Italian Music and Christian IV's Urban Agenda for Copenhagen

By Hammond, Susan Lewis | Scandinavian Studies, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Italian Music and Christian IV's Urban Agenda for Copenhagen


Hammond, Susan Lewis, Scandinavian Studies


WHEN CHRISTIAN IV ascended the throne of Denmark in 596, Copenhagen was a capital in name only: commerce was predominantly local, the university focused on theological training and could not compete for foreign students, and the town's population numbered only 15,000. Visitors to the town complained its inhabitants were slow or unwilling to adopt European norms of civility: upon arriving in Copenhagen in 1593, the Englishman Fynes Moryson remarked that "the common people, as if they had never seene a stranger before, shouted at mee after a barbarous fashion" (1:121). Most importantly, Copenhagen had not yet established itself as the political center of the Danish kingdom. The itinerant nature of the Danish court made the locus of political power difficult to pin down. In fact, Elsinore rivaled Copenhagen in terms of international prestige. Customs tolls for ship traffic through the Danish Sound were collected there, and the town's Kronborg castle was the official residence of Danish kings until the early 1590s and remained thereafter a persistent iconic symbol of rule. Giovanni Botero's description of Europe of 1595 mentions Elsinore's Kronborg castle (saying nothing of Copenhagen) and Shakespeare's Hamlet had a similar effect on foreign audiences by singling out Elsinore as the most important Danish town (Gamrath 18).

Eager to revamp his kingdom's public image, Christian Iv launched a political, architectural, commercial, military, and cultural campaign that put Copenhagen on the European map. Adopting models from France, Italy, Germany, England, and the Low Countries, the Danish king transformed the provincial town into a thriving capital city. First on his agenda, he moved the official royal residence from Kronborg castle in Elsinore to Christiansborg, which was strategically situated in the center of Copenhagen. Following the move. the king fortified his new capital with a naval dockyard in the area around Christiansborg, an armory in 1604, and a brewery to supply the army in 1618. Copenhagen needed a facelift: Moryson harshly critiqued it as a city of "no beauty or magnificence" (1:122). Christian IV took an active role in both the drafting and actual building of the city's new architecture (Munck 220). Many of the most memorable buildings that dot the present cityscape date from the first half of his reign. Jacques Androuet du Cerceau's Livre d'Architecture [Book of Architecture] of 1559 inspired the King's construction and renovation of Rosenborg castle (just outside the city walls); Flemish painters decorated the interiors. The new image of the Danish capital reached European audiences in Jan Dircksen van Campen's engraving Hafnia Metropolis et Portvs Celeberrimvs Daniae [Copenhagen Metropolis and Celebrated Danish Port] of 1611. The prospect formed the basis for images of the city throughout the century. An engraving by van den Hoeye from around 1640 adheres closely to its model (Figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The left side of the prospect highlights the new naval arsenal surrounding Christiansborg palace, the newly refurbished and heightened spires of the Churches of the Holy Ghost and Nicholas dominate the middle ground along with a new commercial district and city hall (both inspired by their counterparts in Amsterdam) in the inner harbor, and, to the right, the dockyard with the naval shipyard. The universities of Protestant Germany inspired an intellectual overhaul of Copenhagen's university curriculum. Dutch commercial practices shaped economic reforms. The inscription at the bottom supplied textual commentary in Latin, Dutch, and French for the visual glorification of the city and its leader above.

Christian IV's international ambitions for Copenhagen mirrored the European focus of his foreign policy. The King deemed protecting control of the Baltic and North Seas his top priority; the lucrative tolls from the Danish Sound went directly to the King's own treasury and constituted the primary source of his personal wealth. …

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