|Frederik 2´s table canopy is striking example of the princely ornamentation.
A princely castle like Kronborg naturally demanded different kinds of precious ornamentation. To manage this internationally acclaimed artist were hired. The Kronborg tapestries, Frederik 2.s table canopy and the Fountain in the court yard were magnificent works.
Frederik II´s Hangings and Table Canopy
The banqueting hall in the new Kronborg Castle was decorated with a series of hangings/tapestries, which represented (fictitious) Danish kings. The tapestries were made by Hans Knieper form Antwerp. Frederik II let his own effort be immortalized in the central tapestry in Hans Knieper´s famous series of Kronborg tapestries. The king himself is depicted with his son (later Christian IV). A couple of noblemen (of which one is probably Tycho Brahe) also figures in the tapestry.
Knieper was originally a painter, but he also had a certain knowledge of the craft of tapestry weaving and he himself supervised the work in Denmark. The work was quite extensive with 40 tapestries and as the jewel in the crown, a so-called table canopy. In the contract with Hans Knieper it says that in the place, where his beloved queen is, it must say: ”den daselbst sol ein Himmel mit dem Rückstück wie gebreuchlich auffgerichtet werden…”
The royal tapestries were finished in 1585 and that same autumn the began to work on the table canopy. The table canopy was made with every imaginable precision and with ample use of gold and silver threads in the domination silk material. It is vastly different from the more rough handicraft of the royal tapestries.
An Analysis of the Table Canopy
In a Swedish art historic article the work of art is closely described. Among other things it says that it ”in its well preserved state it is one the main pieces among the art treasures in Sweden”.
In the article presents a vivid picture of the impression the work of art may have.
The back piece shows Frederik II´s and his wife Sophie of Mecklenburg´s coat of arms. Behind the coat of arms is a woman, Justitia, the goddess of justice, with a pair of scales and a sword. On the sides are Temperantia, moderation, who mixes water in the wine and Fortitudo, strength, with his attribute, the column.
The royal couple´s coat of arms and the figures are inserted in a richly decorated grotesque composition. Above the coat of arms is an airy, penetrated canopy inserted and on every side there are beams with cherubs making music.
Three big women figures are standing on a narrow plinth. Underneath there are to river gods and different animals.
The canopy has the Danish national coat of arms, surrounded by cherubs, who fly upwards and four round medallions, which all carry royal virtues. Other parts of the canopy have been filled out with the typical elements of the grotesque style: Fantasy animals, figures and flowers. In the border the grotesque ornaments are repeated and between these heraldic badges have been inserted. In the art historic article it is stressed that ”everything is a magnificent expression of the grotesque style in its Dutch form.”
All in all the canopy´s composition harmonize with the woven tapestries. The total impression is marked by grotesques, a genre, which was modern in the middle of the 16th century. The composition can be ascribed to Cornelis Floris, but in the strong lines there is also an influence from Vredeman de Vries.
Frederik II´s Table Canopy
As early as 1576 Frederik II ordered, probably on Tycho Brahe´s recommendation, ”a work of water art” for Kronborg´s large courtyard with the famous bronze caster G. Labenwolf in Nuremberg. It took seven years before the masterpiece could be inaugurated, which was done with great festivity. The long delivery time did definitely not suit Frederik II and written sources tell of many problems along the way. Among other the things the sculptor was threatened by the Nuremberg city council with a prison sentence if he did not fulfil his obligations as a ”subcontractor”. The reason for the sculptor´s problem is indicated when the magistrate in Nuremberg in 1582 forbade him to enter ”the cellars” and ”public houses” for the duration of the work. That helped! In 1583 the fountain was delivered.
The fountain´s theme is the sea and the marine animals. An easily understood allegory with the sea god Neptun (Frederik II) on the top of the fountain as the ruler of the sea (the Sound) and with an abundance of wealth (the Sound duty).
The Fountain´s Fate
In 1659 the Swedes attacked Denmark without real success. When retreating they plundered Kronborg as well as Frederiksborg Castle, which, in a cultural historical perspective, was a national catastrophe for Denmark.
The fountains in both castles were dismantled and were taken to Sweden as booty. They thought that the Kronborg fountain had been melted down and made into church bells, but later research has shown that three goddess figures has survived and could be seen in Sweden´s National Museum since 1917. One amusing detail in the ”proof” of the authenticity of the goddesses was that a close inspection of the their nipples showed that there are holes in them for the water of the well and holes in the bottom, in order for the water to be led into the figure.
Frederik II´s table canopy had a somewhat gentler fate and this magnificent gem can also be admired in Sweden´s National Museum.