- Oxenstierna Palace is named after the Lord High Chancellor of Sweden Axel Oxenstierna
- It was built between 1653 and 1654
- The palace was the first official residence of the world’s first central bank
- It is one of the most remarkable works of architect Jean de la Vallée
Being an important state official living in Stockholm in the 17th century essentially meant that one needed to not only focus on the daily tasks associated with their position, but also the appearances they projected to the rest of the world. Fortunately, the drive toward building the largest, most expensive and overall greatest structures possible is not just a phenomenon of modern times. Therefore, we can enjoy some extraordinary historical places today that were left behind by important historical figures centuries ago.
I have mentioned one of the most influential men in the Swedish history in several earlier posts, which can give you a broader idea about his status and work. Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna af Södermöre, or as he is more commonly known, simply Axel Oxenstierna, was the country’s longest serving Lord High Chancellor ever. He occupied this important state seat, which can be compared to the modern-day seat of the Prime Minister, for approximately 42 years between 1612 and his death in 1654.
As Sweden was becoming richer and richer at the time, many members of the nobility were building modern, monumental palaces. That led Oxenstierna to start thinking about building a residence worthy of his social status, too. While at this period he resided in the immediate neighbourhood of the Royal Palace, his old castle-like house that he inherited from his grandfather was overshadowed by the beauty of the famous Tre Kronor Palace and hardly modern.
The land on which his residence stood was not large enough for the greatest palace Stockholm has seen, though, which is why Oxenstierna’s son Johan Oxenstierna was tasked with finding an appropriate land for the new house. Eventually, Johan chose a property located in the western part of the Stadsholmen island, today usually known as the Old Town (Gamla stan).
In the first half of the seventeenth century, this part of the city was still scarcely populated and mostly occupied by yards with fruit trees. In modern terminology, we can see this area as the Swedish capital’s suburb. On a side note, it is fascinating to think about how once even the small island in the modern-day historical centre was once too big for the capital of an empire.
We know that the French-born architect Simon de la Vallée designed a long, narrow palace with a pair of wings on each side for Oxenstierna in the late 1630s, which was meant to be erected on his newly acquired land. However, Oxenstierna, who had previously collaborated with de la Vallée on his castles in Tidö and Fiholm, changed his plans.
The House of Nobility, established in 1626, was in an acute need for new facilities as they had long ago outgrown their temporary residence near the German Church (Tyska kyrkan). The Chancellor hence offered to sell his land to the organisation ‘for a reasonable price.’
After the transaction had been completed, de la Vallée drew a splendid new House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) that was meant to house and represent the equally-named organisation. Oxenstierna’s interest in building a new residence waned as once again he did not have a land to build on.
Things changed suddenly in the early 1650s, though. Some say it was Oxenstierna’s realisation that he should provide for his successors that changed his mind as he was getting older. The more likely explanation, however, is that his change of heart was a consequence of Jean de la Vallée’s state-sponsored study trip to France and Italy.
Upon his return to Sweden, Jean de la Vallée, son of Simon de la Vallée, designed several structures that were typical of the continental architecture such as a pair of triumph arcs. Supposedly, he was also the author of a plan to rebuild the quarter on the western side of the Royal Palace, which was considered unappealing.
The area that was supposed to resemble an Italian piazza included the property owned by Axel Oxenstierna who, therefore, accepted de la Vallée’s plans and started building in 1653. Drawings that have been preserved show that the palace we can see today is only a part of what was meant to be a larger complex extending north. However, just like the triumph arcs built by Jean de la Vallée at Järntorget and today’s Gustav Adolf’s square did not last long, his reconstruction plans have never been fully executed either.
Even though the new palace was nearly finished the year after the construction had begun, Chancellor Oxenstierna never got to live there as he passed away in 1654. For some time, it was thought that his son Erik Oxenstierna would continue expanding the palace but eventually, he only outlived his father by roughly two years.
Nevertheless, the palace, whose façade stands almost unchanged to this day, became one of Jean de la Vallée’s most remarkable works. The thoughtful design with floors alternated with mezzanines and most decorations centred around the windows has won the hearts of many.
Among the most interesting details, you can notice that the crowns of windows on the lower floor are curved while those on the upper floor are triangular. The bottoms of the upper-floor windows are also decorated with popular contemporary motives. Above the windows, on the other hand, you can see orbs that were even part of Oxenstierna’s coat of arms.
Shortly after the death of Erik Oxenstierna, the palace was turned into an administrative building. The first institution residing there turned out to be the world’s first central bank then known as the Bank of the Estates of the Realms (Riksens Ständers Bank), which used the palace as their headquarters between 1668 and 1680.
Architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger later came up with a plan to join Oxenstierna Palace with the nearby Royal Palace, which was never realised due to high estimated costs. Instead, the ‘Utrikesexpedition’ – the predecessor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Utrikesdepartementet) – together with the Royal Swedish Academy (Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien) had their offices in the palace during the 1700s.
Once again in the early twentieth century, the authorities created a plan for the reconstruction of the Royal Palace’s surroundings, which failed for financial reasons. Perhaps even thanks to these issues, we still have the chance to admire the near-original facades of the palace built for one of the most influential people in the history in Sweden who did not get his chance to actually reside in this monumental property.
Now you know that you do not need to go far from the massive Royal Palace to find another splendid building whose history and design are very interesting, to say the least. If you liked this story, I encourage you to discover more beautiful places in Stockholm in our earlier posts and to stay tuned for more stories that are coming out all the time.
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Ellehag, Claes, 1998. Palatsen i Stockholm under stormaktstiden.
Ohlsson, Martin A., 1951. Stormaktstidens privatpalats i Stockholm.