Dutch Treat

Here is an English tourist called Robert Worsley, visiting Stockholm in the summer of 1688:

I went by water 3 miles to see a small house of the Queens call’d Kalber that has a pretty garden with several good walks an Orangery and a very fine Copper Statue of Hercules killing the Hydra…. I went 14 miles upon the lake to see a palace of the Queen Dowagers [Drottningholm]. …It is a new house built of brick with wings and pavillions, there is a very noble Stair Case of stone adorn’d with 11 Statues of white marble workt in Flanders [the sculptures by Millich]…. The garden is not quite finished in the middle fountain is a brass Statue 8 foot high of Hercules killing the Dragon it was taken at Prague by Gustavus Adolphus thô it formerly came from Athens and is reckoned one of the best in Europe round this fountain are 4 good brass Statues that were taken from the King of Denmark there are several other very good brass Statues taken at Prague and amongst them one admirable one of a Serpent that by twisting of his tail holds 3 Men [Laocoon], and over the door going out of the house are 2 excellent Marble statues of Hercules and Apollo brought also from Prague.

What the tourist does not know is just as significant as what he knows. His calling one statue copper and others brass (they would all have been bronze) is probably a misunderstanding of different kinds of artificial patina, long since obscured by the effects of weather. His assertion that the eight-foot Hercules came originally from Athens reminds us that few English tourists of the day could have had a clear conception (let alone a correct idea) of what Greek bronzes looked like. His belief that Gustavus Adolphus would have taken the booty is probably evidence of a Swedish reluctance to pay tribute to the monarch responsible, for it was under Queen Christina, in 1648, that the Swedish troops entered Prague. (No doubt after her abdication and conversion to Catholicism there were many such acts of oblivion.)

But the chief thing the tourist does not know is the name of the sculptor whose bronze works so obviously impress him. It is Adriaen de Vries (1556-1626), in his day as successor to Giambologna the most highly regarded sculptor in Europe. He was court sculptor to Rudolph II in Prague. He made a series of bronzes for the palace garden of the famous Duke Albrecht von Waldstein or Wallenstein (Schiller’s Wallenstein), sometime commander of the Imperial troops in the Thirty Years’ War. The fountain de Vries made for King Christian IV of Denmark at Frederiksborg Castle, with its commanding figure of Neptune, its tritons blowing conches, its naiads and allegorical figures (originally twenty bronzes in all), was designed to commemorate a Danish victory over the Swedes. It showed Christian IV as a god commanding the seas. “The whole thing,” says Görel Cavalli-Björkman in …

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