Monday, 18 January 2010

New books: The glory of the Tessins

Jan Mårtenson is perhaps best known as a crime writer, but he has also written a number of books on cultural history. His latest such title is Tessin – En lysande epok – Arkitektur, konst, makt (published by Bonnier Fakta in September).
The members of the Tessin family have left a distinct mark on Sweden. Nicodemus Tessin the Elder arrived there in 1636 and, alongside Jean de Vallée, became the country’s leading architect. His most famous work is Drottningholm Palace, which was completed by his son, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, an even more significant architect whose major work is the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Nicodemus the Younger’s son, Carl Gustaf Tessin, was formally in charge of completing the Royal Palace, but was more noted as a diplomat and politician than as an architect. As President of the Chancellery he was virtually what one today would call Prime Minister, but his falling-out with Queen Lovisa Ulrika led to his downfall in 1754. He lived out the rest of his life at his manor Åkerö, where he died as the last of his line in 1770.
Jan Mårtenson is neither a historian nor an art historian, but a diplomat (among other positions he has been Chief of Staff to the King of Sweden and Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations) and makes no secret of this. He makes no claim to scholarly pretensions, but states in the preface that the book has been written simply for pleasure.
He chooses to focus on the three Tessins and their major works in the Stockholm area, particularly Drottningholm, the Royal Palace and the Tessin Mansion. The first two are very familiar to Mårtenson, as he has worked at the Royal Palace and lived in a house on the Drottningholm estate. This choice gives the book a somewhat limited scope, but Mårtenson offers a grand tour of these buildings and does so in a way which is well worth a book. There are some mistakes and repetitions, but all in all it is an enjoyable book about a fascinating family and its glorious works.
The photos in this richly illustrated volume are by Ralf Turander. Some of them could have been better.

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