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  • The Art and Culture of Scandinavian Central Europe, 1550–1720 by Kristoffer Neville
  • Susan C. Brantly
Kristoffer Neville. The Art and Culture of Scandinavian Central Europe, 1550–1720. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019. Pp. 221.

The title of Kristoffer Neville’s book requires some explication: What is meant by “Scandinavian Central Europe”? The answer is provided already in the preface: “In this context it includes the lands traditionally included in the region—modern Germany, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic east to Hungary and western Russia (notably St. Petersburg and the surrounding region)—with the addition of the Scandinavian kingdoms” (p. xiii). The Scandinavian kingdoms at the time also include “modern Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and some other lands around the Baltic” (pp. xiii–xiv). That is, of course, quite a lot of real estate. Moreover, Neville states his basic thesis: “The Danish and Swedish kingdoms were fully integrated, constituent parts of Central Europe and among the most vibrant in the period from the Reformation to the beginning of the eighteenth century” (p. xiii). Part of the story that Neville tells is the rise to power of the Danish and Swedish kingdoms in Europe, their patronage of the arts, and the influence that they had on the art and architecture of this vast region.

Neville addresses himself to a general audience and parts of some of the chapters offer a handy summary of historical background and events. He begins his tale by discussing “Gothicism in Germania” and how the identification of Denmark and/or Sweden with the Goths was a strategy to justify the countries’ ancient lineage and its important role in the Holy Roman Empire. This, in turn, impacts the imagery used in representing the kings and kingdoms. The design for the tomb of Frederik I of Denmark by Cornelis Floris was imitated broadly. The Danish kings enhanced their prestige through artistic improvements to Kronberg Castle (Frederik II) and then Frederiksborg and Rosenborg Castles (Christian IV). The artists who created embellishments like the Neptune fountains of Kronborg (Georg Labenwolf) and Fredriksborg (Adriaen de Vries) were skilled craftsmen, often from the Low Countries, who had studied internationally and worked in several different courts across Central Europe. Equestrian statues and portraits become symbols of the territorial expansion enjoyed by both Sweden and Denmark. The architecture of the era required the contributions of not only masons, but sculptors and painters. There is a professional progression from master builder, almost a contractor, to architect, a man of design and ideas.

Around 1650, attention shifts from Denmark to Sweden, which is the undisputed hegemon in the Baltic region due to the triumphs of the Thirty Years’ War. The early years of the Swedish kingdom with Gustav Wasa at the helm were not known for artistic advancements. Apparently, [End Page 148] Gustav Wasa paid for a Madonna painting “with a ring, a sleigh (which never arrived), a chest of marten skins, and a two-hundred-pound cheese” (p. 95). The plundering of Prague in 1648 brought great art treasures to Sweden, and the plundering of Kronborg in 1658–1659 resulted in art treasures of the Danish kings being similarly relocated. Queen Christina developed into a patroness of the arts, but there were also powerful nobles who played a role in advancing the arts in Sweden: Axel Oxenstierna, Carl Gustaf Wrangel, Carl-Gustaf of Pfalz-Zweibrücken, and Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie. These powerful men had the means to commission important works of art and architecture. Wrangel, for example, constructed the most impressive private residence in Stockholm. Axel Oxenstierna employed the painter Pieter Isaacsz as a spy on the Danish court, receiving paintings as a cover for payments for services rendered. The artists most in demand for glorifying the various courts could move freely between them, causing Neville to remark: “Rubens’s celebrated career as a painter and diplomat was less anomalous than has often been thought” (p. 102).

The flyleaf of the book tells us that Neville has previously written a book on Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and co-edited a volume on Queen Hedwig Eleonora, and this may account for why they, together with Tessin the Younger...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2163-8195
Print ISSN
0036-5637
Pages
pp. 148-150
Launched on MUSE
2021-02-13
Open Access
No
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