Gerson Digital : Denmark


5.4 Third Phase: 1557-1662. War and Revolution

On 1 June 1657 Frederick III declared war on the Swedes in the hope of regaining the losses from the wars in the 1640s by taking advantage of the on-going Swedish war in Poland. However, things went another way, and the Swedish king Charles X Gustav quickly turned around his forces and had by September conquered Jutland. As the winter was extremely cold, the Belts froze, and the Swedes were able to march all the way to the gates of Copenhagen, conquering virtually all of present day Denmark within just a few months. The Peace of Roskilde on 26 February 1658 ceded the important lands in the south of present day Sweden to the Swedes. The Swedish King Charles X Gustav did not keep his part of the peace agreement and restarted the war in August of the same year with the agenda to finally conquer all of both Denmark and Norway. He failed to accomplish this aim due to the help of a Brandenburg and a Dutch army and navy that aided the Danes. Even so, Scania, Halland and Blekinge have stayed Swedish to this day. Denmark was severely reduced in power and importance, as well as in reputation. The Danish palaces outside Copenhagen and many estates were looted severely and much of the artistic heritage of the time of Christian IV was transferred to Sweden or lost forever.

King Frederick III used the occasion to call the Estates to Copenhagen and framed the State Council as responsible for the disaster. The effect was a revolutionary change in constitution that ceded hereditary and absolute power to the king, cutting down effectively the power of the nobility and – in the years following this event – leading to thorough changes in the structure of the elite of the country.

Van Mander and Wuchters came to stand on opposing sides of the conflicts that divided Denmark more clearly now, even if they were still both in the king’s favour. The war meant that Wuchters was living in occupied territory in most of 1658 and 1659, a fact that was to define his career for good and bad the next decade or so. Van Mander meanwhile remained in Copenhagen where his mansion functioned as lodgings for some of the foreign ambassadors involved in the peace negotiations as well as for some of the Dutch naval commanders that came to rescue of Copenhagen during the siege of the city in November 1658, such as Jacob van Wassenaer van Obdam, the lieutenant-admiral [1]. While Van Mander moved even closer into the circle of confidence of the king, Wuchters became further marginalised.

The Swedish king came to Sorø to see the Academy on 1 March 1658, and the Swedish Chancellor Gabriel Oxenstierna (1619-1673) [2] stayed in the city from 13 March to 3 April, and no doubt Wuchters made contact. We know that Charles X Gustav called the Danish court artist Toussaint Gelton (c. 1630-1680) to Göteborg for ten weeks in 1658 in order to paint his portrait [3], amongst other things, so the conqueror felt free it seems to use the artists of the Danish king, and the King himself very likely felt politely obliged to consent.1

Karel van Mander (III)
Portrait of Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam (1610-1665), 1656
canvas, oil paint 127 x 104 cm
Skoklosters slott (Håbo), Skoklosters slott, inv./ 1673

David Beck
Portrait of Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), c. 1650
canvas, oil paint 98 x 77 cm
Stockholm, Livrustkammaren

Toussaint Gelton
Portrait of King Karl X Gustav of Sweden (1622-1660), dated 1658
panel, oil paint 47 x 37 cm
: T. geltton fecit A 1658
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum Stockholm, inv./ NMGrh 1867

Wuchters was not immediately enrolled into the service of the Swedes, but his contacts with them during their stay in Sorø paved the way and came into fruition during the second war from 1659-1660. In 1659 we find him portraying King Charles X Gustav [4] and he received payment for images for Queen Hedvig Eleonora [5] and the Swedish military commander Claes Tott.2 In 1660, when he stayed for five months in the house of Haelwegh in Copenhagen, we find payments from German commanders in Swedish employ, such as Fredrick II von Hessen-Homburg [6-7] or Georg III von Hessen-Darmstadt [8], and again from the Swedish Queen, who was widowed around that time.3

Albert Haelwegh after Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of King Charles X Gustav of Sweden (1622-1660), probably 1658
paper, engraving 362 x 275 mm
lower left : Abr: Wuchters advivam depinxit.
Copenhagen, SMK - The Royal Collection of Graphic Art

Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of Friedrich II von Hessen-Homburg (1633-1708), c. 1661-1662
canvas, oil paint 110 x 74.5 cm
Skoklosters slott (Håbo), Skoklosters slott, inv./ 3040

attributed to Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of Hedvig Eleonora (1636-1689), with a servant, c. 1660
copper, oil paint 35 x 23 cm
, inv./ NMGrh 469

Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of Friedrich II von Hessen-Homburg (1633-1708), c. 1661-1662
canvas, oil paint 115 x 82.5 cm
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum Stockholm, inv./ NMGrh894

Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of George III of Hesse-Darmstadt (1632-1676), c. 1558-1660
canvas, oil paint 109 x 78 cm
Gripsholms Slott (Mariefred), National Portrait Gallery at Gripsholm Castle

Wuchters may have had a certain appeal to female patrons. The cousin of King Charles X Gustav, Queen Christina, had abdicated in his favour in 1654 and moved to Rome, converting to Catholicism. She returned to Sweden soon after Charles X Gustav died in February 1660 to reclaim the throne, or at least secure her possessions. Here she must have engaged Wuchters late in 1660 [9]. In February 1661, she wrote to the Danish king asking permission to keep Wuchters a little longer and to take him with her from Stockholm, where her plans were stalling, to her town Norrköping.4 Wuchters was hard to get to follow her, it seems, as he was busy painting Swedish nobles in Stockholm. During the spring Christina left Sweden for Hamburg and then went back to Rome. Wuchters, who was a success in Stockholm, was, however, soon pushed out by the leading court artist David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl (1628-1698) [10] and had to return to Denmark.

When Wuchters returned in 1662, Denmark had changed and the bricks of influence were moving. The king’s revolution of October 1660, which had installed him as hereditary ruler and had annulled the coronation charter through the support of the estates, meant an end to the State Council and an effective decimation of the nobility’s influence and economic importance. At the same time, Denmark was once more reduced severely economically and in international reputation and importance. When Wuchters returned, Van Mander had readily adjusted to the new situation and was not only still the king’s painter, but also increasingly the painter of the new men in power. Wuchters’ former circle of clients was dwindling.5 His job in Sorø was lost when Michael van Haven (c.1625-1679) took over the position in early 1664, probably as a punishment for his involvements with the enemy. Wuchters moved in with Haelwegh in Copenhagen, but could not profit from his new home. During the 1660s he could see himself severely reduced due to both the new political and social structure that was developing, and as a result of his betting on the wrong horses. Having taken the ready chance for employment the Swedish occupation offered and having left the centre of action at such a crucial time, Wuchters appears to have missed the opportunity to make a move towards greater influence. Whether he would ever have succeeded in such a move, given the talent, versatility and position of Van Mander, must remain speculation. What clearly transpires is that for some years he was out and marginalised. In the following years hardly any works are known from his hand, and only in 1666 were the tides turning. New commissions for royal portraits were given, showing among others the Crown Prince Christian [11] and his brother, Prince George. In 1669 he was granted the privilege to exercise his art freely and to enjoy the same privileges and freedoms as other servants of the king.

Abraham Wuchters
Portrait of Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), 1660-1661
canvas, oil paint 118 x 80 cm
Skoklosters slott (Håbo), Skoklosters slott, inv./ 615

David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl
Portrait of King Charles X Gustav of Sweden (1622-1660)
canvas, oil paint 266 x 160 cm
Hallstahammar (Västmanlands län), Strömsholms slott, inv./ NMStrh 4

Abraham Wuchters
Equestrian portrait of King Christian V of Denmark (1646-1699), c. 1668
canvas, oil paint 161 x 112 cm
Hillerød (Frederiksborg), The National Museum of History Frederiksborg Castle, inv./ A 2892


1 Eller 1971, p. 296, referring to Slottsarkivet, Stockholm, Hovkasseräkenskab av krigsbokhållaren Niklas Jonsson, 5 June 1658, with vouchers 65 and 66. According to the RKD, RKDimages 66099 is possibly a copy by Gelton after Wuchters.

2 Only copies or uncertain attributions of portraits of the Swedish King and Queen are known; the life-size originals seem to be lost.

3 Eller 1971, pp. 298-299, 303-304 (note 64) with reference to the accounts in Slottsarkivet, Stockholm, Drottning Hedvig Eleonoras hovstatsräkenskaper. Lützows räkenskap.

4 Madsen 1915A, p. 176; Rostrup Bøyesen 1941, pp. 79-120.

5 Only two royal commissions have been found so far from the years directly after Wuchters’ return, both models for engraved portraits of queen Sophie Amalie and the mother-in-law of princess Anna Sophie, Magdalena Sibylla of Saxony. A plan to send him to England to portray Charles II appears to have come to nothing. Eller 1971, pp. 340-342.

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