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European Royal Families Today
An Exhibition of Portraits of the Danish Royal Family at Amalienborg Palace

Makoto Murai
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Waseda University

When you think about the relationship between existing European royal families and their people, it is quite different from the way we imagine it to be. And we now have an opportunity to see an illustration of this fact.

Last year, the House of Glücksburg celebrated the 150th anniversary of its accession to the Danish throne. To commemorate the event, the Danish Royal Collections (De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling) are holding an exhibition, Thomas Kluge: Portraits of the Danish Royal Family (Thomas Kluge: Portrætter af Kongehuset), at the Amalienborg Museum, a permanent museum located in the Amalienborg palace complex, from November 16, 2013 to March 2, 2014. In the exhibition, Thomas Kluge (1969- ), one of the best portrait painters in Denmark, vividly depicts very human expressions of each member of the Danish royal family, offering ample food for thought on the nature of the “modern royal family.”

Figure 1: The exhibition catalogue, available in four languages.

I was asked by the museum (the Danish Royal Collections) to translate the exhibition catalogue into Japanese. This is the museum’s first-ever Japanese version of an exhibition catalogue, adding it to the other three language versions: Danish, English and German. As seen in its decision to prepare a Japanese version of the catalogue, the museum has taken an ambitious approach to the exhibition. As a result, media around the world like the BBC have published close to a hundred stories about the exhibition. The museum itself has been surprised at the response. In addition to increasing interest around the world in the Danish royal family in the context of modern royal families, the exhibition has attracted attention due to the characteristic meticulous style in which Kluge represents the members of the family.

As an example, here is a quote by the author of the catalogue, Thyge Christian Fønss, describing one of Kluge’s portraits of Queen Margrethe II (1940- ). While on the long side, the passage translated by Christopher Sand-Iversen in the English version is included here to give you an idea of the exhibition:

”You certainly haven’t missed a thing”, HM The Queen commented when the young Thomas Kluge presented his first royal portrait in the autumn of 1995. The painting was a present to the Queen’s younger son and daughter-in-law from the Danish Chamber of Commerce. Precisely because the painting wasn’t an official portrait but rather a picture of a mother to her son, Kluge wished to portray his sitter as a private individual in everyday clothes, without royal symbols of any sort. The Queen therefore chose to wear a quite ordinary knitted sweater as well as a pair of plain ear clips. Kluge furthermore asked the Queen to sit without makeup – a wish which the sitter fulfilled, although Kluge assented to the Queen applying a little lipstick in order not to feel too ‘naked’.

Figure 2: Thomas Kluge: Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (1995). Used with the permission of the Danish Royal Collections (De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling).

Kluge’s painting is therefore – also in the truest sense of the word – the most unadorned portrait of the Queen, in which all facades and masks have been removed, revealing the person. …

In Kluge’s portrait of the Queen the sitter is strongly lighted from the right hand side, which leaves the face divided in a light and a dark half. The artist has thus positioned the Queen’s face in human life’s eternal alternation between good and evil, between light and dark. In combination with the sweater and the unadorned face, Kluge thus tells the story of a person who is indeed placed in a special position as the Queen of Denmark, but is also an individual who like everyone else experiences, in the words of the Danish poet and hymn writer Thomas Kingo, that “sorrow and joy flock together”.

As epitomized by this portrait, Margrethe II of Denmark emerges more as Margrethe the human being than as a queen. Give yourself plenty of time to look at the portrait, which is included in the catalogue, using it as a chance to think about the nature of modern royal families that exist side by side with everyday citizens. Birgit Jenvold (1961- ), the chief curator and organizer of the exhibition, shared an apt, amusing quote at an event put on by the Association for Balto-Scandinavian Studies last fall at Waseda University. The author of the quote is the Danish literary critic Bo Tao Mickaëlis (1948- ):

If Danish society can retain its royal family, it can also retain Christiania. In this age of democracy, people could say that they both support and oppose the continuation of these two entities. Both of them, however, attract tourists. They are like stray dogs that irritate others, reminding us that the reach of the constitution does not necessarily extend to everyone. (2005)

In this passage, Mickaëlis sarcastically compares Freetown Christiania (Fristaden Christiania)—a self-proclaimed “extralegal liberated zone” created in September 1971 when a group of young people “occupied” vacant land with old warehouses once used by the navy in Christianshavn, a district of Copenhagen—to the royal family as mutual exceptions within the framework of the Danish constitution. Christiania is an entity that was formed when a group of young people trespassed on the land as squatters and “declared its independence,” and its use as the site of a “social experiment” has been recognized by the Danish parliament in this tolerant society. One could say this unique territory—when you enter it, there is a sign saying “You are now leaving the EU,” and when you leave it, there is a sign over the tall gate saying “You are now entering the EU”—has been recognized by the people as part of the “historical legacy (historisk kronologi)” of the “Youth Revolt (Ungdomsoprøret)” that started in 1968. The current royal family headed by the Queen had its beginning in 1953 when the constitution was amended and the Act of Succession that had generally only allowed male succession was changed. In short, since King Frederick IX (1899-1972) had no sons, his intelligent eldest daughter, Margrethe, became the heiress presumptive when she was 13 years old. This was done in spite of the fact that the King had a brother one year younger than he, Crown Prince Knud, whose wife had given birth to a son, Prince Ingolf, three months before Margrethe was born. With the change, the King’s brother went from the position of Crown Prince, the first in line to the throne, to fourth in line after the three daughters born to the King and Queen Ingrid. The constitutional amendment meant that it was the people of Denmark who decided who acceded to the throne. The Danish people, who had lived through the disheartening five-year German occupation of Denmark with the royal family, remembered the joy they had shared watching Margrethe grow after she was born during the first week of the occupation and chose her with clear intent as their future queen.

The main portrait in the exhibition is The Royal Family (2013), centered on the Queen’s young grandchild Christian (2005- ), the eldest son of Crown Prince Frederik and future heir to the throne. The details surrounding the creation of the group portrait are very interesting. Be sure to look at the catalogue if you get the chance.

If you are interested in purchasing the catalogue, contact the museum at the following email address: amalienborgmuseet●dkks.dk
*Replace the ● with an @

Figure 3: The Queen and her Consort responding to the cheers of their people from a balcony at Amalienborg on January 15, 2012 after the ceremony celebrating the 40th year of the Queen’s reign. (Photograph taken by author)

Figure 4: Thomas Kluge: The Royal Family (2013). Used with the permission of the Danish Royal Collections (De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling).

Figure 5: Thomas Kluge painting The Royal Family (2013). Used with the permission of the Danish Royal Collections (De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling).

Makoto Murai
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile]
Professor Murai was born in Tokyo in 1947. He pursued a doctoral program at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University but withdrew before completing his degree. After serving as a full-time lecturer and assistant professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University, he became a professor in 1987. With the reorganization of the School in 2007, he assumed his current position and also served as a professor at Waseda’s School of Culture, Media and Society. Over the years, he has also held successive positions as a part-time lecturer at Tsuda College, Osaka University of Foreign Studies, and the University of Tokyo. From 2000 to 2001, he was a visiting professor at the Saxo Institute (SAXO-Instituttet), University of Copenhagen. He specializes in Scandinavian history (with an emphasis on modern Danish history). He is the co-editor of Reading and Traveling through World History and Cultures: Scandinavia [Yonde Tabisuru Sekai no Rekishi to Bunka: Hokuou] (Shinchosha, 1996), co-editor and co-author of The New World History Series: Scandinavian History [Shinpan Sekai Kakkokushi: Hokuoushi] (Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1998), editor of Learn about Sweden in 60 Chapters [Sueeden wo Shiru tame no 60 Shou] (Akashi Shoten, 2009) and Learn about Denmark in 68 Chapters [Denmaaku wo Shiru tame no 68 Shou] (Akashi Shoten, 2009), and co-translator of Nikoline Marie Helms’s Danish History for Children [Danish title: Danmarks Historie Fortalt for Børn; Japanese title: Denmaaku Kokumin wo Tsukutta Rekishi Kyoukasho] (Sairyusha, 2013).