Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Johan Gregor Van der Schardt and Frederik II of Denmark

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Johan Gregor Van der Schardt and Frederik II of Denmark

Article excerpt

The Danish court emerged as a major patron of sculpture in the century between 1550 and 1650. In the quarter century after 1550, Cornelis Floris (1514-75) and his workshop in Antwerp produced two marble and alabaster tomb monuments commissioned by King Christian III and King Frederik II, and two more for noble widows commemorating their deceased husbands.1 Soon thereafter, the Nuremberg founder Georg Labenwolf (before 1533-1585) made an elaborate fountain for Kronborg Castle at Elsinore. It featured a large group of bronze mythological figures crowned by Neptune, the latter rotated by the pressure of the water. It was considered perhaps the most extraordinary work of its type by contemporary and later observers.2 After 1615 Adriaen de Vries (1556-1626) produced another fountain of Neptune for Frederiksborg Palace at Hillerød, and in the 1640s François Dieussart (c. 1600-61) produced a group of marble and cast bronze busts of King Christian IV and others in the royal family. His primary project in the kingdom was an equestrian monument of the king that was never executed.3 These major efforts were complemented by a number of smaller projects.

The works of Floris and Dieussart remain largely intact, but the others have fared badly and survive largely as fragments and reconstructions. The Labenwolf and de Vries fountains were dismantled and carried back to Sweden by invading troops in 1658-59. All but three of the Labenwolf figures were melted down in the eighteenth century, and the metal used for other projects. The de Vries figures were reconfigured in the gardens of Drottningholm Palace, where they were mixed with other works by the sculptor taken from Prague in 1648. They were not recognized as remnants of the lost Frederiksborg fountain until the later nineteenth century.4

This turbulent history has likewise introduced a number of problems for our understanding of another important sculptor who worked for the Danish court: Johan Gregor van der Schardt (c. 1530/31-c. 1581).5 Van der Schardt has been recognized as one of the outstanding sculptors of his generation, but there is a great deal of confusion about certain aspects of his work, and especially his Danish sojourn. This has obscured valuable information that may clarify other aspects of his work, such as his familiarity with the casting process and his residence as a foreigner in Nuremberg after 1579. Some basic misconceptions regarding van der Schardt's work will be corrected here. It will be argued that van der Schardt intended to continue to work at least occasionally for Frederik, who was recognized as one of the foremost patrons of sculpture of his generation both by the sculptor and by the Nuremberg city council.6 Finally, the possibility that a large bronze Mercury now in Stockholm was originally made for the king will be considered.

Van der Schardt, from Nijmegen, was among the first group of Netherlandish sculptors to pursue a career abroad, working in various cities in Italy for about twelve years. In this he was much like his precise contemporary from Douai, Giambologna, who went to Rome in 1550, and then to Florence. Both worked for courts - Giambologna for the Medici; van der Schardt for the Emperor Maximilian II and King Frederik II of Denmark - and both produced elegant figures that were prized by collectors. Both may also have worked with architecture in various ways; the diplomat who recruited van der Schardt for imperial service described him as an architect.7 Giambologna is much more familiar than van der Schardt, however. There are various explanations for this. He lived nearly three decades longer, and, with the assistance of a large workshop, produced many more pieces. Many of his assistants later had prominent careers, in part repeating the forms learned in his studio. Unlike van der Schardt, he produced a group of large-scale public works that were enormously influential. Finally, Giambologna was closely tied to the Medici, whose patronage has long been studied, and who effectively promoted his reputation through their use of his figures as diplomatic gifts. …

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