Short stopover at Roskilde, Denmark — July 2010 — Part 2
I dragged myself away from the ship museum (see this entry) and walked towards the centre of Roskilde.
Past a former gasworks, now an art gallery, I went and uphill through a pretty park. Parents sat watching their children play. Self-basting solo sunbathers sprawled submissively, seeking supererogatory swarthiness.
Near the top, much warmer and a bit puffed, I was glad to stop at the unusual sight of a field of barley in the middle of a city. Not just barley, either, but with a brilliant blush of poppies bursting through it, always gladdening for the eye and the spirit.
At the back I could see the spires and roof of my destination, Roskilde Cathedral. It’s a World Heritage Site.
This is a huge building. Like most cathedrals, it was designed to dominate and impress. It still does so eight centuries later. Built in the Early Gothic style, the church is unusual in being in brick. Here’s Wikipedia on the cathedral and on the use of brick.
Other, smaller buildings hem the cathedral in, so I couldn’t get an inclusive long shot of it. I didn’t feel hard done by, as the interior is full of intriguing and, mostly, beautiful detail. Here below are some features that caught my eye.
When I walked in, I was struck by how light it was. Being used to British cathedrals of similar age, which typically have dark wooden ceilings, I hadn’t expected the white paint. This of course bounced the light around to fine effect. The high ceiling helped. It is one of the characteristics of the Gothic style, as is the rib vaulting.
The ornate excrescence in the lower part of the picture is the royal pew, which was installed in 1600. At the top is the organ. This dates from 1554 but was encased in its florid façade in 1654.
There are free organ recitals in the summer, and that evening’s soloist was rehearsing while I was there. He was playing some wistful, meditative material that perfectly suited my mood. It made a relaxing contrast to the bombast often written for organs.
The staff at the desk couldn’t name that tune, so we looked at the programme. Our guess was that it was the scheduled piece by the Dutchman, Jan Sweelinck (“Sway-link”).
I forgot to note the details (and the cathedral has since been disappointingly unwilling to help me find out) but this is similar, if not the same. Now imagine it played in the reverberant acoustic of a large cathedral. Soothing.
This shot shows several examples of the other main feature of Gothic buildings — the pointed, or ogival, arch. The preceding architectural style, Romanesque, used rounded arches.
The altarpiece is a stunner. It’s a gilded wood triptych, made in Antwerp in 1560, that depicts scenes from the life and death of Jesus.
As is normal, there are several side chapels in the cathedral, mainly built for and to commemorate Denmark’s monarchs and aristocracy. Roskilde is the official resting place for the country’s kings and queens.
King Christian I founded this chapel in 1462, the superb frescoes being added over the next decades. They were another surprise; I’ve not seen anything so exuberant or so well preserved in a church.
They reminded me of the sort of intricate decoration one sees in Islamic architecture, except that Muslim art would not have included human figures. Those figures include the three ‘wise men from the East’ who legendarily attended the birth of Jesus, giving this sepulchre its alternative name of the Chapel of the Magi.
Once again you can see Gothicism’s pointed arches and ribbed vaults (as opposed to the Norman barrel vaulting).
Here is a view of one of the side walls of the Christian I chapel. I just gawped at these frescoes.
This is a modern chapel, built in 1924. The design of the tombs in here is restrained compared with that of others elsewhere in the cathedral. The place seems to specialise in over-elaborate monstrosities that are as kitsch as Liberace’s bathroom.
And here’s one of those monstrosities. This is the monument to King Frederik V, one of 12 sepulchres in a neo-classical chapel completed in 1825. The chapel itself has a restrained and comparatively austere look.
On a more modest scale is the crypt for the 17th-century Trolle family, complete with punning design of gate.
In the chapel for King Christian IV is this large, heroic picture from 1866. It shows the king triumphant at the Battle of Colberger Heide (Colberg Heath) in 1644. During the engagement, Christian was hit by splinters and shrapnel, blinding him in one eye, hence the bandage. To me, he looks like the prototype for Captain Pugwash.
The painting is one of a pair in the chapel and is by the Dane, Wilhelm Marstrand. Both pictures are murals, their apparent frames being trompes l’oeil. Look closely at this one and you can see how well Marstrand has managed the effect. The woman’s head gives an idea of the painting’s size. There’s a better image of it here; I couldn’t counteract the strong sidelighting on mine.
Those are the highlights (and lowlights) of my visit to this remarkable building. I found it full of artistic, architectural, musical and historical interest and will go back if I’m in the area again. But, oh, those tombs.
Back to the van
I’d left Jenny long enough, so needed to get back. My route took me through this arch, which joins the cathedral to Roskilde’s Museum of Contemporary Art. You’d think you were in Spain.
When you get to the front of it, you see the museum building clearly belongs to northern Europe. It was built in 1733 to the design of Laurits de Thura, a Dane. Originally, it was the bishops’ palace and it still serves that function today, as well as housing art.
The final picture is of this notice I passed near the ship museum. You see it on private roads in Denmark where children might be playing. It’s the outcome of a 1957 trans-Nordic safety competition won by Per Ohlin, a Swede. Pas på mig! means “Watch out for me!”. It’s a charmingly effective design and doesn’t look anything like 55 years old.