It may seem that when you travel around major European cities of historic importance, they all share the same nature. What I mean is that you can definitely find some differentiating points but at the same time a lot of what you see feels familiar.
The differences often resulted from the geographical location of each particular city or the fact that the city was occupied by a significantly different culture for a long enough time period. You can absolutely observe the influence of the Arabic culture in Madrid. Stockholm’s uniqueness is based on it being built on the water. Vienna embodies the grandeur of art and historical social norms. You get the idea.
While it is true without a doubt that each and every of these cities has a character of its own, there are certain elements you expect to see in all of these cities. Royal palaces, public gardens, large squares, statues of monarchs and war heroes, etc. But is it true that all of these have been a part of life in European capitals for centuries and millenniums?
Well, not quite. In this post, we will focus specifically on public statues and sculptures in Stockholm as well as entire Sweden. You may remember seeing prominent statues of politicians, warriors and philosophers in the history books and films about antique Rome or Greece. Therefore, it can come as a great surprise that there were literally no public statues to be seen in Sweden before the 17th or 18th century.
Some historical sources say that while the Renaissance was booming in places like Italy and France, Sweden was still essentially a sparsely inhabited country with a plenty of small villages. It is estimated that even during the period after the Thirty Years’ War when Sweden became a major power, it had only around a million inhabitants despite the area of the country being significantly greater than it is today.
On the other hand, when you visit some of the largest city in Sweden today, you will see quite a lot of art in the streets. How is it possible if there were literally no sculptures around 200 years ago? The secret is that the Nordic country has one of the largest collections of public art from the twentieth century in Europe and perhaps in the entire world. We all know that most other European countries were busy fighting and destroying everything they had built over the prior centuries, especially during the first half of the century. In the meantime, Sweden was prospering and developing its culture.
However, it is also important to realise that we are only talking about publicly displayed artistic pieces here. In contrast, churches and palaces of the aristocracy were in many cases hiding great collections of paintings, sculptures and other forms of art long before they decorated the places accessible to the general public.
There are several candidates, which can be considered the first public statues in Sweden. The first and probably the oldest is the so-called Kopparmatte completed in 1603, which is a statue that used to stand by the penalty equipment and warn citizens against committing crimes. (Read more about Kopparmatte who, for some time, stood on present-day Norrmalstorg.)
Another candidate, and probably the first statue of an actual person, is the statue of Gustav Vasa at Riddarhustorget in front of the House of Nobility. This statue of the liberator of Sweden was completed in 1774 and started the era of displaying statues of Swedish monarchs in public places.
The statue of Gustav Vasa was created by the French artist Pierre Hubert L’Archevêque who is also the author of the statue of Gustav II Adolf displayed on Gustav Adolf’s square (Gustav Adolfs Torg) in Stockholm. The metal for Vasa’s statue was taken from the cannons taken as war trophies by the troops led by Karl XII in 1700.
It took some 12 years since the initial discussions between the House of Nobility and the French artist until the statue was completed and put in its place. Around 10 other men worked together with L’Archevêque for some nine years to complete this monument remembering the great Gustav Vasa. Originally, it stood in the middle of the square but was moved closer to the palace in 1916 after the House of Nobility sold some of its land to the city. Together with the relocation, the original marble pedestal was exchanged for a new one made of granite.
Even though during a certain era the idea of creating statues in honour of the Swedish monarchs became popular, there is only a relatively small number of those who actually received a statue of their own. There are no public statues of any medieval Swedish kings nor any of the monarchs who reigned after the death of Charles XV (Karl XV) in 1872. Interestingly, too, none of the Swedish reigning queens has ever received a lone-standing statue either. However, a sculpture of Queen Christina is visible on the façade of Stockholm City Hall.
Historically, there were a few specific places commonly used to display statues. Squares, parks, schoolyards and open spaces outside of city halls and similar administrative buildings. In more recent history, though, some other places became popular among artists, too. For example, you can often see art displayed at roundabouts and directly at pedestrian streets. The last of the listed places is especially popular for displaying contemporary art as it allows the authors to be more creative, not follow old traditions and place their works where people will actually see and enjoy them.
The list of popular statues in Sweden is too long for a single post but I will nevertheless mention at least a few that you might find interesting. In Stockholm, there are the statues of Gustav Vasa and Axel Oxenstierna, one on each side of the House of Nobility. (Read more about Swedish Nobility.) Then, there is the Gustav II Adolf’s statue located in the middle of the square dedicated to the former king himself. A plenty of sculptures can be found at Djurgården, too, but the one showing Karl X Gustav just outside the Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet) is one of those you should not miss.
You can also meet King Karl X Gustav at Stortorget in Malmö not far from one of the best examples of the modern sculptures standing directly in the streets, the so-called Optimistorkestern. Moreover, in Malmö, there is one of the four existing exemplars of the sculpture called Non Violence by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. The remaining three are in Gothenburg, Stockholm and New York. These are just very few examples of sculptures worthy of your time in some of the largest Swedish cities but you should have no problems finding more.
You will definitely find more stories related to public statues and the characters they display at Trevl in the future. Remember that you can always find more beautiful places to see in our app Trevl for Android and on our Instagram account where we post tips on places to visit in Stockholm and other major cities.
Johansson, Sven-Åke, 2002. Skulpturer i Sverige.
Engman, Anders, 1998. Skulpturernas stad.
Järbe, Bengt, Glase Gösta, 1997. Stockholms statyer.