The picturesque Swedish capital is located at the intersection of two bodies of water (Lake Mälar and Salt Bay). At its centre stands Gamla Stan (Old Town), a well-preserved vestige of 16th and 17th century life and the modern-day nucleus of Sweden’s largest city.
During the mid 17th century, the Continental Baroque style permeated Swedish architecture. Plans for elaborate palaces and other buildings of major public significance were drawn from models in Italy, France, Holland and Germany – not infrequently with elements from several different prototypes intermingled. The bold, dramatic forms usually associated with the Baroque style were relatively restrained in Sweden, however, at least in architecture, in which the visual vocabulary and design principles of antiquity exerted strong influence. Thus, though the term Baroque serves throughout Europe to define both the historical period and the prevalent style of the latter 1600s, Swedish architecture from this time can more aptly be termed baroque classicism.
In interiors and furnishings from the period, classicism was heavily overlaid with baroque pomp and grandeur. Splendid stucco work with swelling, curving forms, adorned ceilings and chimney pieces, while walls were decorated with gilt leather, lush tapestries and paintings depicting myths, allegories, moral principles and lofty personages both real and fantastic. In general, Swedish architecture and interior design, which had been dominated by the sometimes stern German style, gave way to the extravagant elegance of the French.
In 1632, Charles Ogier, a delegate in the French legation dispatched by Cardinal Richelieu, did not conceal his consternation over the Sweden he encountered. It was a country, he wrote, in which the aristocracy lived in cold, drafty stone houses with simple wooden furniture and unadorned walls, surrounded by barren, inhospitable nature. Indeed, Jacob De la Gardie, the father of Magnus Gabriel and one of the five regents ruling Sweden during Queen Christina’s minority, lived in a house that was no better than those outside Paris occupied by craftsmen and merchants. From such conditions, Swedish monumental architecture rose in only a matter of decades to a level that compared favourably with that of the leading European nations.
This transformation was first seen in the palaces and manor houses of masonry constructed in the provinces at the centre of the Swedish empire as well as in Stockholm itself. Forty years after Ogier’s visit, the capital city boasted buildings that, according to another foreigner, the Florentine diplomat Lorenzo Magalotti, had no equals outside Italy. “Not with respect to the quantity or size,” wrote Magalotti, “but with regard for the consistency that equals the Italian building traditions and consequently that of Roman antiquity.”
The fortunes made in Sweden during the 17th century provided the economic base for such superior building. Land was considered the safest investment, and tax deferments as well as other benefits assured that property belonging to the aristocracy could be built to a noble standard.
Besides the economic, there were also ideological motivations. What a nobleman built was a manifestation of himself and his family, and often a representation of his class as well. Furthermore, to build on a grand scale was also seen as a way of honouring the fatherland. Erik Dahlbergh’s great volume of engravings, Suecia antiqua et hodierna, is indicative of how patriotism could be a motive for building. This noteworthy tome gives not only an impression of Sweden’s topography and dwellings during the second half of the 17th century, but also a reflection of how the nation wished the rest of the world to see her.
Skokloster Castle, built for Carl Gustav Wrangel, exemplifies the nobility’s use of architecture to display status. Wrangel had been a most successful field marshal during the Thirty Years War before rising to great heights in the state bureaucracy. Sweden’s largest private building, Skokloster took two decades to build (1654-74) and is today one of the best-preserved 17th century castles in Europe, providing an invaluable record of the period. It still contains nearly all of its original baroque furnishings, art and textiles, as well as library, armour and scientific instruments.
Several architects were involved in the design of Skokloster, but the quiet elderly German, Caspar Vogel, was responsible for the general plan. Erected on the site of a former medieval cloister, this imposing building consisted of four wings with octagonal towers at each corner and enclosing a central courtyard. Its lavish interiors gave a vivid impression of the style of living enjoyed by the newly rich Swedes of the period. Here, Wrangel lived like a German prince in luxurious splendour and surrounded by objects of art and curiosities. Lorenzo Magalotti, however, found the castle too much and too showy, preferring a more refined aesthetic taste – such as the Italian. With its conservative – even old fashioned – architecture, however, Skokloster did not serve as a model for buildings. Architecture was already evolving in a different direction.
The House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) in Stockholm was Simon de la Vallée’s most prominent work.
Simon de la Vallée (ca. 1600-1642) was the first trained, professional architect to practice in Sweden. Born in Paris, de la Vallée began his career under the direction of his father, Marin, one of the architects working for Dowager Queen Marie de Médicis; Marin had participated in such prestigious projects as the Hôtel de Ville and the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. In 1633, Simon left France to work for the Dutch prince of Orange, and four years later he moved to Sweden.
During his tenure in Sweden, Simon de la Vallée initiated many projects, but relatively few were completed. With these, he replaced the architecture influenced by German and Dutch late-Renaissance styles with a French-Dutch classicism, which was then taken up by his successors. He attracted numerous commissions from private clients. As word of his gifts spread in his newly adopted country, he found himself sought after for public commissions as well. By 1639, he was named to the position of Royal Architect.
For many years, when noblemen convened in Stockholm for political deliberations, they had to crowd into old-fashioned quarters. This situation was to change, however, with the offer of a parcel of land by the renowned Axel Oxenstierna, who had been appointed Chancellor of the Realm by Gustav II Adolf and who, in this powerful office, effectively ruled Sweden throughout Christina’s years as a minor. Oxenstierna’s generosity made possible a suitably splendid meeting place for the nobility on the waterfront to the west of the Royal Palace. The commission for the House of Nobility went to Simon de la Vallée and yielded the earliest example of Swedish architecture in which one can follow the complete design and construction process through drawings.
In 1641, the architect presented two different proposals for the building. The larger one shows a three-story main structure with corner pavilions and four projecting wings, along with a lower entrance wing. The façade, of alternating red brick and sandstone, rusticated pilasters, and a decorative balustrade along the roof, has clear similarities to city palaces in Paris. His inspiration may have come in part from French architect Jacques Androuet du Cerceau’s (1576-79) work, Les plus excellents bastiments de France (The most excellent buildings of France).
The career of Simon de la Vallée came to an abrupt and violent end in 1642, when he was struck down one November evening and left for dead on the public square, Stortorger, in Stockholm. His attacker, a young colonel, was a nephew of Axel Oxenstierna; a settlement was quickly reached between the powerful Oxenstierna family and the architect’s heirs.
During the long building period between 1642 and 1674, the House of Nobility was slowly modified to consist only of the central block. A Dutch architect, Justus Vingboons, was called to Sweden to complete the project ten years after de la Vallée’s death. Vingboons gave the façade of the building its final, harmonious, classical appearance, with colossal Corinthian pilasters of light grey sandstone contrasting against the brick red walls (originally stuccoed and painted brick red with white joinery imitating masonry). The end result closely resembled buildings in Vingboons’ native Holland, such as the Mauritshuis in the Hague or the Trippenhuis in Amsterdam. The House of Nobility was thus transformed into a genuine example of Dutch classicism.
The building was finally completed by Jean de la Vallée (1620-1696), Simon’s son, who took over the project in 1656. Jean de la Vallée cleverly took advantage of the rich façade and added a magnificent roof, which he divided into two sections with a vertical intermediary part and an elegantly curved lower section. A simplified version of this uniquely Swedish roof form – the säteri roof – came to dominate the aristocratic manor houses and palaces built over the course of seven decades.
Latin inscriptions along the frieze named the virtues and obligations of the nobility and complemented the roof’s allegorical figures. The classical virtues of Honour, Strength and Wisdom were displayed in the pediment, while the entrance was flanked by the Roman deities, Minerva and Mars, holding aloft a shield. For all who entered this space, the classical gods’ message was that, through art and war, the nobility who served as civil officials and military officers thus advanced the cause of their country.
The roof of the House of Nobility, as well as the motifs in the façade decorations, recurred on a smaller scale in many other places. Jean de la Vallée himself was responsible for translating the architectural vocabulary used in the House of Nobility into wood for the manor house Fullerö, in Västmanland (which in fact was completed even before its supposed prototype in Stockholm). With its colossal pilasters, a pediment, a Doric entablature and painted in colours meant to imitate brick and sandstone, Fullerö imparted a Dutch classicism to the architecture of the Swedish countryside.
Jean de la Vallée was well prepared to take over the House of Nobility project. As the first of many recipients of royal travel stipends, he had gone to France and Italy in the late 1640s and would surely have remained abroad longer had he not been called home to Stockholm for the important task of preparing the city for Queen Christina’s coronation. In connection with this event, he created two triumphal arches in the capital, both made of impermanent materials, of which the better known echoed the Arch of Constantine in Rome.
A peer and competitor of Jean de la Vallée, Nicodemus Tessin the Elder (1615-1681), came from Stralsund, in Germany (then part of Sweden), where he had been educated in building fortifications. As an assistant to Simon de la Vallée, he had become well-grounded in civil building, although his future development was greatly influenced by a study tour through Europe in 1651-53 sponsored by Queen Christina. Like Jean de la Vallée, Tessin received many commissions from the high nobility, but unlike his rival, he managed his career carefully and was better focused on his goals. While Jean had trouble delivering drawings on time, Tessin carried his tasks to completion. In 1661, after fifteen years as Royal Architect, he took over from Jean responsibility for the Royal Palace and was given the title of Stockholm’s first City Architect. Later, King Karl XI elevated Tessin the Elder to the nobility.
Thanks to his skill and tenacity, and to whole troops of assistants, Tessin managed to produce over three decades some thirty great country houses, as well as a number of churches and palaces in Stockholm. He was the supreme master of his time, and with his classically composed architecture he was able to realize his clients’ architectural ambitions. While Tessin looked to France, Holland and Italy for prototypes, his models came primarily from the 16th century Italian architect, Andrea Palladio, whose books on architecture wielded great influence throughout Europe. Tessin travelled in northern Italy to study Palladio’s famous villas, in which the Italian master had brilliantly melded visions of the houses and temples of antiquity. Eventually, all of Tessin’s time was consumed by the one project for which he is most renowned: Drottningholm, today the residence of Sweden’s royal family.
Councilmen were required to have residences in the capital, near the Royal Palace and their place of work. Within a relatively short time, therefore, a semicircular zone of councilmen’s houses was built around the palace. The growth and transformation that Stockholm underwent during the 17th century was remarkable, but it was not accomplished without sacrifice. Many less-well-off Stockholm residents witnessed the razing of their wooden houses to make way for expansion of the palaces.
The transformation of Stockholm provided abundant opportunity for a gifted architect to apply his skills. Jean de la Vallée received the title of Royal Architect and with it, responsibility for the city’s building projects. His main task was to be to continue building the empire’s capital and the Royal Palace. Uniform rows of government offices and private palaces were planned on the south and west sides of the Royal Palace. For various reasons none of these projects could be carried out. Instead, he took on a steady stream of wide-ranging and prestigious commissions from private clients belonging to the aristocracy.
As a reminder of these ambitious plans stands the palace (or rather, a corner section of it since the plans were never fully realised) that Jean de la Vallée designed for Axel Oxenstierna. Oxenstierna palace (Oxenstiernska palatset) was intended to be the first and largest building west of the Royal Palace. Inspired by Roman baroque buildings such as the Palazzo Borghese, the palace’s monumental façade and recessed mezzanine floors represented something truly new for Swedes. It was completed, however, with certain non-Roman features such as a triangular gable and a steep roof (which was later changed). The façade was coloured a warm, brick red.
The largest concentration of palaces was, and remains today, located on Riddarholmen, a small island between Stockholm’s Old Town and Lake Mälaren. The island had long ago been used as grazing fields for goats belonging to residents of Stockholm and later it became the site of a Franciscan cloister. During the 17th century, the area was transformed into the capital’s most exclusive residential quarter. To the far south stood Carl Gustav Wrangel’s impressive, towered palace, with its system of ramps leading to the water and a boat landing. From here, Wrangel could easily reach Skokloster castle by boat, as could the other Riddarholmen residents with country estates along the shore.
On the highest point of the island stood a palace built in the beginning of the 1650s for the public official and diplomat Schering Rosenhane, one of the most cultivated Swedes of his time. The interiors of Rosenhane palace (Rosenhaneska palatset) reflected the taste of an intellectual and the style of a high official. Probably designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder, this three-story building, with its cubic form and rusticated exterior, displays a discreetly restrained classicism. Inside, the rooms are clustered around a central stairway and a simple courtyard that is little more than a light well. As in country manor houses, the utilitarian rooms were located on ground level and the family’s private apartments were on the story above. The top floor was reversed for a banquet hall and guest suites. Everything in the house was carefully thought through following a Palladian pattern and, most likely, the patron’s own taste and wishes. In the upper gallery, Rosenhane could explain to educated guests the meaning of the series of paintings with emblematic motifs that were created to illustrate his own ideas. Today, these are all that remain of the original interiors.
The Rosenhane palace was considered noteworthy in its own time. When Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie spoke in 1665 on the question of a new exchange building in Stockholm, he stated that it should be not “costly and magnificent, but beautiful and modestly elegant – like the house of the deceased Councillor of the Realm, Schering Rosenhane.”
Close to Riddarholmen on a parcel of land next to the water and neighbouring the House of Nobility, Gustav Bonde, the Treasurer of the Realm, built his palace in 1662. Bonde palace (Bondeska palatset) became one of Stockholm’s greatest palaces of the period. The building exhibits the expanded French plan that can be seen in Simon de la Vallée’s proposal for the House of Nobility: a main building with corner towers, four projecting wings and an enclosed portico. A garden and a boat landing were probably planned to face the sea.
Gustav Bonde engaged both Tessin the Elder and Jean de la Vallée to work on the project. Tessin gave the palace its principal characteristics: the façade’s classical composition, which consisted of a rusticated base and colossal pilasters in the upper level. Jean de la Vallée worked out the remaining details – a project that nearly cost him his life. He got into such a violent dispute with the major who was leading the daily work that the officer attempted to murder the architect and his family by mixing arsenic into their food. The architect recovered after some months; the major was charged with attempted murder, sentenced to death and executed.
In 1667, at the time of Bonde’s death, only the main building of his palace was completed and, despite his widow’s attempts to carry out the plans, the building was not finished during the 17th century. The impressive structure depicted in Dahlbergh’s Suecia antiqua et hodierna showed the palace as it was planned, and this was sufficient to win international admiration. When King Charles II of England first saw Dahlbergh’s engravings in 1668, he proclaimed that Bonde Palace had hardly an equal in all Europe, except perhaps in Paris.
In his will and testament, Gustav Bonde expressed his desire for the palace to remain forever in his family’s possession, since he had built it more for the honour of his family than for his own comfort. Family legacy was an important element in the building traditions of the period. Thus, the house became a monument to the late Treasurer of the Realm and his family. Great sums were spent on the external appearance, but the interiors were often left in relatively primitive state. The family’s living quarters occupied only a portion of the house; some of the remaining space was reserved for the staff, and other rooms were rented out. The palace even contained office space for the accountants and bookkeepers who took care of the owner’s finances; from these offices, vast properties could be managed.
The Stockholm palaces from the Baroque period have met with different fates. Today, the Rosenhane Palace is occupied by the Swedish Court of Appeals, while the Bonde palace houses the offices of the Supreme Court. As early as the 1670s, Axel Oxenstierna’s palace came to serve as the headquarters of the Swedish National bank (Riksbanken). Soon, however, the bank acquired its own building, designed in 1676 by Tessin the Elder. As with the Oxenstierna palace, only one portion of the Swedish National Bank building had been completed, on a narrow lot next to a small square, Järntorget, in Old Town; construction was not resumed until 1699.
The Swedish National Bank (Gamla riksbanken) building is considered one of the most Roman structures built north of the Alps. The balance of the façade’s horizontal and vertical elements, the recessed mezzanine floors, the pediments over the windows and the low roof all contribute to its Roman character. The robust doorway is directly inspired by the famous Villa Farnese in Caprarola outside Rome, designed by the architect Vignola in the mid-16th century. It is not impossible that Nicodemus Tessin the Younger had a certain influence on the bank building’s appearance. He was studying in Rome during the 1670s and could have sent reports and drawings home to his father. After all, it was he, more than anyone else, who was responsible for spreading the Roman style in Swedish architecture.
Swedish architecture in the late 17th and early 18th centuries evolved during a time of extreme political swings within and hostilities without. Between 1690 and 1730, Sweden progressed from the royal autocracy under King Karl XI, through two decades of war and hardship, to a long-awaited time of peace, followed by the institution of a new political system – the parliamentary regime of the Age of Liberty. Throughout it all, a continuous driving force came from the outstanding architect and conscious ideologue, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger. Together with the court painter, David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Tessin gave artistic expression to the importance and authority of the monarchy, with work reflecting more strongly than ever before, influences from Europe’s leading cultural nations, Italy and France.
Tessin’s architecture did not win over the conservative Swedish nobility, however, and aristocrats continued to commission buildings in the traditions of their forebears. The tone is different form earlier work, however – stricter and more austere. The architecture from this period is therefore known as late baroque or (for the kings Karl) late Karolinian. Though the terms are used interchangeably, the restrained simplicity of forms is today the most closely associated with the word Karolinian.
No architect in Sweden has ever attained the stature of Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654-1728), whose multi-faceted career also won him great influence as a politician and courtier to the king. From his youth, his bright prospects distinguished him from his peers. His education began in Sweden, first under his father, Nicodemus Tessin the Elder, then at Uppsala University. In 1673, when the young Tessin was just nineteen, he went to Rome to continue his studies. While he was there, former Queen Christina, having abdicated the throne and taken up residence in the Eternal City, took a lively interest in her gifted compatriot and helped to see that his stay in Rome was a productive one. Tessin was invited to study with the architect Carlo Fontana, through whom he made the acquaintance of the great Gianlorenzo Bernini.
During this six years in Rome and the following two in England and France, Tessin developed the style that would later determine his architecture. Though both Roman antiquity and the Renaissance were important to him, it was the baroque architecture of Bernini that Tessin admired most and that shaped his future work. In Tessin’s hands, the heavier Roman baroque of Bernini was complemented by the lighter, more decorated baroque classicism of Louis XIV’s France. The surroundings being created by Charles le Brun at Versailles and at the Louvre, and, in fact, the entire artistic devotion to glorifying the king of France, greatly impressed Tessin. He was drawn to the new principles of palace architecture that he encountered in France, especially to those developed and implemented by architect Louis Le Vau in his designs for Vaux-le-Vicomte (1658-1661) and to the landscape architecture of André Le Nôtre. Over the years, Tessin compiled a unique and extensive collection of French drawings and engravings, many of which are now preserved at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm.
Sweden had high expectations for Tessin. Even while still in Rome, he was appointed court architect. Upon his return to Sweden in 1681, he took over the position that his recently deceased father had held as city architect in Stockholm; along with that post, he inherited responsibility for completing Drottningholm Palace for the dowager queen, Hedvig Eleonora.
Tessin the Younger is best known today as the architect of the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
The Royal Palace was just a fraction of Tessin the Younger’s large-scale plans for Stockholm. During the embattled years in the early 18th century, the king and architect had exchanged letters planning radical changes in the urban environment of the palace. The goal was to create a capital city worthy of the absolute monarchy. In reality, however, the plans were more of an escapist’s fantasy. This was probably understood by both the architect and the king, who was detained in Turkey after his disastrous defeat at Poltava in 1709. The full scope of the project to glorify Stockholm is known today only through a drawing by Tessin that has been preserved.
The general plan was to form an axis running through the northern waterway to a monumental open square located on the opposite shore, today’s Gustav Adolf’s Square (Gustav Adolfs torg). There, on the far side, Tessin planned a large baroque church with domes and clock towers, this would serve as a royal mausoleum. The square was to be flanked by courtiers’ palaces, and between them were to be two fountain sculptures in the form of elephants carrying obelisks – an idea from Bernini’s famed Elefante in Rome’s Piazza Minerva, just steps from the ancient Pantheon. The plans also included new royal stables with a show arena (where the House of Parliament stands today), an arcaded space for an open market, and, in the northeast, an enormous armoury to display war trophies.
If Tessin’s utopian ideal had become a reality, Stockholm would have been one of Europe’s most magnificent capital cities, but plans to complete it collapsed with the fall of the absolute monarchy. Not until the end of the 18th century was the project revived, and then it was only partly realised by architects practising in the neoclassical styles.
Tessin’s plan for Stockholm included his own palace, erected on a property that he had acquired in 1692 on Slottsbacken, just opposite the south entrance to the Royal Palace. Behind a Roman façade, he masterfully created for himself and his family an ideal dwelling, which he conceived as a stylistic continuation of the Royal Palace. His son, Carl Gustav Tessin, later wrote, “The Stockholm house of my father of blessed memory is by no means a big house, but it can certainly be considered a model.” Moderate in size and with a simple, refined exterior, the house is easily distinguishable from the other private palaces that had been built in Stockholm by past generations. For its exterior and general composition, Tessin looked at modern palaces in Rome, and like some of this Italian colleagues, he drew inspiration from the noteworthy aristocratic homes of antiquity. The most important rooms are clustered in one main building, with a foyer forming a classical atrium in the middle of the first floor. From the foyer, one can enter a peristyle of greenery and a miniature baroque garden, which is considered one of the most exquisite in all Europe. From the outside, the second floor gives the impression of a piano nobile, but in fact it housed the family’s private apartments. The formal state apartments, containing a salon, antechamber, bedchamber and a cabinet at each end, was located on the third floor and overlooked the garden.
Tessin left this description of his plans for this apartment: “After much thought on how to decorate it, I decided to pain both ceilings and walls with all sorts of [antique-style] grotesque ornamentation… [In these] will be figures and small stories in colours, as well as some mirrors, bronze frames, etc. In the salon, the Fine Arts and Sciences will be the subject; in the antechamber, the satisfaction which comes from the study of Philosophy is depicted.” For the rich decorative paintings that dominate the interiors, Tessin enlisted the help of the same French artists who had come to decorate the Royal Palace, including Jacques Fouquet, Jacques de Meaux, and the painter Evrard Chauveau (brother of René Chauvreau). Trompe l’oeil paintings in the salon depict southern European harbours and sunny Italian landscapes with ancient ruins, while the bedchamber gives the illusion of continuity into an expansive sculpture gallery. This apartment has been referred to as one of the finest “French” interiors of the 1690s and ceiling decorations of this quality in particular are rare indeed. Various figures are combined here with ornamentation in the spirit of Jean Bérain but following a subtle allegorical program of Tessin’s own invention. The salon is dedicated to the god Apollo and the nine muses. The theme of the bedchamber is night, while in the antechamber are depictions of the struggle between Virtue and Vice.
The small, irregular lot that Tessin had acquired he transformed with precision and imagination into a symmetrical, terraced courtyard with a garden shielded by wings on all sides from the city’s jagged skyline. Protruding chimneys were once cleverly concealed by sheet metal cutouts faux-painted as trees mounted atop the wings. A pond and a broderie parterre of boxwood, surrounded by marble sculptures of ancient gods and goddesses, made up the front section of the garden. The garden’s rear section functioned as a stage, separated from the front section by a pair of freestanding wings. Behind these, Tessin created an illusion of depth by using false perspectives with a row of columns gradually diminishing in size like the Italian baroque architect Borromini’s false-perspectives arcade at the Palazzo Spada in Rome. From the beginning, a garden grotto, birdsongs from aviaries, the babble of trickling water and the scent of honeysuckle transported the visitor mentally to a southern European idyll. Landscapes painted in the wing’s original open arcades enhanced this sensation.
In 1700, Tessin wrote to his good friend Daniel Cronström, “As God is my witness, my house is costing me more than a hundred thousand livres, even without the furniture. God willing, everything is nearly completed and I expect it to be my greatest source of happiness in my remaining days.” Tessin proudly had engravings made of his house’s architecture, its interiors and its gardens to make known to the world this ultimate expression of his taste and artistry.
The work on Tessin’s own palace drew on experience gained during the early years of this career. As a young man, Tessin the Younger had captured the attention of the highest stratum of Swedish society. In 1681, when he was just twenty-seven and newly returned from travels abroad, he was commissioned by Count Carl Gyllenstierna, the dowager queen’s chief administrator and marshal, to design a palace.
An urgent matter during the Age of Greatness was the construction of mausoleums to honour military commanders and noblemen. These were strictly a privilege of wealthy patrons. They were constructed near existing churches as freestanding structures with their own architecture. All the symbolic adornments of a funeral procession – funeral escutcheons, ancestral coat-of-arms and flags of mourning – were placed along with the deceased’s sarcophagus.
The Gustavian mausoleum at Riddarholm Church in Stockholm played an important role in the development of this Swedish tradition. It was built just after the death of Gustav II Adolf in 1632, in his honour, and the oldest mausoleums derive from this period. Most are nearly cubic buildings, crowned by a spire and with windows on three sides. The architecture is as simple as possible.
In the following years, demands for mausoleums increased. Architects received commissions for grandiose buildings crowned by domes, with exteriors prominently displaying their functions. In the interiors, the worldly mixed with the spiritual. Exploits of war were intermingled with the hope of resurrection and eternal blessedness.
The kings of the Palatine dynasty – Karl X Gustav, Karl XI and Karl XII – all rest in the Karolinian mausoleum at the Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan) in Stockholm. This mausoleum can be said to mark the end of the Karolinian epoch. Architecturally, it also signifies the grand finale of a long tradition of mausoleums of this type.
By the mid-1730s, the French Rococo style has a firm hold in Sweden. Applied primarily in interior decoration, the Rococo was reserved mainly for regal environments such as the Royal Palace in Stockholm where the style first became evident in newly completed rooms. Not until the middle of the 18th century, however, did the Rococo become solidly established and common in Sweden’s private houses as well. Swedish Rococo is normally considered to encompass the years 1750 to 1770.
The architect Carl Hårleman, who introduced the Rococo in Sweden and was responsible for forming its Swedish character, had already died by the 1750s. Hårleman is credited with having laid the foundation for the modern Swedish house, although in fact his architecture is based entirely on French prototypes. But the models were not simply copied in Sweden. Rather, they were adapted and modified into more moderate and disciplined forms than appeared in France. The Swedish Rococo has indeed its own, very distinctive character, and this applies comprehensively to architecture, to interiors and to the decorative arts of that period. It is sometimes said that the French Rococo cooled down in Sweden’s Nordic climate.
Carl Hårleman assumed artistic responsibility for completion of the Royal Palace, where work resumed in 1727, considered the starting point of the art and architecture of the Age of Liberty. The second largest royal building project during the Rococo period was the rebuilding of Drottningholm Palace for Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika.
A major building project during the Age of Liberty and one of the few in which Hårleman was not involved was the exchange house in Stockholm. In affluent trading cities, the town halls and exchange buildings have commonly been manifestations of local wealth and power. This was not the case in Stockholm, however. Lacking the usual array of offices, the city’s various administrative bodies were squeezed together in a jumble of outdated office buildings near Stortorget in the Old Town. Merchants had no public trading facilities at all, which meant that they had to conduct business under the open sky.
The construction of a new exchange house became a drawn-out project that continued throughout the entire Age of Liberty. In 1728-29, the city architect Johan Eberhard Carlberg presented two different suggestions for an exchange building. The first proposal was based on restoring the existing city hall complex, providing more room for commerce; the other plan called for replacing the existing complex with a new, monumental building that would accommodate both the city hall and the exchange building. Neither of the proposals were accepted, however, and the point became moot when, in 1730, the city purchased the Bonde Palace to house administrative offices. The move from the square and Stortorget solved the problem of location and meant that the exchange could lay sole claim to the building contemplated.
Year after year, Carlberg’s initial suggestions were followed by new ones, both by himself and by superintendent Carl Johan Cronstedt. One of Cronstedt’s designs was finally approved by the kind in 1768. The year before, however, a young man in the city architect’s office by the name of Erik Palmstedt presented his ideas for the building’s appearance based partly on earlier drawings by Cronstedt. The city administration granted Palmstedt the task of continuing to develop the plans, which resulted in his proposal’s being accepted by King Gustav III in 1773. The building was completed three years later.
The new exchange building, in the form of a two-story trapezoid with covered corners and a flat, baluster-rimmed roof, took up an entire block on the north side of Stortorget. Its rusticated ground floor opens into generous arcades that face the square; the upper floor is enclosed. The building prompts associations with a French rococo private palace, but emphasizes its public status through an accentuated central section with engaged columns, a pediment and a clock-tower lantern crowning the top (the later being a remnant from the baroque). In the large second-floor reception room, which today houses the Swedish Academy (Svenska Akademien), Palmstedt created an austere interior in white and gold with colossal Ionic pilasters and a robust joist system.
The Stockholm exchange was the first building of monumental scale that Gustav III approved during his reign. It was soon followed by many prestigious projects within Stockholm’s centre in which both Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz and Erik Palmstedt were involved. With these, however, Sweden entered a new epoch: the Gustavian.
Creation of the Gustavian style was to a great extent the work of the renowned and versatile Jean Eric Rehn (1717-1795). In 1756 Rehn returned from a year-long study tour that he, court painter Johan Pasch (1706-1769) and a master builder, Georg Froman, had embarked on together. As a designer at the Swedish Manufacturing Office, Rehn had been dispatched to gather information about silk designs and production in Paris and Lyon. The tree friends continued on to Rome and then Naples, where they were the first Swedes to study the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Rehn zealously sketched the finds: architecture – sometimes just fragments – as well as sculptures, household goods and the furniture depicted in wall paintings. Indeed, the enthusiastic travellers reported having sensed at the ruins the aromas of ancient herbs, grains and balsam – a vivid and very personal experience of the ancient world. Then, en route back to Sweden, Rehn encountered France’s great enthusiasm for antiquity and its influence on the new and prevalent Louis XVI style.
Rehn’s travels initiated a new period in Swedish art history. His exposure to the ancient world and to its echoes in contemporary work definitely shaped not only his own personal artistic development but also that of Sweden. Already before his journey, Jean Eric Rehn had assisted Carl Hårleman with the interiors of the Royal Palace in Stockholm. Rehn’s contributions there obviously pleased Queen Lovisa Ulrika, who soon thereafter engaged him as per personal interior designer. He was also named Court Architect and a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
Like Jean Eric Rehn, the architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz was at the height of his career during the transitional period between the Rococo and Gustavian style. Even more than his Chinese pavilion at Drottningholm, Adelcrantz’s greatest professional challenge came with Gustav III’s commission for a royal opera house in Stockholm (1774-82). This would become the most prominent Gustavian building in Sweden (and, after seven decades, the setting of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, The Masked Ball).
The opera house was just one feature in the grand plans of Gustav III and his superintendent. The project was based on Nicodemus Tessin the Younger’s earlier drawing for the area surrounding the Royal Palace. These plans, which had only recently been discovered, agreed with the contemporary desire to create a space comparable to the monumental public spaces that imparted majesty to many Continental cities.
Erected on the east side of the square, the new opera house provided a main element in the architectural setting of the palace. (In 1891, Gustav III’s opera house was razed to make way for the current Royal Opera House, Kungliga operan.) Nothing on its exterior revealed the building’s function. On a rusticated base with windows and entrances framed by blind arcades, colossal Corinthian pilasters contrasting with the smooth façade stretched two full stories. A central colonnade crowned by an attic story marked the entrance toward the square.
Stylistically, the opera house derived completely from French classicism. It was also to France that Adelcrantz turned for inspiration for the stage and auditorium. The interior resembled the theatre designed by Germain Soufflots in Lyon, with its horseshoe-shaped auditorium, long rows of box seats, and raked stage. Adelcrantz’s design was likely based on the French prototype, since engravings of Soufflots’ theatre were publicised the same year, 1773, that Adelcrantz completed his drawings for the opera house. The furnishings in the auditorium and foyer were in red, white and gold with sculpted decoration of urns, laurel swags and musical instruments all in the spirit of the older Louis XVI style. Jean Baptiste Masreliez was responsible for a large portion of this graceful ornamentation.
A companion structure on the opposite side of the square, another palace – also designed by Erik Palmstedt – was erected in 1783-94 for Gustav III’s sister, Princess Sophia Albertina. With money inherited from their mother, Sophia Albertina had purchased the property in 1782; on it had stood a 17th century palace. Having offered to pay to construct his sister’s new palace, King Gustav gave the architect orders to copy the opera house’s façade. The palace was furnished with a number of exquisite interiors by Louis Masreliez. Thus, Sophia Albertina’s palace, which is still standing, gives quite an accurate reflection of Gustav III’s original opera house. The building currently houses the Swedish Foreign Ministry (Utrikesdepartementet).
The new square just opposite the Royal Palace provided an ideal site for the equestrian statue of Gustav II Adolf, which was commissioned from the sculptor Pierre Hubert L’Archeveque in 1775 but not inaugurated until 1796. In Paris, many of the public spaces created during the 18th century survived the French Revolution intact, while all the effigies of monarchs perished. In Stockholm, the opposite occurred: The architectural framework surrounding the statue was truncated, but the king was allowed to remain in the saddle.
Not far from Gustav Adolf’s Square, work began in 1783 on the Customs House (Tullpackhuset), which consisted of a warehouse and offices. This project afforded Erik Palmstedt an opportunity to carry out on Swedish soil more ideas shaped by his foreign travels. Palmstedt’s customs house is firmly anchored in the Italian Renaissance; it has a severe, uncompromising, rusticated facade in stucco but imitating Italy’s stone, classically shaped window casements, and a portal with heavy banded columns. The building foreshadows the stern neoclassicism that would soon permeate Swedish design. In 1784, Gustav III returned from Italy a strong advocate of a strict, austere neoclassicism. This radically affected the style of public architecture, since the king’s personal tastes were decisive in the aesthetics of all new projects. Though drawings for public buildings were submitted first to the superintendent, the king of Sweden exercised his right to approve or deny all designs. This king often made changes to proposals with his own pen. When reviewing a suggestion for an inflated, baroque-style bell tower for the Kartulla church in Finland (then a part of Sweden), the monarch quickly transformed the drawing to a simplified clock turret composed just of four Doric columns.
From this moment, Jean Eric Rehn and Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz – the proponents of the earlier, much softer classicism – lost their grip on aesthetics in Sweden. Though they retained their influential positions as court architect and superintendent, the king now marshalled fresh creative forces that could better meet his new demands and stylistic ideals.
The Royal Mint (Kungliga mynthuset) in Stockholm illustrates this development. In 1783, Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz began plans for a new Royal Mint to be located just west of the Royal Palace. While the new opera house magnificently displayed the architect’s skills, it also exposed his limits with regard to classicism. Just weeks after his return from abroad, Gustav III approved a new proposal, submitted by a younger architect named Olof Tempelman (1745-1816) for the mint house. Tempelman, who in 1779 had been appointed Sweden’s first professor of civil architecture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, had also recently returned from Italy; he therefore had a clear understanding of what the king wanted. His drawings depict a building with very pronounced rustication and a temple portico with four robust Doric columns. In the last phase of construction, however, Adelcrantz did rework the facade slightly. On direct orders from the king, the rustication was removed and the portico was given greater emphasis by extending the height of the columns. The Doric temple facade of the Royal Mint became the first manifestation in Sweden of this new style.
Mynttorget is named after the vicinity to the royal mint (Kungliga mynthuset), during the period 1696-1850 located by the square, and the name appears on a map dated 1733. The location of the royal mint is not known.