Friday, 25 February 2011

New books: A guide to the works of C. F. Hansen

Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845) is considered one of the greatest Danish architects in history and in recent years his reputation has grown also internationally, to such an extent that he is now sometimes mentioned among the great European architects of the classicist era.
Some 150 works by his hand are known, of which 77 are in existence today – among them Christiansborg Palace Church, the Metropolitan School, the Cathedral and the Court House are known to most residents of and visitors to Copenhagen.
Thomas Roland has gathered those 77 works in a volume titled C.F. Hansen i Danmark og Tyskland – En billedguide, which was published by Frydendal at Frederiksberg on 25 January. The book has also been published in German, for, as the author points out, it is essential to understand that the Danish realm in which C. F. Hansen was born was not the Denmark of today.
At the time it consisted of the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, the Norwegian dependencies Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroes, as well as overseas colonies. For that reason many of Hansen’s works are today to be found in Germany – in particular in Altona, which 200 years ago was the second largest city in the Danish realm, but has today been swallowed up by the German city Hamburg. A single building whose façade has been attributed to Hansen can also be found in Norway (Fossum Manor).
Thomas Roland’s excellent book opens with well-written, thoughtful introductory chapters on classicist architecture in itself and those who introduced it in Denmark (Saly, Jardin, Harsdorff), the life and career of C. F. Hansen and glimpses of his contemporaries in Denmark and Germany.
Hansen’s “grand tour” had gone to Italy and, as Roland points out, his works were primarily influenced by Italian and Roman ideals from antiquity and the Renaissance. Roland places him among what he calls “the second generation” of classicist architects, those who are known in France as “revolution architects”. Their buildings are simple and monumental at the same time, perfectly proportioned and mostly void of unnecessary ornamentation. Hansen avoided repeating himself and strove to give each building an expression of its own.
His architecture was ground-breaking around 1800, but unlike for instance his great German contemporary Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Hansen clung faithfully to the classical ideals throughout his life and avoided experimenting with the neo-Gothic or other historicist styles. As he also held the position of “overbygningsinspektør”, which meant that it was up to him to approve the designs submitted by other architects, and held that position until retiring at the age of 88 in 1844, it could hardly be avoided that younger architects influenced by the changing ideals of their days came to consider the old master a hopeless reactionary who stood in the way of stylistic developments. That may in itself also have contributed to the neoclassical era in Danish architecture lasting as long as it did, Roland argues.
The main part of the book is devoted to the 77 existing works: villas, townhouses, manors, public buildings, churches, palaces, monuments, a bridge, stables, pavilions, industrial buildings and Christian VII’s tomb - but no furniture - beginning in 1785 and ending in 1839.
It should be noted that not all 77 works can be attributed to C. F. Hansen with absolute certainty, but Roland will in most cases let the reader know what implies that it is a Hansen work. Some of them are also only in part Hansen’s works – they may be older buildings which he altered, they may be his works but radically changed at a later stage or in the case of the second Christiansborg Palace only parts of it survived the devastating fire in 1884 and are now integrated into the third Christiansborg. Such things are also taken into account by the author, who if possible includes a photo of the original state of buildings which have since been altered.
Each work is presented in a brief text and profusely and beautifully illustrated – in most cases both exterior and interior, details and entirety. There are also maps showing the location of each building as well as its GPS position and a note on accessibility. As such this book is a guide in both meanings of the word – it is ideally suited both for those seeking an introduction to one of Denmark’s greatest architects and his works and for those who wish to go and see the works with their own eyes.

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