Tuesday, 21 December 2010

New books: Frederik VIII’s Mansion

Following the restoration of Christian VII’s Mansion at Amalienborg a monumental two-volume work dealing with the mansion’s history, architecture and renovation was published. Now that the restoration of Frederik VIII’s Mansion is completed one has chosen a different and less scholarly approach, resulting in the book Frederik VIII’s Palæ – Restaurering. Ombygning. Kunstnerisk udsmykning, edited by a group consisting of Mads Falbe-Hansen, Carsten Kjær Sørensen, Dorte Bülow, Poul Schülein and Jens Bertelsen and published by Aristo Forlag. Apparently there is also a paperback version in English, titled Frederik VIII’s Palace [sic]: Restoration. Rebuilding. Artistic Decoration.
Following a foreword by Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary, Peter Elgaard in the first chapter deals with the Amalienborg complex and the Frederik Town, of which it is part. Amalienborg, at the very heart of the Frederik Town, ranks as one of the loveliest architectural complexes in Europe and Elgaard also briefly presents its architect, the renowned Nicolai Eigtved, and makes some interesting points about buildings Eigtved may have encountered on his travels and which could have inspired him in his work on Amalienborg.
Bente Scavenius considers the history of Frederik VIII’s Mansion and its interiors, while Poul Schülein and Jens Andrew Baumann offer an insight into the choices and priorities made during the restoration process. Berit Møller looks at the colours of the interiors, particularly the ceilings, observing that the architect Jørgen Hansen Koch, who redecorated it in neoclassical style in 1827-1828, was obviously familiar with and chose to follow Goethe’s colour theory.
Lin Rosa Spaabæk and Mette Thelle take a closer look at the room which Johan Laurentz Jensen decorated with floral paintings, while Jacob Fischer considers the garden. Poul Erik Tøjner writes about the contemporary art with which the mansion has been decorated and finally Mads Falbe-Hansen looks back at the restoration process of which he was in charge.
Although one managed to keep the cost within the budget, much turned out differently from what was originally planned. The installation of the new artistic scheme was only suggested two years into the process and Falbe-Hansen also makes the point that it was only while the work was in progress that they realised the significance of the building they were working on.
Its empire-style interiors were created by Jørgen Hansen Koch at the same time as C. F. Hansen, now considered the greatest of Danish neoclassical architects, was working on the second Christiansborg Palace. Except for the Palace Church, the second Christiansborg was lost in the great fire of 1884, thus leaving Frederik VIII’s Mansion as the prime example of empire-style royal interiors.
When the project group realised this and that the mansion thus includes some of the most significant and comprehensive empire style interiors in Northern Europe it was easy to decide what should be at the heart of the restoration project: to recreate the mansion’s original clear floor-plan to the extent it was possible and practical, to preserve and strengthen the empire style interiors and to highlight modern forms where modern elements were added.
The chapters are all rather short and thus each of them offers more of a glimpse into the topic than a thorough treatment of it. Yet taken together, the chapters give a good overview of the mansion and the restoration process.
The publisher stresses that this is “the official book” on the process and occasionally parts of it read as celebratory speeches in which the various people involved thank each other profusely for the cooperation. And unlike Kirsten Lindborg in her 2005 book on the mansion, everyone is careful not to utter a critical word about the damage done to the building during the stewardship of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid.
The book’s great strength is the illustrations and there are indeed more illustrations than texts. There are page after page of excellent photos of the sun-bathed interiors (without furniture, as they were seen by 479,246 visitors during the public opening before the crown princely family moved in), the exterior and the garden. Robert Fortuna has taken most of the photos of the work in progress and the interiors, while Torben Eskerod has shot the completed artworks.
But it must be said that the book would have benefited from better proof-reading. There are many references to Christian VII’s Mansion, yet it is almost habitually called Christian VIII’s Mansion, which is another building. Also Frederik VII himself is sometimes called Frederik VIII. And we are even told that the mansion is located at the King’s New Square rather than Amalienborg Square!
The throne which was used by Frederik VI’s daughter, Princess Vilhelmine, in Frederik VIII’s Mansion during her marriage to Prince Frederik Carl Christian (the future Frederik VII) had originally been made for her sister Caroline with her intended marriage to her uncle Prince Christian of Hesse-Cassel in mind – here they all get mixed up and the throne is said to have been made for “Prince Frederik Carl Christian of Hesse-Cassel and Princess Vilhelmine”.
Christian VIII was never Crown Prince, nor was the current Queen ever Crown Princess. And if King Frederik VIII and Queen Louise married in 1869 on page 106, how can they celebrate their silver wedding in 1898 on page 107? There are also more than one example of illustrations not showing what the captions claim they do show. In a production like this such sloppiness ought to have been avoided.

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