Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Copenhagen: Three very different museums

I worked on a food concept for a museum once long ago. While doing the research, I became painfully aware of how terrible the item descriptions are in most museums. Poorly placed, poorly lit, with terrible font choices and either too much content or too little to read.  No wonder almost everybody leaves a museum with aches and pains from straining and stressing to read the placards. I was dying to see the recently re-opened David Collection in Copenhagen because they give you an Ipad to use for information on the displays. You touch the display number on the Ipad and you can read either a little or a lot depending on your degree of interest. You can hold it up to your nose if you're near sighted, you can adjust the back lighting and the size of the font. It's fabulous.
The museum itself is housed in the beautiful former home of Christian Ludvig David. C.L. David was a prominent lawyer and collector. A foundation owns and administers the museum which is free of charge. A beautiful place. 
It houses an extensive collection of Islamic art and a few Danish early modern paintings. I particularly like this one by Jens Ferdinand Willumsen. 

In stark contrast was the Rosenborg Castle which we visited the same day.  A real hodge-podge of stuff is piled up in here, most of it poorly displayed and almost devoid of explanation. Most museums will at least post a minimal bit of information on the displays. Not here. "Buy the guide", they bark at you if you have a question. I don't mind buying the guide but in my opinion, they handle it badly. You don't realize you need the guide until you're in and then you have to back-track and to the gift shop to buy the thing.

Getting past all of that , there are a couple of cool items to see. In the Winter Room, one of King Christian's private chambers he had sound channels installed so that he could enjoy the equivalent of piped-in music. An orchestra played in the basement and the sound drifted up through the channels into the room. While hearing about this "invention" I remembered reading and enjoying a novel based on this idea about a English lutenist who applies for a job playing in the Danish King's household which doesn't sound like a bad job. Little did he realize he'd be sitting in a dark cellar underneath house, day after day, at the mercy of the King's whims. The novel was Music and Silence by Rose Tremain. A good summary here from Amazon.

The year is 1629, and King Christian IV of Denmark is living in a limbo of fear for his life and rage over his country's ruin, not to mention his wife's not-so-secret adultery. He consoles himself with impossible dreams and with music, the latter performed by his royal orchestra in a freezing cellar while he listens in his cozy chamber directly above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves. The queen, meanwhile, detests nothing more. The duty of assuaging the king's miseries falls to his absurdly handsome English lutenist, Peter Claire, who resigns himself to his (so to speak) underground success:
They begin. It seems to Peter Claire as if they are playing only for themselves, as if this is a rehearsal for some future performance in a grand, lighted room. He has to keep reminding himself that the music is being carried, as breath is carried through the body of a wind instrument, through the twisted pipes, and emerging clear and sharp in the Vinterstue, where King Christian is eating his breakfast.... He strives, as always, for perfection and, because he is playing and listening with such fierce concentration, doesn't notice the cold in the cellar as he thought he would, and his fingers feel nimble and supple.
Other stories, each of them full of fabulous invention, intertwine with these musical machinations. There is the tale of the king's mother, who hoards her gold in secret; the tormenting memory of his boyhood friend, Bror; and the romance between Peter Claire and the queen's downtrodden maid, Emilia. And while the author paid meticulous mind to her period settings, her take on desire and longing has a very modern intensity to it, as if an ancient score were being performed on a contemporary (and surpassingly elegant) instrument. --Ruth Petrie

A 17th century whoopee cushion chair is on display. It was ingeniously constructed to grasp the seated person with concealed tentacles in the armrests. Immobilized, the person could then be soaked by water and when finally released and getting up, a trumpet concealed in the seat would toot. Royalty came from far and wide to experience this contraption.

The Royal Treasury was splendid and well displayed. Christian's crown was made in 1595 of gold, enamel, diamonds and pearls full of symbolic and ionic decorations depicting themes of protection, justice and love of God. They have a ladder set up next to the crown case so you can climb up and see the top. 

King Christian 1V who built Rosenborg had a second wife, Kristen, who was unfaithful to him. He gave her a gold ring depicting a hand shaking a penis.Was she expected to wear this thing? Who knows...but it's another novelty on display with no explanation. 

Our final museum visit was to the National Museum where we saw an excellent exhibition on the Vikings where they exhibited "Roskilde Wreck 6" which is the world's longest Viking vessel. 39 pairs of oars powered the ship and they have a entertaining and imaginative video recreation of a Viking expedition. We couldn't help but laugh as they showed the Vikings coming home from a rape, pillar and murder expedition, greeting their wives and little kids like contemporary fathers. "Honey", Lars shouted as he set aside his bloodied axe, "I'm home!".

In a separate display, they have the largest collection of eskimo/inuit objects in the world: kayaks, mukluks, spears, clothing, implements. Extensive gift shop and reputedly a decent restaurant. We could have stayed a month. Great place to visit. No admission charge. 



  1. Did they sell replicas of Kristen's ring in the gift shop? I bet it would be popular!
    Hey, there's another idea for a business!
    That was an interesting romp through those museums. Thanks !

  2. I don't know if I like the idea of walking around a museum with an Ipad thing. I think I'd rather have the ear plugs. But that other museum with no info. That's totally unacceptable.