Rundetaarn is part of the Trinitatis Kirke with its white interior and occasional gold ornament, the gothic interior being relieved by baroque ornamentation. The tower served as an observatory and affords a view as far as Sweden. A whitewashed spiral walk leads up the summit and a wrought-iron lattice railings. Near to this is the Sankt Nikolaj Kirker, now a rather poor art gallery. I feel rather ambivalent to this; I have little to no sympathy for religious belief but am concerned as to the implications of its welcome retreat for the beautiful buildings it has created. Few notable pieces of architecture reflect anything other than commercial ostentation, aristocratic conceit and religios progaganda, none of these boding especially well.

I had been to exhibitions with many of the works from Dahlerup’s Glyptotek, but was still impressed with seeing them in place, the red hippopotamus from the gardens of Sallust in the winter gardens. Foremost amongst the exhibits was a bust of Ptolemy, cut from the same black basalt as earlier statues (as well as more impressives statues, such as one of Anubis) but showing a face in the Grecian rather than Egyptian style. One Egyptian stelae shows Octavian making offerings to the Egyptian gods as if he were Amenhotep. This was followed by a set of Roman busts from differing periods and places, the Hellenistic, Republican (a more realistic style prior to idealised Julian statuary), Palmyran, Flavian and Severan. Notable figures included Antinous and a rather ephebian Dionysus (who assumed a more promiment role over time as attitudes became more fatalistic and mystery religions worshipping him or Demeter spread). Some busts retained the ceramic eyes originally placed in their sockets, given them a hauntingly natural sensation in contrast to the glacial and ephereal nature of most unpainted Greek statuary (one surviving bust of Caligula has a painted version alongside). Conversely, Greek statuary has tended to prefer bronze, with less of it surviving as a consequence, with one replica of Heracles also being striking for retaining its white and black ceramic eyes against the verdigris of the copper. Many of the museums in Copenhagen seem to have an unusually large Etruscan section, showing the brilliant colouring on the tomb frescos and statues (one Sphinx in particular), the black pottery and copper tools like mirrors. Where the exhibition also showed Fayum mummies, early rectangular Egyptian coffins, later mummy cases and carved Roman sarcophaguses, the Etruscans created funerary caskets in the shape of houses or even as seated statues (bearing Persephone’s pomegranate in one hand) of the deceased placed before banqueting tables in their rock tombs as part of an ancestor cult. More generally, the museum also had ceramic walls tiles from Babylon, depicting lions and mythological beasts.

The Glyptotek also showcases sections on Danish art and French sculpture. Rodin’s sculptures, such as The Kiss, depict scenes from Dante, with most of the French sculpture being either religious (the reaper seizing a young girl) or classical (Perses slaying Medusa). The Danisch sculptures are not dissimilar but Frend’s works tend to concentrate on Norse myth, showing Odin and the Valkyries. Many of the paintings show the idealised influence of Constable (such as Lundbye’s paintings, though some of his paintings of dolmen are more interesting), as a defeated and impoverished nation (after Nelson’s naval bombardment and a disastrous alliance with Napoleon leading to the loss of Norway to Sweden) sought refuge in escapism and in paintings of Mediterranean scenes, such as the Temple of the Winds and the ruined Coliseum, painted by Rørbye. The paintings of Dahl (his nighttime pictures of Vesuvius) and Købke (winter landscapes) particularly stood out from this. The Glyptotek is in many a normal gallery today but its central palmhouse and an extension modelled on the statue of Halicarnassus, note that its history is not typical. Created by the Carlsberg brewing magnate, Carl Jacobsen, who had also created some kitsch and grandiolquent (rather Stalinist) architecture at the factory in Frederiskberg; four elephants guarding the gates and tiled paintings of the founders while the nearby worker’s housing was rather more dour.

The National Museum also includes many ancient exhibits, such as a giant black basalt scarab, Jewish ossuaries, Christian Syrian mummies, a Phoenician/Aridian sarcophagus where the features were Grecian despite otherwise resembling an Egyptian mummy and Roman silver cups depicting scenes from the Iliad and Odyssey in exquisite detail. Elsewhere, the ethnographic section included Peruvian mummies, Javanese shadow theatres, and Aztec jade mummies. For the most part, the museum dwelt on Danish history though, such as wooden church sculptures, ivory goblets with spheres inside spheres from the royal kunstkammer, the Trundholm sun chariot, rune calendars and spells written onto wooden lengths in runes, golden altars, drinking horns, gold reliquaries, paintings reflected in a central cylinder to become visible, nautilus shells, eighteenth century chinoiserie tapestry and red lacquered panels. Much of the interest in runes seems to have originated with Ole Worm, an antiquarian equivalent to Stukeley or Dee, who was also interested in taxidermy, fossils (determining that certain horns came from narwhals and not unicorns) and helped established the botanical gardens in Copenhagen. Finally, there is a room dedicated to rune stones, contained several showing Swastikas and Triskeli as well as Futhark inscriptions (though it has to be said that it would seem preferrable for these stones to remain outside).

The Slotsholmen area is home to one of the older royal palaces and the current Parliament, separated from the rest of the city by canals. Just outside it, the Holmen’s Kirke is decorated in the baroque style, but with the carving in unvarnished wood. This was the naval church and a wooden ship model remains suspended from the ceiling. The church lacks a tower, instead forming a cross with equal lengths on all sides. Within the area, lies the Thorvaldsen Museum. Like the Soane Museum, Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum cast court, the museum serves as a mausoleum to the sculptor, including many of his sculptures, casts, collections and personal effects as a form of grave good. While the museum does feature his church sculptures, most of his work is classical and explicitly erotic, if not homoerotic. There are three versions of Ganymede (one showing him with the eagle), Adonis, Jason, Apollo and Mars. The building itself appears designed on its interior to ape Nero’s palace while the exterior has a frieze showing Thorvaldsen’s works being put in place (the tone of hagiography is often rather marked with busts and statues of Thorvaldsen being found throughout the museum). The upper floor displays Egyptian canopic jars, Greek red & black vases, Roman busts as well as a Brueghel that seemed more reminiscent of Bosch’s hell paintings. Overall, Thorvaldsen’s preference is for neo-Italianate painting in the Renaissance style. Nonetheless, the museum also has more Romantic depictions of Danish landscapes, such as more Dahl nightscenes.

The Botanical Gardens contain a variety of terrains, from Greek mountains, coniferous forests, herbaceous borders, bamboo glades and a lake complete with lilypads and a Monetesque bridge. Fat black and white ducks nestle nearby while a snake slides through the grass. The gardens are exhibiting poisonous plants, such as Belladona and Snowberry. Classical copper statues dot the grounds, such as a discuss thrower. At the centre is a glass Palmhouse, containing cycads, lillies and citrus trees. Some butterflies flit through the air in one of the houses. Nearby to it is the Rosenborg Slot, surrounded by a moat this was the palace of Christian the Fourth and was in use from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. The interior is accordingly varied, featuring the contents of the King’s Kunstkammer; a winter room whose walls are studded with Flemish pastoral and winter scenes, a marble room decorated with silver-lined mirrors, amber (Northern gold) caskets and chandeliers, ivory ship models, serrated paintings that display either the king or queen depending on where it is viewed from, black lacquered chionoiserie panels, a room were the walls are entirely covered in mirrors and gold Thorvaldsen statues. Finally, the upper floor houses a throne room, with a decorated stucco ceiling, narwhal throne, Flemish tapestries, silver lions and silver clocks and mirrors. Passages lead off to glass and porcelain cabinets, modelled on Charlottenberg in Berlin. The treasury in the basement houses the Gallehus horns (depicting a horned god), planet and eclipse machines, rock crystal goblets, an altar set with a skull at the base of the chalice and the crown jewels.

Nearby is the Hirschprung Museum, featuring nineteenth century ‘Golden Age‘ art. As with the Thorvaldsen museum, this covers material like Eckersberg’s portraits, Lundbye’s pastoral landscapes, Købke’s melancholy paintings of Frederiksberg through to later works like Ejnar Nielsen The Blind Girl (a Klimt like affair, showing a figure in black encircled by a gold river), Harald Slott-Møller’s Pre-Raphaelite Spring while other works like Theodor Philipsen View of the Road to Kastrup and works by Johannes Larsen’s were more impressionist. The grounds outside the rather funereal building are pleasantly rural, filled with lakes. A tree stump has been carved in the image of a turtle while a heron pauses at the water’s edge. Fungi grow from tree trunks. Walking back towards the waterfront, one comes to the Marmorkirken, a baroque green and gold dome. Otherwise known as Frederik’s Church, its grey marble interior is largely baroque, occasionally relieved by bright blue stained glass and gold mosaics. Next to its stands the three gold domes of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Walking past it to Nyhavn, leads onto the island of Christianhavn and the Vor Frelser’s Kirke. Constructed as an unmissable testament to absolute monarchy (or totalitarianism as we might call it now), its black and gold spire has a spiral wrapped round that was modelled on the interior of a snail (designed by Laurids de Thurah, who also conceived the nearby Charlottenberg Palace near Nyhavn). Walking round the spiral exterior was rather like becoming a figure from Escher’s Ascending and Descending or perhaps Tatlin’s Tower, Brueghel’s Tower of Babel or a funfair helter skelter. The interior is white with a ceiling studded with gold stars, angels lining along the altar rails, a giant wooden barqoue organ supported by two elephants and a gold crown handing above the font.Otherwise, the area is reminiscent of nothing so much as London’s Docklands (though the further island of Nyholm retains its position as a naval base and the same crane seen in nineteenth century churches), as warehouses are concerted into offices, save for small pockets like Christiania.

Venturing further afield, I came to Roskilde and its cathedral. Formely the capital of Denmark before being outstripped by mercantile Copenhagen, Roskilde is perhaps best described as being analogous to somewhere like Winchester. Built from red brick and plastered white on the inside, beautiful pre-reformation floral patterns lost in Copenhagen’s churches remain here, often depicting local devils (Tutivillus the “patron demon of scribes” or of calligraphy). More modern paintings of figures like Harald Blutooth now join these. The Danish royal family are interred here, often with later extensions to accommodate them; Christian the First’s chapel features Renaissance marble tombs in the style of ancient temples. Frederik the Fifth’s chapel is neo-classical, filled with black coffins with gold clawed feet and guarded by Sphinxes. Christian the Fourth’s chapel is more gothic, with a blue ceiling studded with gold stars where frescos of Biblical scenes line the walls. Finally, a tomb for the wife of Tsar Alexander and mother of the last Tsar is filled with Russian icons – it may now be returned to Russia, the Tsarina having escaped on a British destroyer. Ancient gravestones line the floors. Near to the entrance, there is an astronomical clock, with the roar of the dragon and St George striking the hour. Otherwise, the interior is flawlessly pure, save for gold altars, royal pews and organs. Finally, I visited the Viking ship museum by the fjord. Tiny fish and jellyfish dart through the water while swans glide overhead. Arriving back in Copenhagen, I went to the Helligånds Kirke for an organ recital by Gillian Weir. The church is, once more, white plaster, with dark wood panelling and gilt. It was the only church to still retain stained glass windows. Gold angels appeared on a frized at the back of the church before the baroque painted altar. The recital included Liszt, Durufle, Mushel, Jongen and Slonimsky.

The final day began with a visit to Malmö. Southern Sweden has been Danish for longer than it has been Swedish, and the new landbridge has once more joined the two cities. The city itself is lined by a canal, parks and graveyards (rather less ornate than British equivalents, often featuring natural motifs and still retaining iron railings). Within the city are many half-timbered buildings, a Dutch-style townhall while a Moorish synagogue stands outside the city. A windmill stands outside the moat of the castle. The cathedral is Germanic in style, built by German merchants who has travelled to the Øresund region to exploit the herring trade (the equivalent of the English wool trade), though one of the chapels retains wall painting very similar to that at Roskilde, showing George and the Dragon. The interior is extremely plain, with only a few baroque ornaments. The castle, a former prison, now houses a design exhibition. This covers a range of design periods; Italian and Flemish Renaissance painting (including a Bosch-like Dutch painting of Orpheus in the Underworld), Delft and Maiolica vases, vases in the classical style, with gold Egyptian handles and black ceramic, mirrors with black and white Wedgewood figures, large Art Nouveau vases dominated by dragons and peacocks as well as Art Nouveau stained glass with spider’s webs and peacocks. Most striking was the peasant art, with woven tapestries and painted wood. A historical exhbition contained another rune stone, showing Christ painted in gold and red. The castle’s rooms had been restored to something like their original state, including paintings of James and Mary Stuart (whose husband was imprisoned in the castle).

Returning to Copenhagen, I visited Kastellet, a citadel similar to that built at Malmö though still in use as a military base. The Little Mermaid statue rests in the waters here, between this and the industrial and naval complexes at Nyholm, as well as a statue of the Norse Goddess Gefion. Another oddity is the church of St Albans, an English church built to serve the British embassy (the Swedish embassy seems to have taken over an old church). I was left ambivalent over the Scandinavian social model; high costs mean that wages can be kept high across the board rather than being driven down as in the Anglo-American model. While this funds an exceptional welfare state and public services, the number of vagrants suggests that it can make it difficult for many to make ends meet. Conversely, working hours seemed much less than in England, suggesting a much greater focus on quality of life than on economic growth.

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