Category Archives: Why I Love Denmark

Child Portraits in Copenhagen

I love portraits of children. One of my favorites was in an exhibit in Frederiksborg Castle outside Copenhagen. A child with a chicken: “Noa,” 2012. She’s the daughter of the Danish artist Dennis Mogelgaard. The chicken looks a lot more confident and happy about posing than the child does. I’m thinking that as far as the child was concerned, the chicken was a non-negotiable part of the deal with her dad.

C. W. Eckersberg painted his daughter, Emilie, shortly after the death of her mother. She’s in black, but there are no other reminders of grief. Her rosy cheeks and brave smile are an affirmation of ongoing life, but I wouldn’t know that without the museum’s commentary. In this portrait, I can see echoes of my Scandinavian ancestors who made their way to Minnesota: face adversity with a smile, and don’t let anyone know what is really going on inside you. (This is both the good part and the bad part of a Midwestern Scandinavian upbringing).

In Rosenborg Castle, I liked a series of portraits of the young prince who grew up to be King Frederik VII.

I privately liked him much better as a child than as an imposing king.

His famous ancestor, King Christian IV, is featured in a delightfully sober childhood portrait in the castle. (Christian deserves at least one post all his own).

This portrait, in Frederiksborg Castle, shows three royal children in exile in Germany, in 1526. They were the children of King Christian II, exiled mainly because their parents were followers of the upstart Martin Luther. Their mother died in exile. The artist, Jan Mabuse Gossaert, was probably commissioned to paint the children to show that they were still promising marriage material for European royal houses elsewhere. Aside from being royal pawns, these were real children with real names: Christine, Dorothea, and Hans.

Jens Juhl painted “A Running Boy” in 1802. He looks wistful, not really intent on getting anywhere. He’s caught in action at the Danish National Gallery, frozen in time.

Paul Gaugin, “Two Children, 1889, in the Glyptotek. (All of the photos in this post are mine, taken of the paintings in close-up. They don’t really do the paintings justice, but at least they remind me of what I found compelling).

This is an early portrait by Claude Monet, “The Artist’s Son,” 1868, in the Glyptotek.

Christen Dalsgaard, 1870, “A Convalescent,” in the Glyptotek. I think the blossoms she is holding have a sad connotation, especially the one that’s fallen from her hand. Children very often died from common childhood illnesses–and still do, when they live in poverty anywhere in the world.

A happier image is this painting by Peter Hansen, “Playing Children, Enghave Square,” 1908, in the National Gallery.

The joyful faces remind me that as much as I love art, it’s time to get outside into the streets and squares of beautiful Copenhagen.

Children are playing out there! And because they’re fortunate enough to live in beautiful Copenhagen, they’re surrounded by art.

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

Christmas Time in Copenhagen

Danish flags and paper cutouts are popular on Christmas trees.

The upscale Magazin du Nord department store is festooned with paper cutout garlands.

Tivoli Park is full of lights and people.

Right, I’ll be next on the carousel giraffe!

The snow is not real yet at Tivoli, but it’s cold. Pink and purple hyacinths are planted everywhere. Their scent fills the air.

Festive music fills churches.

The Christmas market at the Gustaf Swedish Church is the best weekend party. Church ladies all wear costumes of Swedish districts. I have shawl-and-apron envy!

There are only about 5 million Danes in the entire country. The pace is relaxed, even in Copenhagen. Art galleries are pleasantly uncrowded and stuffed with beautiful things. Above is “Mary with the Christ Child and the Infant St. John” by Maurice Denis, 1898. It’s in the fabulous French collection at the Glyptotek.

Copenhagen’s City Hall is a work of art in itself. I’ll cheerfully wander its hushed halls for an hour anytime.

Cafes are cozy and store windows full of temptations.

Buying a gift? A friendly elf in ruffled pantaloons will wrap it up for you.

Is Copenhagen expensive? Oh, yes. We rented an apartment, ate in a lot, took in free concerts and recitals, and bought Copenhagen cards, which cover all the sights and all the excellent public transportation. It’s manageable and worth it!

The Ungrateful (Royal) Dead of Denmark

Now I’ve heard the ultimate First-World problem:  what if a man married a queen, naturally expecting that would make him  a king, and had to settle for being a Prince Consort? Not even a King Consort? Horrors! That is what happened to poor Prince Henrik of Denmark.


Among other places, the prince is prominently featured in the spectacular series of seventeen wall-sized tapestries created to celebrate the 50th birthday of Queen Margrethe II in 1990. They actually took ten years to make, so they were finally hung in the Great Hall on her 60th birthday, in 2000.


The prince gets to wear any number of medals and attend elegant events in the Great Hall. The photo is from a poster in the hall–sadly, my invitation to the event must have been lost in the mail.


I wasn’t invited to eat in the adjoining dining room, either.


Among other royal perks, there’s a royal yacht. We happened to be in Stockholm last spring when the Crown Prince of Denmark, son of Henrik and Margrethe, sailed in for a visit.


We stood around for quite awhile so that my granddaughters could lay eyes on an actual Prince and Princess. They duly emerged and waved to the small crowd.


The Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard painted the “cartoons”–the full-size color plans for the seventeen tapestries in the Grand Hall of Christiansborg Palace.


A gift from many Danish businesses plus the state of France, the homeland of the prince, the tapestries depict the entire history of Denmark. They throw in some guesses at the future to boot.

All through 50 years of marriage, the prince has been grousing about the slight he suffered. Now he’s 83, and he’s fed up. So the Prince Consort is refusing to be buried in the specially designed sarcophagus waiting for him and the Queen in Roskilde Cathedral.


As resting places go, Roskilde is pretty nice.


The medieval cathedral has been the burial place for Danish royalty for hundreds of years.


There’s a King’s Door which can only be used by the King and/or Queen to enter. Now, it’s not clear to me whether the Prince Consort can enter through it, but I don’t want to add insult to injury. So I’ll assume he can. In any case, he and anyone else is allowed to LEAVE through it after attending a wedding, confirmation, or funeral (obviously, not his own funeral). The bronze doors, polished and patinated to look like gold, replaced carved-oak ones from the late 1800s, were newly designed and installed in 2010.


Royalty and nobles occupy beautiful chapels. I especially like the ceilings.



The memorial sculptures range from medieval times to the 1950s or so.


Bjorn Norgaard was commissioned some years ago to design a modern-yet-traditional monument for the future burial chapel of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Instead of the typical stone effigies of the great and good, it features their images sandblasted into a large gleaming egg of glass.


What’s not to like? But Queen Margrethe will apparently occupy this resting place alone. I wonder whether the Prince might still get a promotion, and if so, whether it will change his mind. On the other hand, my egalitarian, practical mind has to wonder why a lifetime of royal luxury wasn’t enough. Maybe I’m missing something.

A couple of articles about the brouhaha are at:

http://m.startribune.com/denmark-s-french-born-prince-causes-a-stir/438498423/

http://www.theguardian.com › world › … › royal-snub…

Tivoli in Springtime


I’m not big on amusement parks. In fact, I’ve successfully avoided taking either children or grandchildren to Disney World ( bad grandma!)


Rides either terrify or bore me. But I loved Tivoli in Copenhagen. The park opened in 1843, just outside the west gate of the still-walled old city.


King Christian VIII was worried about social unrest at the time. Workers all over Europe were annoyingly demanding higher wages and shorter hours. The founder of the park, George Carstensen, convinced the king that if the people have a place to amuse themselves, “they do not think about politics.” As the city expanded, Tivoli became almost the center. That’s the tower of the City Hall in the background.


I visited at twilight because I wanted to see the fabled lights.


The daffodils were perfect.


So were the thousands of tulips. In fact, the flowerbeds were so perfect that I wondered if gardeners came in nightly and replaced them with fresh plants straight from a greenhouse.


A rock band was getting ready to set up at the Chinese theater. The theater dates from 1874.


The pagoda sparkled.


Families strolled and let cotton candy melt in their mouths.


A pair of peacocks wandered into a restaurant.


There are any number of restaurants, plain to fancy, plus food carts strategically placed.

Tivoli has many faces.


Raincoats for sale? Sure. It rains quite a bit in Copenhagen.


Hans Christian Andersen, 1805-1875, is pretty much the secular patron saint of Denmark. He loved Tivoli Gardens. In 1965, the city put up a bronze more-than-double life size statue of the writer of at least 125 fairy tales, just outside City Hall. He’s holding his place in a book while he gazes up at the bright lights of Tivoli across the street. His knee is brightly polished because everybody sits on his lap for a photo. The sculptor was Henry Lucknow-Nielsen.


Across town, the wistful sculpture of Andersen’s Little Mermaid draws rowdy crowds from the nearby cruise port. It may be all some people really see of Copenhagen.


Minus the crowds, the mermaid is lovely. She seems to ignore the busy harbor behind her. I’m sure she dreads the rowdy cruise-boat crowds, but maybe she’s off in her own world. Edvard Eriksen created her in 1913.

Tivoli in springtime did not disappoint. I loved Copenhagen so much that I’m going back in December (cheap off-season airfares helped).

Will it be cold? Afraid so. It was cold enough for mittens and wool hats in early May. But I expect Chrismastime in Scandinavia to be a fairy-tale experience. Plus there may be snow!

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

Art Nouveau Vikings at Frederiksborg 

Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, Denmark houses tons of fine historic art, but one of my favorite pieces is pretty humble: it occupies a long lower-level hallway leading to the exit.

From 1883-1886, Lorenz Frolich painted a commissioned piece: a 37-meter frieze depicting the Danish conquest of large chunks of England. It was to be a Danish counterpart to the embroidered Bayeux Tapestry, which documented the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The style of the frieze was from the very early years of Art Nouveau,  also known as Jugendstihl, also known as Skonvirke in Denmark.

The Danish Vikings began sailing their shallow-depth longboats across the sea and up the rivers of England in the late 700s. Before that, they had only ventured as far as the Baltic countries on their raids. The trouble was, the Baltics were almost as poor in resources as Scandinavia. Pickings were slim. But England had rich soil where Danish settlers could grow much more food than in their own rocky soil. English monasteries were crammed with gold and silver candleholders, crosses and chalices.

Raiding was wearying work, but somebody had to do it, right?


After a couple of centuries of striking fear into the hearts of the Brits, and much bloody axe-swinging, the Dane Swein Forkbeard was crowned King of England in 1013.

When Swein died, his son Canute the Great took the crown, and in due course Swein’s grandsons Harold Harfoot and Hardecnut had their turns at ruling the rich land of England. The printed information at Frederiksborg skips over the period when the Danes lost their grip on power in 1042 after the death of Hardecnut. But we’re informed that 1066 was all about the Danes: the Normans were direct descendants of the Danish Vikings who had conquered the part of France that became Normandy.


The Frederiksborg frieze is at pains to depict the conquering Vikings as reasonable, law-abiding fellows willing to sit in orderly rows and debate issues like gentlemen.


There’s also emphasis on their domestic qualities. And it’s true: they were fine farmers and they had domesticated animals.

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok, photo from review in “Variety,” Feb. 21, 2014

 

All the qualities of the Vikings are on display in the History Channel’s TV series “The Vikings.” I’m anxiously awaiting the 5th season. A disclaimer: yes, I know the show is full of appalling violence. Don’t even ask me what a Blood Eagle is. But for the first time, I begin to understand the Vikings, their world view, and the elaborate mythology that guided their behavior.

The series tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, an early Viking of song and legend, and his descendants, who eventually became the Normans of 1066 fame. Following the time-honored traditions of TV showrunners everywhere, real events are compressed and characters invented. But historical research is said to be quite accurate as far as clothing, houses, community organization, laws, and religion.

Travis Fimmel, pictured above, plays Ragnar. He is a former Calvin Klein model, but he has real acting chops to go along with his fierce blue eyes and intimidating tattoos. I’ll watch him do anything, from his early daring voyage to pillage Lindisfarne monastery, through adultery and divorce, and right on into the murderous madness of his old age.

Katheryn Winnick and Travis Fimmel in “The Vikings,” photo from review in “The Telegraph,” May 3, 2014

 

Another big selling point of “The Vikings,” for me, is the depiction of strong women. Lagertha is Ragnar’s brave and loyal wife, a formidable “shieldmaiden.” Even after their messy separation after he takes up with a tall, graceful, ladylike beauty, Lagertha graciously returns again and again to bash heads alongside Ragnar and their sons. Axe, sword and shield in hand, she’s ready save Ragnar’s bacon when he finds himself in trouble. What a woman!


I like the kinder, gentler version of the Vikings depicted in Frolich’s frieze paintings. But I’ll take my Vikings at their fiercest, too.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles!

Frederiksborg Castle: Renaissance in Knitting Needles

Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark is a riot of Renaissance elegance. A recent exhibit featured a jaw-dropping collection of hand-knitted ensembles based on the costumes in royal and noble portraits in the castle.

I love the idea of knitting, but I’m terrible at it. A simple scarf from my hands turns into a lumpy mess. So I was in awe.

The source portraits were hard to identify in Danish, so I gave up and just enjoyed the knitted versions of the costumes. How about an artfully ruched sleeve on a simple gray sweater?

Or an elegant dress based on two portraits from the 1500s? I’d cheerfully wear this if I had an occasion fancy enough.

Perhaps an elaborate lace collar?

I’d wear this dress too, if the artist knitted me one in a different color combination. Maybe subtle blues and purples?


The same goes for the pantaloon-turned-skirt number, based on a portrait of one Captain Sir Thomas Dutton. I’ll take one in grays and blues, please.

Two of my favorite colors, and an Elizabeth vibe…

A peplum number in deep blue.

Textures and colors fit for a long-ago princess…


I’m not sure of the inspiration for this creamy white wool coat. It kind of looks like a gentleman’s long-sleeved undershirt, lovingly sewn by his lady. Whatever. Just ring it up. I’ll wear it home!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, past and present, of Europe and the British Isles.

Christiania: Danish Hippie Haven

In 1970, a peaceful invasion took place in Copenhagen. A  small group of anarchists broke through a fence and took over the grounds of a former military barracks.


The area had defensive ramparts dating from the 1600s, when Denmark fought endless battles with Sweden. After about 1950, the military more or less abandoned the site. Hippies moved in and set up shop, making up the rules as they went along. They eventually gained legal use of the land and became one of the top tourist attractions of Copenhagen, right up there with Tivoli Gardens.


Today, about 900 people live in Christiania. Over the years, they’ve worked out ways to police themselves and cooperate with local authorities to provide some services. But it’s still all about freedom, just as in 1971.

I ventured inside early on a sunny but chilly spring morning. What would I find?


I had read that photos were generally ok, but to ask permission before taking any photos of people–especially those selling marijuana, which is illegal but freely sold when police are not around. Maybe it was too early, or maybe I was oblivious, but I didn’t see anything remotely like a drug deal. Residents themselves outlawed “hard drugs” some years ago, and they enforce the rules strictly.


Much of the artwork was a throwback to the psychedelic 60s and 70s.


Other murals looked more contemporary. I liked it all.


I liked the sculptures too.


I didn’t bring a skateboard! Too bad.

img_6040.jpg
Hippies were the first great recyclers. They figured out how to survive and thrive on the leftovers of materialism. Christiania has a huge warehouse stocked with recycled toilets, sinks, bathtubs, stoves and refrigerators, and all kinds of building materials.


The community depends on tourist traffic. Restaurants look friendly and appealing, but there are probably no Michelin stars.


Venturing out of the main tourist area, I found charming handcrafted homes, bright with flowers.


Nobody is allowed to actually own a home or property in this enclave. If a resident leaves, the community decides whether to invite someone else to move in. I’ve read that about 180 of the original residents remain.


After I left, I learned that tourists had been assaulted for taking pictures of residents. I figured this dog, supervising the warehouse, wouldn’t mind.


There are plenty of grungy sights within Christiania, but my impression was of a tranquil haven of social freedom. Yes, I’d go back!

Travel offers so many doors to open! Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia.