Saturday, 25 July 2009

What to see: Elghammar Manor, Björnlunda

Elghammar Manor, near Björnlunda in Sudermania, is beautifully situated at the very end of a small peninsula, surrounded by the water of the lake Lockvattnet on three sides just a few metres away from the house. It has been called “a small piece of St Petersburg in Sudermania” and is often described as one of the most beautiful palaces in Sweden, although the late Duke would insist “it is no damned palace, it is a manor”.
One of the most important examples of the Empire style in Sweden, Elghammar was built for Field Marshal Count Curt von Stedingk, who served as Sweden’s ambassador in St Petersburg for two decades. There he came to know Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817), one of Ekaterina II’s favourite architects. Quarenghi rebuilt the Swedish Embassy in St Isaac’s Square (now apparently lost) and Stedingk thereafter asked him to build him a country seat at Elghammar, which Stedingk had bought unseen.
There was already a small manor house at Elghammar, which Quarenghi incorporated into the new building as the right of two projecting wings. Quarenghi’s design, executed about 1809-1810, shows a building with only one storey, but the middle section also has a mezzanine. Above it is a tympanum, supported by six free-standing Ionic columns, and in the Palladian manner there are sculptures on the roof.
However, the war between Sweden and Russia meant that it was not until 1814-1820 that Elghammar was actually built. Quarenghi himself never set his feet in Sweden and it was the Swedish architect Fredrik Blom (1781-1853), who had travelled with Stedingk to Russia as his ADC in 1809, who came to be in charge of the work. Blom also made certain changes to Quarenghi’s design, such as simplifying the temple front by dropping the sculptures on the roof and making the six Ionic columns engaged rather than free-standing.
The garden façade, seen in the eighth photo, is also considered to be Blom’s work and is, in its simplicity, rather typical of his architecture. Indoors the Great Hall (photo 4), divided into three sections by the use of four Ionic columns, is said to be the only interior by Quarenghi himself, while the library (fifth picture) is considered a Blom work by the current chatelaine – the library was originally in another room, but the fittings were later moved to this corner room. There are also other rooms in the Empire style, such as the drawing-room seen in the sixth photo, while the dining room (in the seventh photo) has been changed at a later date.
Following Curt von Stedingk’s death at 90 in 1837, Elghammar passed to his son, who left it to his daughter. The daughter had married the Duke d’Otrante, a grandson of the feared police minister and spymaster of Napoleonic France, Joseph Fouché, whose sons after his death had been allowed by King Carl XIV Johan to settle in Sweden. Since then Elghammar has been the seat of the Dukes d’Otrante – the only non-royal dukes in Sweden, although the title is French. A separate room at Elghammar is dedicated to Fouché and includes mementos such as his bed and his imperial uniform with the Legion of Honour sewn onto it.
Today Elghammar is the home of Duchess Christina d’Otrante, the widow of the previous Duke, Gustaf. When he died in 1995, he was succeeded by his only son, Charles, then only nine years old, who will eventually take over the manor. As a private home, Elghammar is not open to the public, but there are sometimes concerts in the Great Hall and at this link one can see a clip from French television of the Duchess guiding the viewers through her home:

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