Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The North Gate of the Citadel

Back in 2007 I wrote briefly here on my return from Copenhagen about the landscapes of Christen Købke. On Sunday I was able to see more of the artist's work at an exhibition here in London, Christen Købke: Danish Master of Light.  In the context of the National Gallery it was easy to draw parallels with oil sketches on show there by other once-underrated artists: Thomas Jones, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes et al.  Købke followed in the footsteps of Jones and others, making the trip to south to Naples, but his best work was done in and around Copenhagen.  Wherever he worked, he seems to have followed the advice of his artistic mentor, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg: "paint from nature, no matter what it might be."

My earlier post included his painting Frederiksborg Palace in the light of evening, 1835, which shows a famous national landmark full on.   In contrast, the view below is dominated by just one of the palace towers.  The tower is a synecdoche for the palace which is a synecdoche for Denmark itself (the Danish kings and queens were crowned there).  Another larger painting, Roof Ridge at Frederiksborg, is mostly empty sky, making it seem almost abstract.  Again it shows the landscape outside the palace, rather than the palace itself, but the location is clear from the presence of one of these signature towers in the bottom left.  I suppose the owner of such a painting would be able to imagine themselves living in and looking out from the palace itself.  Købke's paintings reminded me of the view we used to have from our old flat (although this was hardly a palace and the tower outside was nineteenth century decoration).

Christen Købke, One of the Small Towers on Frederiksborg Castle,
c. 1834-5

View from the window of our old flat, Tufnell Park

Many of Christen Købke's paintings depict the Citadel - the kind of unusual, politically charged landscape that would draw the interest of contemporary artists (not to mention BLDGBLOG and Pruned).   The Citadel (Kastellet) is a series of fortifications near Copenhagen originally designed in 1626 for King Christian IV (who was also responsible for building most of Frederiksborg palace). In Købke's time it was a barracks with its own church, mill and bakery, a self sufficient community that included both soldiers and prison labourers.  Købke doesn't devise idealised scenes - the view below with its cropped figures and precise lighting looks like a photograph - but the paintings all feature his warm palette and soft Vermeer lighting. Købke grew up in the Citadel (his father was a master baker there) and these views of gateways, bridges and embankments clearly had a strong personal significance for him.

Christen Købke, The North Gate of the Citadel, 1834

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