Tuesday, 19 April 2011

My latest article: Oscar II’s dynastic decoration programme

The cover story of the latest issue of Byminner (no 2 – 2011), the journal of Oslo’s City Museum, which is out since last Friday, is my article on how King Oscar II decorated the Royal Palace in Oslo with artworks commemorating the reign of the Bernadotte dynasty, thus ensuring that his family remains highly evident at the royal residence more than a century after their deposal while at the same time using the arts to legitimise the Bernadottes’ position as the royal house of Norway.
The starting point of the dynastic decoration programme was Brynjulf Bergslien’s equestrian statue of Carl XIV Johan in the Palace Square, which was unveiled in 1875. The initiative for the statue was however taken in the reign of Carl XV, but it was his brother and successor who made it into a more extensive programme.
The programme primarily put its mark on three rooms in the State Apartments. At the centre of the Upper Vestibule he installed a bust of his father Oscar I, who had inaugurated the Palace in 1849. The bust is flanked by reliefs showing respectively Carl XIV Johan laying the foundation stone for the Palace in 1825 and Oscar II unveiling the statue of Carl XIV Johan fifty years later.
Jacob Munch’s painting of Carl XIV Johan’s coronation was moved from the Royal Mansion and installed in the Family Dining Room, for which Oscar II also commissioned paintings of his own coronation and that of his brother Carl XV from Knud Bergslien and Peter Nicolai Arbo respectively.
In the Throne Room next-door Oscar II assembled portraits of the kings and queens of the House of Bernadotte. A portrait of Queen Desideria by Fredric Westin was brought from the Royal Mansion and joined Friedrich Dürck’s portraits of King Oscar I and Queen Josephina. Peter Nicolai Arbo was commissioned to paint the late Carl XV and Kerstin Cardon the late Queen Lovisa.
The Danish artist Cathinca Engelhart was also commissioned to paint a posthumous state portrait of Carl XIV Johan, where Akershus Castle can be seen in the background. Interestingly the Castle has been replaced by Nidaros Cathedral in another version of the portrait commissioned for the Royal Residence Stiftsgården in Trondheim. No buildings held greater national symbolic meaning than these two and their inclusion in the portraits serve to highlight the Bernadottes as a natural part of the ancient line of Norwegian kings.
I am also able to publish for the first time a portrait of Oscar II himself, painted by Wilhelm Peters in 1903, which so to speak summarises the dynastic decoration programme and legitimacy issue as it shows Oscar II, wearing the Norwegian royal regalia, his hand resting on the book of laws, standing on the palace balcony with Karl Johan Street and the Parliament behind him.
At the time of Oscar II’s deposal the royal family debated what should be done with various possessions in Oslo. In the end the dynastic decoration programme was among those things the ex-King donated to the Norwegian state, thus ensuring that his dynasty continued to be commemorated at the Palace.
The sculptural decoration in the Upper Vestibule remains in place to this day, while the Bernadotte portraits were, after the arrival of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud in 1905, moved from the former Throne Room (now the Hall of Mirrors) to the drawing-room of the main guest suite, which was renamed the Bernadotte Drawing Room. In the 1990s the coronation paintings were moved from the Family Dining Room to the Hall of Mirrors. And of course the equestrian statue of Carl XIV Johan still dominates the Palace Square.
The article may be read in its entirety at the City Museum’s website: http://www.oslomuseum.no/bymuseet/system/script/GetFile.asp?ID=1173.

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