Author Archives: Claudia Suzan Carley

High Fashion at Copenhagen Design Museum

In honor of Fashion Week in New York City, I thought I’d post photos showing the closest I ever get to high fashion. In December, Copenhagen’s Design Museum, which covers an entire city block, featured an exhibit of the work of Erik Mortenson, a Danish designer who worked in Paris for years.

He was creative director at the couture houses of Pierre Balmain and Jean-Louis Scherrer between 1982 and 1995.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not particularly interested in seeing the navels and other anatomical parts the rich and famous like to display on red carpets these days. I could do with a return to elegance.

I could even do with a return to covered-up elegance.

For afternoon tea at the Ritz, maybe you’d like a satin Bermuda shorts ensemble? Didn’t think so, but somebody paid cash money…

For an evening entertaining guests at the chateau, how about velvet PJ pants with a handwoven ethnic-looking top?

Out on the street, how about a fun fur?

Or a pretty red wool number that I could (almost) see myself wearing?

People seriously interested in design could study the detailing on these hand-made works of wearable art.

Whether anyone actually wore them, couture designers have always come up with out-there designs. Those are bat-wing sleeves above–note the mannequin’s hands below. Who knows what holds up those finely-pleated silk sleeves? Sometimes fashion is mystery.

Sometimes super-wide hips can be fashionable.

They were in the eighteenth century, as in this wedding gown in the adjoining historic fashion gallery.

A wedding gown that Mr. Mortenson designed for a favorite niece in 1982 left me a little cold. It had a few ruffles and pearls too many for my taste. But I’m sure the groom thought his bride was the most beautiful woman in the world when she walked up the aisle.

The Design Museum also featured an exhibit on Japanese influences on Danish design–more on that later.

Half the fun of design museums is seeing what people wear.

As for me, my idea of high fashion is high ALTITUDE fashion.

I’m very happy to qualify for a senior-discount season pass at Steamboat, and to still be able to stay vertical on the mountain (most of the time). I do come in a lot earlier than I used to, which leaves plenty of time for dreaming of trips to come.

Love in the Air in Copenhagen

Every Saturday, couples in love keep appointments in Copenhagen’s beautiful and romantic City Hall.

It seems to be THE prime wedding venue in Denmark.

Possibly a formal tour would include the actual wedding hall.

But we were there on a busy Saturday, and without an invitation, we got only as far as a beautiful anteroom where friends and relatives gather.

Romantic frescoes cover the walls.

What’s this story about? I can’t read Danish, but I’m pretty sure it’s a love story.

Kids run around on the intricate tile floor.

Families gather, anxious to take their parts in the back-to-back ceremonies scheduled all day.

Happy couples pose for photos in the stairwells and hallways.

That great Danish Romantic, Hans Christian Anderson, watches couples come and go. (Sadly, the great love of his life was unrequited and he died a single man).

Maybe the newly married leave with some design ideas for their new homes? I certainly would. The City Hall is grand, yet most of the design elements look handcrafted. I’m going to copy some motifs myself.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Copenhagen!

Swan Maidens at Oslo City Hall

I was just planning on a quick walk-through of the building, which honestly is not to my taste. But the courtyard has sixteen large wood reliefs, each about eight feet tall, by Dagfinn Werenskiold. They portray Norse myths from the 13th century. He had me at the Swan Maidens. Legend has it that three Valkyries appeared on a beach one day in the form of swans. They turned into beautiful women, married three brothers who happened along and couldn’t believe their good fortune, and stayed fourteen years. Then they flew away. I don’t know the end of the story, but the Valkyries are beings that fly over battlefields, deciding who will live and who will die. Did the brothers later fight in battle and get saved? Or had they maybe left the toilet seat up one time too many? The answers are lost in the mists of time.

The Oslo City Hall replaced a slum in the middle of the city, directly on the Oslo Fjord. The exterior style is listed as “Functionalism,” which sums it up. The architects were Arnstein Arbeberg and Magnus Poulsson. It was partially built by 1939, but then World War II intervened and it was finally completed in 1950. The spectacular interior more than makes up for the so-so exterior.

Inside, the grand rooms were decorated by the finest Norwegian artists, chosen by competition. The details above are from Henrik Sorenson’s huge mural “The Nation at Work and Play.”

It dominates the Main Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year.

The rear wall features a mural by Alf Rolfson.

I like the “smaller” rooms even better. The Festival Gallery has windows looking out over the fjord, and a beamed and painted ceiling. Of course there are Viking motifs, like this creature inset in the marble floor.

Axel Revold covered the end wall with a mural depicting the long, narrow country of Norway from north to south.

Aage Storstein, a young up-and-coming artist, painted the West Gallery with images of freedom and democracy. I don’t really understand the history or the politics, but a captive princess and a bear depict the centuries that Norway was in union with Denmark (not exactly willingly, it seems).

My favorite room is a smallish one, the East Gallery. Per Krogh considered it his masterpiece.

The beehive represents city life and the rosebush country life.

He painted an uprooted tree as a rose window.

So much for a quick walk-by of a boring city building. I wandered in the Oslo City Hall for a long time. Outside, I admired Dagfinn Werenskiold’s wooden carvings again. How about Odin on his eight-legged horse Sleipner?

Or ponder “Embla,” an elm tree turned into the first human woman in a Nordic creation story.

Her partner was Ask, a man created from an ash tree.

I was so inspired by Norse mythology that when I recently had an art-class assignment to do a painting that tells a story, I tried my own Swan Maidens. They’re creepily faceless right now while I work out how to do noses and eyes and chins and mouths. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my Nordic memories.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Copenhagen’s Romantic City Hall

My new favorite City Hall is in Copenhagen.

Why do I even have a favorite City Hall? In most cities, it’s about the last place I’d care to visit. I remember a long-ago trip to Winnipeg, Canada, when I spent several frustrating hours in the City Hall dealing with a fender-bender. (The only consolation was that I got to see an actual Canadian Mountie in his spiffy red jacket).

But Scandinavian countries like Denmark are proudly secular societies. City Hall is front and center in people’s lives, much as cathedrals are in other cities.

Martin Nyrop designed the building in National Romantic Style. To me, it looks distinctly Jugendstihl, Art Nouveau, or Arts and Crafts. This is not surprising for a building inaugurated in 1905, the heyday of these artistic movements. In Denmark, the movement was called “Skonvirke,” meaning “aesthetic work.”

A gilded statue of Absalon stands grandly above the main entrance. Absalon (also known, maybe to his buddies, as Axel) lived from 1128 to 1201. He was a warrior, politician, and archbishop–a Renaissance man before there was a Renaissance. He conquered pirates who plagued early Denmark, expanded its territories, built the first fortifications of what is now Copenhagen, and began untangling Denmark from the Holy Roman Empire. I don’t know whether he was also a kingmaker, but King Valdemar I leaned on him for counsel.

Just inside the main entrance, I think Absalon is dispensing good advice. (Or maybe this is the king–I couldn’t find any information and there was no tour going on).

In early December, the great central hall was being set up for an event. Another time I visited, there was a fascinating exhibit about immigrants to Denmark. (I wouldn’t mind emigrating to Denmark myself).

Inside on a weekday, city workers walk up and down beautiful staircases and go calmly about their business in hushed corridors.

Visitors are free to wander, taking in the beauty everywhere.

Some doorways are carved and fitted with elegant hardware.

All the other doorways have colorful painted decoration. No two are the same.

Even a janitor’s hallway slop sink is a thing of beauty.

The great and good are featured in murals, but so are working people. Tycho Brahe, above, lived from 1546 to 1601. He was a Danish nobleman and a great astronomer, but in this most egalitarian country, machinists and laborers are also honored.

Carved workmen trudge up a staircase. I especially like the man carrying a sheet of glass for a window.

Other spaces are more grand, with murals and ceilings celebrating Copenhagen’s history.

An owl stands at the doorway to the city archives. I have a feeling that important papers don’t get lost here in this most civilized City Hall. It’s no wonder that Denmark’s citizens line up at their beautiful City Hall every Saturday to celebrate their weddings. More on that on Valentine’s Day!

Happy and Hopeful 2018 to All

Carefree children dancing: a nice image for the New Year.

These large relief panels by Luca della Robbia were commissioned in 1431 for the organ loft in Florence’s Cathedral.

I’d never get near the organ loft, so I’m glad somebody made the decision to install them in the newly-renovated Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, just across the street.

There are ten of them, with the overall title “Cantoria.” They’re designed to reflect the joy of music, and they make me think of the joy of new beginnings.

In our world, of course, being a child is not all sweetness and light. It never was.

I loved this very large painting by the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1880. He was not as well known as other French painters, but he was a leader in the developing Naturalist school, where the point was to see the world as it really was. He influenced later painters like Claude Monet. This painting is in the wonderful French collection in Copenhagen’s Glyptotec.

The title is “The Beggar.” In it, an elderly beggar dressed in rags turns away from a doorway. Did he receive something in his bag? Maybe, but nothing that would change his life. The woman in the background is already occupied with something else, finished with the encounter one way or the other. But the little girl in the blue dress would like to do more for him. Her face registers shock and profound sorrow and reluctance to see the old man leave. She hasn’t yet learned any of the rationalizations adults use when we turn away from someone else’s suffering.

I hang out with kids every chance I get. I love their energy and open minds. I don’t want them sitting quietly in rows–I want them up and moving and laughing.

I’m often “the teacher” and therefore the one presumably imparting wisdom. But children are the ones with wisdom. Kids are the true Superheroes who ALWAYS come out in favor of honesty, fairness, generosity, and including everybody. And they always manage to create their own fun, no matter how intent the adults are on a serious lesson. They’re our future.

I think a good beginning for 2018 would be to talk to our children about what they’d like for our world, and then follow their lead. What if we put them in charge for awhile? Happy and hopeful New Year!

Renaissance Angels of Florence

A year ago I was in Florence, and I found myself collecting angels. On December 21, the darkest day of the year in North America, I’m thinking we could do with a few angels to watch over us.

I’d be looking at a masterpiece like this “tondo” (round painting) in the Uffizi Gallery and then I’d go in for a closeup of the angels. Lorenzo di Credi painted “Adoration of the Christ Child” between 1505-15. (The placard says it’s an unfinished painting, but I’d like to even start a painting this good).

There are a lot of angels in Italy. In Florence, anybody with an angel phobia would be out of luck. Some angels travel in crowds, as in Beato Angelico’s “Glorification of the Virgin with Angels and Saints,” c. 1434-5.

In Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, there was new interest in the individuality of ordinary humans, and their importance in the scheme of things. This carried over into the portrayal of angels and saints as well. Each personality is distinct.

Fittingly, the crowd of human saints is placed closer to the viewer than the troops of angels. But some angels mix right in with the humans, and they pretty much look like regular humans with wings.

Sometimes, baby angel-faces with double sets of wings float around in clouds. Those above are from “The Trinity and Saints Benedict and Giovanni Gualberto,” 1470, a panel by an unknown artist, taken from the Church of Santa Trinita and now in the Uffizi. (Sometimes, glare got in the way of my photos and I had to sort of mosey over to the side to get a halfway-clear image).

I especially like this toddler angel in her Sunday best, from the same panel.

Angels like music a lot.

The two above are celebrating “The Crowning of the Virgin,” a panel by an unknown painter around 1470-1480. Again, there are the double-winged angel-babies.

Some angels have especially colorful wings, not to mention their bright robes.

The elegant angels above are from a very grand altarpiece by Lorenzo Monaco, around 1414.

One of Filippo Lippi’s most famous paintings, “Madonna and Child with Two Angels,” wowed everyone in 1460, and still does. Do the humans look just like angels, or vice versa? The friar’s fresh take on a traditional theme influenced any number of other artists, including Sandro Botticelli.

My photos hardly do justice to Botticelli’s sublime “Annunciation,” 1481. His angel looks half real, half apparition and all beautiful.

In Neri di Bicci’s “Annunciation,” 1465, the starring angel, Gabriel, has brought along a couple of mini-me’s to help out.

I love their modest expressions. They’re not even looking up at the action, just there to do their job.

Actually, my favorite angels are often the ones off to the side of the action, like the one in the lower right-hand corner of one of Filippo Lippi’s most important paintings, “Coronation of the Virgin,” 1439-47. It’s a monumental painting–it is no wonder he worked on it for years.

I especially like the gentle angel in the corner, unfurling a banner but not calling attention to herself.

Time to leave the galleries and wander the narrow streets of Florence, where the glorious Duomo dominates. The cathedral was begun in 1296, just before the dawn of the Renaissance in Florence. It was completed in 1496 when Filippo Brunelleschi figured out how to top it off with his glorious dome. (Over the centuries, the builders must have figured, “Well, how hard can it be?” But eventually they discovered they’d built too big for any known dome construction).

Finally, in the 19th century, Emilio De Fabris frosted the cake by adding the pink, green and white marble Gothic Revival facade. He stuck a welcoming angel next to the main entrance.

Whatever theology or non-theology one has, I think angel-collecting is a fine way to spend time in Florence, or anyplace where there’s fine art.

Happy Scandinavian Christmas!

I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I want in. The painting, from Norway’s National Gallery in Oslo, is “Traditions of Christmas” by Adolphe Tideman, 1846. It looks like a sheaf of wheat is being hoisted up on the rooftop for hungry birds. And there are skis, and puffy snow to tumble into. Works for me!

Viggo Johansen painted his family celebrating in “Silent Night,” 1891, now in the Hirschsprung Gallery, Copenhagen.

He painted his wife, his children, and a servant around their tree with lighted candles.

The artist most likely only painted himself as an arm reaching for his son’s arm behind the tree. The museum commentary explains that Christmas was the best day for quite awhile in the Johansen household. Within a day or so, all the kids were down with measles. The artist left the tree up for four months so he could finish the painting while also tending a houseful of sick children.

In Copenhagen right now, street markets are bright with berries, and the grand assembly room at the Workers’ Museum is set up for a party.

Children are cozy in their insulated onesies. Every time I see one, I want one for myself.

I’m not sure the sun is shining today in Copenhagen, but it was a sunny day a couple of weeks ago at City Hall.

Back in my hometown of Minneapolis, where many Scandinavian people ended up as immigrants, the Swedish Institute has decked the halls.

The lakes are frozen, there’s just enough snow to call it a White Christmas, and it’s COLD.

And at Christmas dinner today, I have not only grandchildren but a new granddog: a sheepadoodle. Merry Christmas to all!