When Charles XI came of age, a festivity was arranged that is unparalleled in Swedish history, taking its cues from established traditions of Continental courts. These entertainments can now be relived through a volume of engravings that is being edited in an annotated facsimile reprint.
A new edition of the collection of engravings Certamen equestre is now being published, with a comprehensive commentary by the historian Jonas Nordin of Stockholm University. This work, originally printed in 1686, is the foremost Swedish example of so-called festival books, a widely spread genre in that age.
“When Charles XI assumed the throne in December 1672, Sweden’s position as a great power was at its zenith, but the country had been without an adult king for twelve long years. When the young monarch reached his majority, the occasion had to be marked in the stateliest possible manner, both for his subjects and for the world,” says Jonas Nordin.
For three days, the court and the residents of the capital were regaled with ceremonies, public feasting, and fireworks. Stockholm was decorated with triumphal arches and pyramids. The dark winter streets were illuminated by thousands of lanterns bearing the king’s monogram. The high point was reached on the second day, when an equestrian contest was arranged¬—a so-called carousel¬—with more than 500 participants and nearly 200 horses. The event took place at the Royal Tiltyard located at one of the squares outside the city centre. The festively attired participants could be seen by the people of the city as the long procession made its way through the streets.
“Charles XI’s carousel is unique in both Swedish and international contexts, since the huge amount of source material makes it possible to reconstruct the event in great detail. The court artist David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl* had the three days of celebration depicted in a comprehensive set of engravings, etched in copper by Georg Christoph Eimmart in Nürnberg. With this book and other preserved sources we can follow the course of events,” says Jonas Nordin.
Certamen equestre is unparalleled among old Scandinavian volumes of prints, and it rivals the best Continental models. The 62 engravings recreate the long cavalcade of horsemen, all the public adornments, and the ceremonies and banquet at the old royal palace Three Crowns. Many of the garments that were worn are still preserved at the Royal Armory in Stockholm. Programs and eye-witness accounts tell us what transpired during the three days.
“Due to fortuitous circumstances, Ehrenstrahl’s descriptions and sketches for the engravings have also been preserved at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg,” says Jonas Nordin.
In collaboration with the publisher Byggförlaget, the entire set of engravings is now being published in facsimile together with a newly written volume of commentary. With the aid of the comprehensive documentation, Jonas Nordin places the event in its political and cultural context. The commentary is richly illustrated with many unique pictures, and the text is in both Swedish and English. The edition also contains key source texts in Swedish as well as in English translation.
* Facts about David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl:
David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl (1628–1698), German-born artist, portrait and genre painter, Swedish court painter.
Among his many well-known paintings, mention can be made, besides his portraits, of the impressive ceiling in the Assembly Hall of the Palace of Nobility in Stockholm, where he represented Mother Svea surrounded by the virtues. At the Royal palace of Drottningholm Ehrenstrahl also painted several ceilings as well as canvases with allegorical motifs. In Stockholm Cathedral there are also two enormous paintings, the Crucifixion and the Last Judgment.