New exhibition: “Bilder av Kristina”

Bilder av KristinaYesterday, on my birthday actually, a friend and I had the pleasure of attending the opening of a highly anticipated exhibition in Stockholm – “Bilder av Kristina” (“Images of Kristina”).

The plans for this exhibition took root in 2010 when the Vatican Library offered the Royal Armoury (Livrustkammaren) to borrow items from a collection that was started by Queen Christina and had been restored with the financial aid of The Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Memorial Foundation.

The result of that offer and its subsequent plans has now become an exhibition and today, 324 years after the Queen’s death, the first Swedish exhibition about her life since Nationalmusem (The National Museum of Fine Arts) held one in 1966, has opened.

Princess Christina Mrs MagnusonThe opening ceremony was held in the Hall of State at the Royal Palace of Stockholm. After introductions by Malin Grundberg, director of the Royal Armoury, and Magnus Hagberg, director general of the museum authority of which the Royal Armoury is a part, the word was given to Monsignor Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Library. Cellist Linnea Olsson performed and the Swedish Minister for Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, held a quite general speech.

The actual opening of the exhibition was performed by Princess Christina Mrs Magnuson who, after a general short introduction to Queen Christina’s life, contributed with a personal anecdote.

Princess Christina told how she had the pleasure of visiting the exhibition at Nationalmuseum in 1966 and that her grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf, wanted to thank the pope personally for the cooperation the Swedish involved parties had received by the Vatican. To avoid attention and anyone noticing, not wanting it to be seen as an official visit, King Gustaf VI Adolf decided to deliver his greetings during one of his private stays in Rome. He and his grandchild Princess Christina were driven a back-way at the Vatican and discreetly ushered into the building where they then encountered Pope Paul VI in one of the corridors. After delivering his thank you message, King Gustaf VI Adolf and the pope sat down and talked for a good half hour, two learned men as they were, and Princess Christina remembers sitting in a corner and just listening, almost in awe.

Queen Christina at the time of her coronation, 18th century copy of 1650 orignal by David Beck, in front of coronation robesAfter the opening ceremony, everyone had a chance to visit the exhibition in the armoury and the Stockholm Cathedral which shows two unique books from the Vatican. At the Royal Armoury they have divided the exhibition into sections focusing on different parts of Queen Christina’s life or aspects of her personality – it’s the warrior king’s daughter, the King Christina, the Minerva of the north, the catholic convert and queen without a land, the “queer” queen (questions of her identity), the dead majesty (with the tomb opening), and the queen of many myths.

With these sections the Royal Armoury has put focus on the sides of Queen Christina which will probably always make her a fascinating topic for research and discussion, and a historical figure one will never fully be able to categorize and describe.

Allegory on Queen Christina's catholic submission, Angelo Trevisani, ca 1700

The Vatican Library has contributed with several items; the most unique of those is a pergament from the 9th century. Queen Christina started her collection of books and scripts as a young student in the early 17th century Stockholm, it was then added to through all her years via purchases, gifts and looting (war booty).

Later, before abdicating from the Swedish throne, Queen Christina made sure to ship the collections she wanted to surround herself with, out of Sweden. After the Queen’s death the pope acquired much of her collection which has since 1690 been placed in the Vatican Library. The collection has since been added to through the years.

Other items in the exhibition is the coronation mantle which only bears traces of the over 700 gold crowns that it was once embroidered with, the coronation throne canopy, the Act of Abdication and a special metallic mesh mail (see Wikipedia for explanation). It’s the mail that Marquise Monaldesco wore when Queen Christina had him executed in 1657 after suspecting that he was exposing her secret plans to become Queen of Naples with the help of France. The execution was long and bloody because of this protection. The piece is a loan from Palace of Fontainebleau.

Dress silk bodice worn by Christina aged 1-2

Apart from objects like these there are many portraits on display from the different life ages of Queen Christina as well as on people who were important in her life, and a varied collection of books and documents. Accompanying the old historic objects are contemporary segments, namely video installations, a sound installation and a “norm tester” for the visitors to interact with.

All in all it’s a small exhibition (because of the museum’s limited space) that gives the visitor tiny glimpses of Queen Christina’s life. One risk, I would say, is that visitors without any pre-knowledge will only learn very limited information and run a risk of taking some of these “images” of the Queen, without really grasping them, and carrying them still into the future.

Queen Christina's Deed of Abdication 1654, The National Archives

Accompanying the exhibition is a book, “Bilder av Kristina: Drottning av Sverige – Drottning i Rom” (“Images of Kristina: Queen of Sweden, Queen in Rome”), which is its biggest proceed. In the book twelve authors and authorities on Queen Christina have written one chapter each and there are photographs of the exhibition’s items. So far I have only had a chance to glance through the book but it looks very interesting; although I’m already quite sure that it will feel like they have been kept on a leech and could’ve been given a bit more room. But this book will make an interesting read and a lasting piece giving our time’s thoughts and research on Queen Christina’s life.

– Gustav II Adolf’s daughter has become a bridge between different cultures and an opportunity to cooperation, to understanding and also to friendship between Kristina’s two worlds, the one in which she was born and the one she decided to take to her heart, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone writes in one of its introductions.

Overview of one of the exhibition rooms. Photo: Erik Lernestål/The Royal Armoury (Livrustkammaren).

Overview of one of the exhibition rooms. Photo: Erik Lernestål/The Royal Armoury (Livrustkammaren).

“Bilder av Kristna” (“Images of Kristina”) opened today and is open until 5 January 2014. The exhibition is made possible by financial contribution from The Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation and is a cooperation between the Royal Armoury (Livrustkammaren), the National Archives (Riksarkivet), the Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan) and the Swedish embassy at the Holy See.

What's your thought?