Gerson Digital : Denmark


3. Gerson Extended

Artists of the Low Countries in Denmark, 1500-1700

Juliette Roding

The more than twenty pages that Gerson devotes to the dispersal and impact of Netherlandish painting in Denmark give a remarkably complete picture of the Dutch artists who worked in Denmark or who produced paintings in the Republic for export to Denmark. He had painstakingly studied all the sources available to him, which accounts for the 200 or so names of artists and collectors included in his chapter on Denmark published in 1942. This contribution puts Gerson’s chapter in a broader cultural-historical context. The intention is not to revisit all artists treated by Gerson. Rather, several artists will be included whom are not mentioned in his book.

The very first page of the chapter on Denmark in his Ausbreitung und Nachwirkung der holländische Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts makes it clear that Gerson himself spent time in Denmark gathering the material for this part of his book: ‘When one enters Rosenborg Castle […] in Copenhagen today, one is struck by a large number of Flemish landscapes that were included as decoration for the walls of the Winter Room (Vinterstue)’.1 He also mentions elsewhere in the book artworks that he studied closely in their original location.2 Gerson had previously been in contact with such prominent Danish historians and art historians as Otto Andrup (1883-1953) and Karl Madsen (1855-1938). He makes just one mistake in chapter on Denmark, when he locates the church of Nyborg in Copenhagen.3

Cover image
Karel van Mander (III)
Portrait of art and book collector Laurids Ulfeldt (1605–1659), 1650's
panel, oil paint 48,5 x 36,5 cm
Hillerød, The National Museum of History Frederiksborg Castle, inv./ A 7314

A contemporary of Gerson, Wilhelm Martin [1], had dismissed the Dutch influence in Denmark in just a few lines in his book on Dutch painting in the 17th century) from 1935, that deals with ‘Our painters abroad’ in chapter 11.4 If we look for another art historian working on Netherlandish art who made the effort to travel to Denmark, we come across Christian Kramm [2]. From his De levens en werken der Hollandsche en Vlaamsche kunstschilders (The lives and works of Dutch and Flemish painters) dating from 1857-1864, it appears that he was in Denmark to view the collection at Christiansborg and the ‘Gallery’ of Count Moltke, among others.5 He also visited Frederiksborg, that he had the good fortune to see in all its glory, before the major fire at the castle in 1859.6 Cornelis Hofstede de Groot [3] journeyed through Scandinavia in 1900. In Denmark, one of the places he visited was Gavnø Castle. Gerson does not mention Kramm in his notes, but he certainly did consult the material that Hofstede de Groot amassed during his trip.

Hugo Wijnmalen
Portrait of Wilhelm Martin (1876-1954), dated 1930
paper, etching 15 x 11 cm
The Hague, RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Collectie Iconografisch Bureau)

Johann Wilhelm Kaiser (I)
Portrait of Christiaan Kramm (1797-1875)
paper, steel engraving 169 x 131 mm
The Hague, RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Collectie Iconografisch Bureau)

Theodore C. Marceau
Portrait of Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (1863-1930), probably 1914 or earlier
paper 269 x 22 mm
The Hague, RKD – Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis (Collectie Iconografisch Bureau)

The Dutch architects and artists who lived or worked in Denmark for a longer period in the 16th and 17th centuries faded into obscurity both in that country and abroad. From the mid-19th century, however, they were gradually rediscovered and incorporated into the country’s art history.7 In architecture, the ‘Dutch-North German’ style underwent a revival, and artists such as Kristian Zahrtmann (1843-1917) used the portraits of Karel van Mander III (1609-1670) as the basis for their images of episodes from the life of Christian IV and his family members [4].8

Dutch immigration into Denmark in the 16th and 17th centuries

Exactly in line with what it sets out to do, Gerson’s chapter on Denmark starts at the beginning of the 17th century. However, the 16th century was at least as important for the overall development of the ‘Ausbreitung und Nachwirkung’ of Netherlandish art in Denmark. The absolute peak of Netherlandish impact was – from 1574 on ̶ the extensive rebuilding and decoration of the imposing castle of Kronborg with its fortifications, under Frederick II (1534-1588).9 However, the intensive contacts between the Low Countries and Denmark date back much earlier than this.10 From the end of the 14th century Dutch immigrants made their homes in Dragør on Amager, at that time an island to the south of Copenhagen. In 1524, as many as 184 families from West-Friesland emigrated at the invitation of Christian II to that same Amager, where they settled in Hollanderdorp or Hollanderby (now: Store Magleby) and enjoyed special privileges.

Kristian Zahrtmann
Leonora Christina (1621-1698) in the garden of Frederiksborg Palace, dated 1887
canvas, oil paint 56,3 x 76 cm
Copenhagen, Hirschsprung Collection

They maintained their own language, names, national dress and customs until the middle of the 19th century.11 When in the 17th century the population of this colony had grown too big, the inhabitants were given permission to build a new settlement in Frederiksberg, now, just like Amager, a suburb of Copenhagen, but by 1697 they had already been abandoned this location. In the second half of the 16th century, smaller groups of immigrants came from the Republic to Denmark, where they settled on a series of small islands, but the greatest wave of immigration was to take place around 1567. These later immigrants were no longer farmers, but merchants, architects, craftsmen, ship builders, carpet weavers, mint masters, musicians and artists.12 One of the most important of these was architect Hans van Steenwinckel I (c. 1550-1601). His descendants were to hold high positions at the court as architects, sculptors, fortress builders and painters until around 1700.13

Language was never a problem. Danish printers could process poems and literature in the Dutch language, and actors from the Republic had no difficulty in performing their repertoire. A Dutch merchant or artist could readily be understood by his Danish colleagues, even when using his native language. The same applied for the contacts with patrons from the nobility. Danish nobles largely originated from Northern Germany and spoke Low German, that was closely related to the language spoken by the immigrants from the Netherlands. From the 16th to the 18th century, this particular linguistic factor must have been an important consideration for the Danish kings and other highly placed patrons to engage Dutch artists, merchants and scholars.14


1 Gerson 1983/1942 , p. 453 (in German); see also § 3.2.

2 Gerson 1983/1942, p. 463, note 1; p. 467, note 3.

3 Gerson 1983/1942, p. 460.

4 Martin 1935, pp. 465-466.

5 Jespersen et al. 2010; North 2012.

6 Kramms extensive account of paintings and books of Karel van Mander III suggests he visited Denmark (Kramm 1857-1864, vol. 4 [1860], pp. 1055-1056), although there is no specific mention of a trip to the country in his biography in vol. 1, pp. 1-9.

7 Eller 1971, p. 421.

8 Bøggild Johannsen 2011, pp. 11-31. The proceedings of the conference ‘Reframing the Danish Renaissance. Problems and Prospects in a European Perspective’ (Copenhagen 2006) give a good insight into the current status of the research on the Renaissance in Denmark.

9 For Kronborg, see a.o. Beckett 1897; Slothouwer 1924, Wanscher 1939; Norn 1954; Christensen 1950; Langberg 1985; Heiberg et al. 1988; Houkjær 2006, pp. 300-304; Johannsen 2006. About Antonius van Opberghen: Habela 1965; Gasiorowski 1976; Bartetzky 2006.

10 A good overview of the contacts between the Netherlands and Denmark can still be found in Fabricius/Hammerich/Lorenzen 1945.

11 Fabricius/Hammerich/Lorenzen 1945; the Amager museum in Store Magleby gives a good impression; Zibrandtsen 1976 . Many objects have also been preserved in the small church at Store Magleby: Danmarks Kirker, Københavns Amt, 3, pp. 306-319.

12 Bobé 1927; Fabricius/Hammerich/Lorenzen 1945.

13 Johannsen 2013, pp. 129-141.

14 Winge 1992; Winge 1995. Skovgaard-Petersen 2002 discusses the Danish historiographers Johannes Meursius and Johannnes Isacius Pontanus.

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