10.12.10

The Danish Golden Age

 As you know, I came back to 1849 to record the signing of the Danish Constitution on 5 June. I also came to record the end of the Danish Golden Age in the arts and sciences. This age lasted from 1800 to 1850 and was centered here in Copenhagen. Not that everyone threw down there paint brushes and pens on 1 January 1850, of course. They still continued to work. The term “Golden Age” was only coined in hindsight in 1890.

1807 Bombardment (I do appologize)
The Denmark’s Golden Age had less than an idyllic start. In 1794 and 1795, Copenhagen suffered horrific fires that destroyed both the Christianborg Palace and large areas of the inner city. Then in 1801 and 1807 Copenhagen was further devastated by enemy bombardment over a political disagreement with the...ahem...British. (Perhaps I should try to fake an American accent?) By 1813 Denmark was forced to declare bankruptcy. Add to this, they lost a huge portion of their realm when Norway was succeeded to Sweden in 1814.

Henrik Steffens
Perhaps after this low point, Denmark felt it had nowhere to go but up. Architects had a field day rebuilding Copenhagen, giving the city a neo-classical look. Henrik Steffens, philosopher, scientist and poet, gave nine lectures on German Romanticism, inspiring countless artists, composers and thinkers and getting in trouble with Danish authorities, which probably made it all that more romantic.

Perhaps I should explain what Romanticism is. It was a revolt against stuffy aristocratic social and political norms, the dehumanizing Industrial Revolution and the rational ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. It emphasized individuality, inspiration, intuition and strong emotions. The music, art and literature tried too make you feel awe, horror or passion. It brought us everything from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” to pre-Raphaelite artists to Gothic horror novels. Victorian culture seemed like a tug-of-war between the progress of cold Industrialism and the sentimentality of emotional Romanticism.

Then there was the political aspects of the movement. The Industrial Revolution was making the world smaller with trains and telephones. Romanticism lauded Nationalism, which focused on local folklore, language and customs. That lead to ethnic groups demanding self-determination and revolting against the empires ruling them. Now you see why the authorities were none to happy with Steffens.

If the Danish Golden Age started on a low note, it ended on a high note. A few days ago, Denmark became a Constitutional Monarchy making it far more democratic. The Danes are currently fighting the First Schleswig War but they will beat Prussia. (The Second Schleswig War won’t go as well.) The ramparts around the city will finally be opened up in the 1850s, allowing the city to expand beyond the crowded inner city. Industrialism will really take off in the 1860s, creating new jobs and wealth.

For now, it’s still 1849 and I plan to find as many of the leaders of Danish Golden age as I can. I will tell you about them in my tweets.

Guide to the Danish Golden Age


A company of Danish artists in Rome
painted by Constantin Hansen, 1837
From left to right: Constantin Hansen, Martinus Rørbye, Wilhelm Marstrand, Albert Kuchler, Ditlev Blunck and Jørgen Sonne.
 Lying on the floor is architect Bindesboll.

Hankehøj by Johan Thomas Lundbye (1847)

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