New exhibition: “Jag är Armfelt”

The exhibition's graphic profile consists of a male model posing as Armfelt

The exhibition’s graphic profile consists of a male model posing as Armfelt

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of a new exhibition at the Royal Armoury (Livrustkammaren) – “Jag är Armfelt”, or “I am Armfelt” as it would be in English.

As someone who finds the 18th century to be a fascinating period in history and knows the gist of the story of Armfelt, the person at the centre of it, this is an exhibition I’ve looked forward to.

The exhibition’s title alludes to Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt (1757-1814), one of the shooting stars of Gustavian Sweden and the court of King Gustav III.

Armfelt made a brilliant career as one of the King’s favourites, lived in exile after his death, was redeemed under King Gustav IV Adolf (later deposed) and moved to his homeland Finland (after Sweden lost it) before being called to serve Emperor Alexander I in Russia for whom he rose to great respect, raised to comital status, and lived out his life as a statesman.

Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt by J Grassi, 1799-1801

Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt by J Grassi, 1799-1801

Armfelt is also well-known for his many mistresses, extramarital children and marriage to one of Sweden’s most eligible noble ladies at the time. He had an eventful and exciting life, going from high to low and back again; a life that would be perfect on the big screen as a film.

“I am Armfelt”, the exhibition’s title, is quite a self-assured one. But does the exhibition really answer that question? I would say no.

Of course it’s interesting to walk though rooms of display cases that shows off things from his and his family’s life – robes, orders, portraits, furniture, letters and other items. If you love history and beautiful things then what’s not to love? But the exhibition for some reason seems to highlight Armfelt’s private person and especially his reputation as a ladies’ man. In one room the floor is even covered with quotes from his personal correspondence with some of his mistresses.

"Jag är Amfelt" exhibitionArmfelt’s deeds as something more than a personality or celebrity, his distinguished career during King Gustav III’s reign and role as a statesman in Russia and the Grand Duchy of Finland, is lost.

The exhibition also comes with a smartphone app in which the user is supposed to be faced with different dilemmas similar to Armfelt’s, and through interacting (scanning QR codes through the exhibition) with the app and making choices the user is meant to gain something. I have not used this app, call me old fashioned but I rather stick to either guided tours or audio guides.

I’m sure this app is a part of the museum’s aim to reach a younger audience but somehow I’m getting mixed messages and feelings about this all. In my opinion they should have clearer targets with their exhibitions – either do intended lighter ones about popular topics (such as the Royal Vintage exhibition last year) or then do really serious ones aimed at people with genuine interest in history and personalities. They can do both of these “genres” and that way expand their visitor numbers and reach different target groups.

“Jag är Armfelt” is produced by Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury) in cooperation with The National Museum of Finland and is between 28 March 2012 and 3 February 2013.

What's your thought?