View from abroad… a sabbatical in Denmark
Leiden art historian Juliette Roding spent her sabbatical in Denmark, researching a 17th century court artist. She not only learned more about the artist, she also got to know present-day Denmark.
What is your research about?
I study the cultural interaction between the Dutch and the areas around the Baltic Sea in the period from 1550 to 1800. During my sabbatical I focused on the 17th-century Dutch-Danish artist Karel van Mander III. For 40 years the most important artist in Denmark, he made portraits of the Christiaan IV and Frederik III and their families. He also made paintings of members of the Danish nobility and the bourgeoisie, as well as religious works and anatomical drawings. Van Mander was also active in the literary world and had regular contact with Joost van den Vondel and Jan Vos. I started my sabbatical on the island of Moen and spent from mid-August to early September in a summer house looking out over a bay, writing my manuscript.
And did it work?
‘Yes, I had peace and quiet to work, and I enjoyed the natural environment enormously. The island is on a flight path for migrating birds and at the end of September huge flocks flew very low over the island en route to their winter destination. The way the Danes treat nature is very inspiring. The supermarkets have far more locally produced ecological products than here in the Netherlands. And everybody is careful about how they use energy and about recycling clothes and other goods.’
What kind of research did you do there?
‘I mainly did research in Copenhagen. From mid-November to mid-December I was able to borrow a student apartment in the city. It was small and simple, but the location was ideal: in the centre of the old city, within walking distance of the libraries and museums that I needed to visit for my research. I had a wonderful view from the kitchen window of the 17th-century Nyboder terraced houses, that were built by a Dutch architect.
‘One thing that struck me was that colleagues there were much more co-operative. I was able to actually handle valuable 17th-century miniatures from the royal collection so that I could view them from all angles. Also, I and one of my students were allowed into the depot of the State Museum for Art. On the day that hurricane-force winds battered Copenhagen, we were finding our way through the rooms of Frederiksborg castle with torches!’
What will you do with the findings of your research?
‘A book will be published in June 2014 in Dutch about Van Mander in the series on the Seven Provinces by Verloren publishers. I am also working on a book to be published at the end of 2014 in English by the Museum for National History, located in Frederiksborg Castle. Dutch and Danish historians and art historians are also working on the book, that will include the inventory of the Kunstkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) and the artist’s library.’
How do you look back on your sabbatical
‘It was a wonderful experience. I had lived in the Danish capital for several years some time ago and was prepared that I might find a sabbatical in Copenhagen disappointing, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was fascinating to see and experience how the city had developed in the intervening years. The city now has many more cultural facilities, and old, run-down districts are being revitalised with eye-catching building projects. The Danish fashion, design and jewellery branch is flourishing and you can see that in the new shops and galleries. Although it’s a huge city, the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. When I came back, it took me some time to get used to the Netherlands again. What I am left with is a feeling of gratitude that I had this wonderful opportunity.’
(17 February 2014 / LvP)