The man who stamped his name all over Denmark
Copenhagen — `KING CHRISTIAN stood by the tow'rin' mast'' sing the Danes in their national anthem. Although most of the Danish kings have been called either Frederik or Christian, the one so patriotically celebrated in this song is Christian IV, who was born in 1577 and acceded in 1588 to the throne of the paramount Scandinavian kingdom of the time. When Christian IV died in 1648, he was a bitter, defeated man - his fortune gone, his kingdom depleted, his prestige lost. His country had fallen victim to a disastrous foreign policy and was obliged to cede vast tracts of land to the hated Swedes.
But to the Danes Christian IV has remained - even in our cynical period - a ``Great King.''
His memory, and his times, are being celebrated this year - the 400th anniversary of his accession - in nine exhibitions in different parts of Denmark (all but one of which runs through Sept. 25). It's impossible right now to visit the country without becoming at least subliminally aware of Christian IV. His distinctive monogram, a big ``C'' with a smaller ``4'' inside it, seems to be everywhere. His portraits seem to be ubiquitous - large boots, protuberant tunic, commanding posture, lace collar and pigtail over one ear. In some, one eye is bandaged. He lost it in a famous naval battle - the subject of the line in the anthem - and it is his personal courage in defeat that must have helped create his great reputation. He became a favorite subject for later historical painters - as was shown by the some 100 paintings of him at the only exhibition out of the nine (at the Aarhus Art Museum) that is already over.
But things other than heroism contributed to his myth. For a start, he was a Protestant king, prepared to fight for Protestantism. But his piety, honor, and sincerity were balanced by a hearty relish for sex. He is supposed to have been no less hearty as an eater and drinker. He encouraged music and musicians (as the display of musical instruments and music-related items at Kronberg Castle, Helsingor shows). He played instruments himself. All these things - and the fact that near the end of his life he saw himself as a martyr - bolstered his popular image. This image was further promoted by his royal successors, who used him as a precedent in their attempt to achieve absolute monarchy.
There is one other aspect of Christian IV, however, on which his reputation most deservedly stands: That is his effect on Danish architecture. The show at Koldinghus Castle, Kolding (on Jutland), studies this side of his personality. He was a relentlessly enthusiastic builder - of fortresses, castles, towers, churches, and whole villages. In fact, he could be called ruthless: He thought nothing of moving populations, of forcing local people to build in the style he dictated, of destroying places to make way for others. He aimed in his town planning at order - often expressed in rather rigid geometrical grids. In his castles he achieved a distinctive style. A grand manifestation of this style can be seen at the moat-ringed Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod (where a temporary exhibition, largely of portraits, tells the story of his ``Fortunes and Fate''). Certainly he used such grand architecture to promote the prestige of the throne. But he could also produce something more intimate (for a castle) and summerish, like Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen. In this attractive brick-and-stone building, with its turrets and decorated gables, is an exhibition devoted to his treasures. Many of these he had to pawn or sell off. Some are on loan to his country again for the show.
One of the definite appeals of this trail of anniversary exhibitions is that it takes you to the castles themselves. Since many of the exhibitions tend toward academic dryness, it can be less revealing to pore over their plans and elevations than to see Frederiksborg and Rosenborg, or to climb breathlessly up the spiralling ascent of the Round Tower of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Copenhagen (another of his buildings), in which the exhibition ``Science and Learning in the Reign of Christian IV'' is set out. One other building that is pointed out to all visitors to the capital - the Stock Exchange, with its spire of twisting dragons' tails - is also the direct result of Christian's architectural patronage. He is also rightly credited with having transformed Copenhagen from the market town it was at the beginning of his reign to the fine capital it was at the end.
There are a hundred and one incidental pleasures to encounter in this round of exhibitions. But it must be said that the painting and sculpture on show at Kronborg and the Copenhagen Statens Museum for Kunst is, on the whole, terribly boring. It's second-rate 17th-century work, with a distinctly Netherlandish bias. It seems that the king went for quantity rather than quality - even though he tried to emulate Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, the greatest art collector of the age.
His attitudes and period come much more alive in the show at the National Museum, where all sorts of objects are on view - from model ships to the ``Marriage Bed from Clausholm,'' from a ``Bourgeois Interior from Aalborg'' to five Icelandic woolen mittens each with two thumbs (for longer wear), from Guild Caskets to miners' and loggers' axes. These objects give a vivid feeling of what life was like for different classes in the rigidly ordered society that this autocratic monarch maintained.