Thursday, 6 August 2009

What to see: The Throne of Norway

There are two proper royal thrones in Norway, but it is not often that the King sits on them. The smaller one is used during the State Council meetings at the Royal Palace every Friday, while the larger one, which this post deals with, is used once a year, during the State Opening of Parliament.
The throne is of gilt wood and covered in red velvet, which originally had golden crowns with pearls sewn onto it. The armrests are in the shape of crowned chimeras and the rich ornaments on the top surround the Norwegian Coat of Arms. The second photo shows the Coat of Arms in its current design of 1937, while the shape of the earlier design can be seen on the back (photo 3).
We know for sure that the throne was made in Stockholm in 1847 by woodcarver Wilhelm Heinrich Hoffmann (1813-1864) after a drawing made at the Royal Palace in Oslo. The throne was shipped to Norway at the end of July or beginning of August 1847.
But thereafter there are at least two theories about the throne’s further history. Based on a document he has found in the archives of the Ministry of Finance, the historian Eystein M. Andersen believes that the throne was intended for the coronation of King Oscar I – a coronation which in the end never took place – and that it was transferred to the Parliament when the new Parliament Building was completed in 1866.
On the other hand, the art historian Geir Thomas Risåsen, the leading authority on the Royal Palace, believes that the throne was meant for the Palace, which was being furnished at the time and that it had its place in the Throne Room (now the Hall of Mirrors) until it was dismantled as such by King Oscar II “around 1880” and only then transferred to the Parliament.
Andersen insists that there was only one throne at the Royal Palace, namely the one which is now in use in the State Council Chamber, and bases this on a rather unreliable book by Yngvar Hauge. He is apparently unaware of the fact that the inventory of the Palace’s furniture states clearly that there were two thrones and a newspaper article describing the larger throne at the time it was shipped to Norway in 1847 also mentions that with it went a smaller throne intended for the State Council Chamber.
Concerning the date of the dismantling of the Throne Room I can add that the book Mindeblade fra Deres Majestæter Kong Oscars og Dronning Sofies Kroninger i Stockholm og Trondhjem 1873 describes it as the Throne Room in connection with the coronation of Oscar II in 1873, while a book on the architecture of the Norwegian capital, Bidrag til fremstilling af Kristiania arkitektur i det nittende aarhundrede – Slottet, Universitetet, Logen, published in 1880, names it as the former Throne Room. With this in mind it is reasonable to believe that the dismantling happened when the Palace underwent its first major reconstruction in 1876-1878 to make it more comfortable for King Oscar II and Queen Sophia, who, with the advent of the railway, were able to come more often to Norway than their predecessors.
So far no pictures have been found which can settle the dispute. Apparently no pictures of the Throne Room exist and the earliest illustrations known to the Parliament Archive are a drawing in the newspaper Verdens Gang from the State Opening of Parliament in 1897 and photos from the same ceremony in 1903. I have however been able to find three photos which show the throne in use by Oscar II at the unveiling of the statue of King Christian IV in the Great Square in 1880, as well as a drawing by Carl Larsson reproduced in Ny Illustrerad Tidning of 18 September 1875 showing the unveiling of the statue of King Carl XIV Johan in the Palace Square in 1875, where the throne can be glimpsed behind Oscar II (a detail of the drawing is seen in the seventh picture). However, none of these illustrations answers the question about whether the throne was at the Palace or the Parliament at the time.
In Parliament it is still used by the King during the State Opening each October – the sixth photo shows King Harald V reading the Speech from the Throne last year. As the fifth photo shows the throne is now flanked by chairs for the Queen and the Crown Prince. In the days of the union with Sweden the King would sit on the throne flanked by the royal princes, while the Queen and the other royal ladies would sit on their own in the Diplomatic Box. (If the King was not present at the State Opening, the Prime Minister or another deputy would read the Speech from the Throne standing in front of the throne on the steps of the podium).
This was changed when the union ended in 1905. Queen Maud would then sit on the podium together with King Haakon VII, and one of the princely chairs was turned into a queenly chair by replacing the princely crown on the top with the crown of a queen. Since then the tradition has been that only the King, Queen and Crown Prince attend the State Opening.
There is however a third chair, similar to the Queen’s and the Crown Prince’s, which is now stored away at the Museum of Cultural Heritage together with the throne which was used in Parliament by the King before it was replaced by the current one. The earlier throne is in Empire style and matches the chairs for the Queen and the Crown Prince.
See also the archivist Gro Vilberg’s article on the Norwegian Parliament’s website:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, but should be signed - preferably by a name, but an initial or a nick will also be accepted. Advertisements are not allowed. COMMENTS WHICH DO NOT COMPLY WITH THESE RULES WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED.