The early years in Denmark weren’t merely just exploring the open seas discovering new islands. There were also artists. One of the largest known pieces of silver work is the Gundestrup cauldron found in a peat bog in the late 1800s. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t exactly seem typical of the styles from that area. Other Norse art is found throughout what is now Denmark. The rune writing and images carved on the large stones at Jelling are perhaps some of the best-known remnants of this era. The earliest forms for paintings survive in the form of church frescos or murals, mostly dating back to Medieval and Renaissance times. It’s estimated that around 600 churches have murals that survive today – the largest concentration than any other country.
Denmark later looked to German and Swedish painters as well as French and Italian sculptors to learn their arts. Some of the more famous painters of this period include Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard, Christian August Lorentzen, and Jens Juel. And likewise, Bertel Thorvaldsen is often considered one of the most famous sculptors. The Royal Danish Porcelain factor also got started around this time as well, and the Kosta Glasbruk glass company, an offshoot company, was also founded at the same time. Around the 19th century, Danish painters finally started making their own style , a “national” style, thus it was deemed as the Golden Age in Danish Painting. Many painters emerged with this new style, with a more realistic style, utilizing the contrasts in shading. Portraits, landscapes, and pictures of people in everyday life were common subjects.
As we stepped into the 20th century, Danish art aligned itself with other European styles and influences. Many painters and other artists have made their work known all over the world, including many sculptors and large-scale artists. One of the most famous Danish architects is Jørn Utzon who designed the famous Sydney Opera House, which is included as a World Heritage Site. Queen Margrethe II had a series of tapestries created depicting the history of Denmark from antiquity to present-day. The tapestries took a total of nine years to complete and are now located on display in the Great Hall of Christiansborg Palace.
And as mentioned above, the earliest forms of writing came in the form of runic writings etched in the sides of rocks, like the Jelling Stones. Once Christianization took place, runes were eventually replaced with Latin. Most of the subjects written about at this time were mainly historical accounts, myths & legends, and ballads. The 16th century bore the first Danish playwrights, and of course poetry is still alive and well. 18th century writing has a lot of its influences from abroad: poetry and drama were mainly stemmed from French and English standards, while some poets took on the styles of German poets.
Denmark’s Golden Age (which lasted through the first half of the 1800s) mostly aligned itself with the corresponding Romantic period of literature. Nikolaj Grundtvig is one author who is often considered one of the headliners of instilling a sense of nationalism. And probably the most famous Danish writer ever is Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote many children’s stories and fairy tales. Among his more well-known stories include “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Thumbelina.” These stories are part of the canon of children’s literature all over the world. My husband told me of a movie about Hans Christian Andersen starring Danny Kaye. Søren Kierkegaard was a prominent philosopher and theologian. The major focuses of his work are centered around making concrete human reality a priority over abstract thinking, as well as writing about the value of making personal choices and commitments.
20th century and contemporary literature embodies a diversity of styles. Karen Blixsen (who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen) is most famous for her memoir novel Out of Africa. It was also made into a movie in 1985 of the same name, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Most Danish authors do write in Danish; however, there are also a sizable number of books written in other languages such as English. Mystery and crime thriller novels seem to be a popular genre for Danish writers today.
Up next: music and dance