Gerson Digital : Denmark


5.5 Fourth Phase: 1670-1682. A New Field Emerges

When Van Mander died, shortly after King Frederick III himself had passed away on 9 February 1670, the two most important figures defining the field of Danish high end art disappeared, and the situation called for replacement and rearrangement.

The ascension of the new King, Christian V, was an affirmation and potentiation of the structural shifts in Danish society that had taken place in the last decade. Christian V was the first King to become anointed, not crowned, and the first who took office without an electoral process. Also in the arts, a new structure emerged that was focussed on the centralisation of power. Whereas offices such as the king’s painter or the king’s engraver continued to exist, the new bureaucracy that was taking over administration from the noble elite under the aegis of the absolute monarch brought forth the position of a general director of the arts.

Abraham Wuchters, who had only just returned to a certain standing with the acknowledgment of his status as privileged royal servant and free artist in 1669, was raised to the position of Royal Painter in 16711 – a position that he would amend with the title of Royal Engraver after the death of his brother-in-law Albert Haelwegh in 1673, provided he would engage a skilled engraver at his own expense.2 However, his position would not be as central and powerful as Van Mander’s had been, as the new office of ‘Inspector of Pictura and Sculptura and all thereto belonging Arts’ (Inspector over Pictura og Sculptura og alle didhen hørende Kunster) and also as Pictor Primarius was given to someone, who would have been thought of as more modern and internationally informed, since he had only just returned from three years of studies on a royal stipend in Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands: Lambert van Haven (1630-1695).3 Van Haven, a Norwegian with roots in the Low Countries, was the brother of Michael van Haven who had for a short while taken over Wuchters’ position as teacher at Sorø Academy, before the position was abolished. Lambert van Haven was really an architect, and only a mediocre painter. His newly created position, however, was a sign of the awareness of the King that art should now be produced for the glorification of the absolute monarch and that all official art should be guided by a common motivation and direction [1].

Thus, Wuchters was eventually able to rise to a higher position, and to step into the breach left open by Van Mander’s passing away, but the structure into which he took position was altered with the death of the great master of the past decades. Van Mander had held a position that was strong enough to keep the field of art relatively stable around him, despite the upheavals in society, and he was important enough to be able to maintain his dominance while adjusting to the new possibilities and changing players in this field. The new absolutist state took his death as a chance to reorganise and centralise the field of royal art.

Willem van der Laegh published by Abraham Wuchters after Lambert van Haven
King Christian V in anointing robes on the throne, dated 1674
paper, copper engraving 332 x 213 mm
lower left : L. van Haven Pinxit
Copenhagen, SMK - The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, inv./ KKSgb9489

Thus, while Wuchters could take over Van Mander’s position and emerged as the leading and most important portraitist in Denmark, focussing on the King’s and the Queen’s commissions, he would not become a ‘new’ Van Mander, as the world in which he lived and worked had changed substantially.


1 Kai Sass 1942; Eller 1971, pp. 340-402.

2 The documents are quoted in F.R. Friis, ’Abraham Wuchters’, in Friis 1872-1878, p. 157. In a move to strengthen his position after the death of the King and van Mander, Wuchters tried in 1670 to claim ownership of a series of engraved copperplates after his designs in the possession of Haelwegh. Haelwegh on the other hand produced evidence that Wuchters owed him a substantial amount of money for room and board during the long periods Wuchters had stayed in his brother-in-law’s house in Copenhagen during the 1660s. The ensuing legal dispute disrupted the family. Haelwegh’s accounts of Wuchters’ stays in his house provide us with a good source for tracking Wuchters’ whereabouts during the unproductive years after his return from Sweden. Petersen 1865-1866, pp. 289-306, and Friis 1872-1878, pp.153-156.

3 Lorenzen1936.

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