restored sculpture

The grand entrance to the Royal Danish Theatre on Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen is flanked by statues of seated figures from the history of Danish drama and literature.

To the right, is the Norwegian author, philosopher and playwright Ludwig Holberg (1684-1754) by the Danish sculptor Theobald Stein (1829-1901) - a professor at the Royal Danish Academy, nearby on this square. The bronze statue is dated 1875.

On the left of the entrance is the Danish poet and playwright Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850) by the sculptor H W Bissen (1798-1868) and that work is dated 1861.

Over the summer both were boxed in behind large wooden cases as the two bronze figures were restored and they have recently been revealed free of verdigris and with all the details now clear.

I have walked past these figures thousands of times but not looked or, at least, not looked properly at them. Struck by the transformation it was clear that both show remarkable details of not only the clothing worn but also the chairs and their construction. Holberg is sitting on an ornate arm chair with carved cabriole legs and with the upholstery fixed with round-headed nails and Oehlenschläger is sitting on what is called a Klismos Chair with a pronounced outward curve or splay to the legs. That chair has loose cushions for the seat and back that are obviously leather but I was curious about the classical style roundels on the seat rails that suggest an interesting carpenters join where the rail is housed into a marked shoulder on the leg.

But what really astounded me, looking up underneath the seats, was that both sculptors had shown the linen webbing that would have supported the seat cushion. They even sag under the weight of the sitter. That’s super realism above and beyond and I must now check this out on other statues. I’m an art historian but not one who has ever written much about sculpture, apart from an odd essay or two at university, so if you see someone around the city peering up at the underside of statues it’s not someone with a disturbing fetish but simply me looking to see if the sculptor has recorded any interesting construction details in historic furniture. Honest.


Ludwig Holberg (1684-1754) by the Danish sculptor Theobald Stein (1829-1901)


Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850) by the sculptor H W Bissen (1798-1868)


additional notes

The Royal Danish Theatre was founded in November 1747 by royal decree and the foundation stones laid in July 1748 with the first performance given in December the same year. Who says that major building projects always come in late?

That building was designed by Nicolai Eigtved and is shown on historic engravings and drawings but was remodelled several times before the present theatre on the same site was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup and Ove Petersen among others on a committee set up to oversee rebuilding in the 1870s.

Klismos-type chairs are depicted in art around the city …. this is a decorative panel in Thorvaldsens Museum from the middle of the 19th century.