Tuesday, 17 July 2012

My latest article: The Royal Mausoleum

This year’s third issue of Oslo Museum’s periodical Byminner was published yesterday, and in it you will find an article by me on the Royal Mausoleum at Akershus Castle. When Queen Maud died rather suddenly in November 1938, the nation was faced by a question which needed a fairly urgent solution: Where was the Queen, and thus also other members of the royal family in the future, to be buried?
Two alternatives stood out: Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the great medieval cathedral which is considered a national shrine and which had been the coronation church, and the thirteenth-century Akershus Castle in Oslo.
A majority of the experts who took part in the rather lively debate following the Queen’s death spoke in favour of the coronation church, but King Haakon’s eventual choice fell on Akershus Castle.
The task of building a royal mausoleum was entrusted to the architect Arnstein Arneberg, but, due to the interruption caused by World War II, work on the mausoleum was not completed until 1948. The Royal Mausoleum has subsequently became the final resting place also of Crown Princess Märtha, King Haakon VII and King Olav V, while remains of King Sigurd the Crusader, King Håkon V and Queen Eufemia have been laid to rest just outside it.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

What to see: Queen Maud’s coronation gown

The exhibition of treasures from the Royal Collection at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Oslo, which is one of six exhibitions based on the Royal Collection the government has presented to the King and Queen on the occasion on their 75th birthdays, has so far attracted more than 40,000 visitors. One of the highlights of the exhibition, which is on until 26 August, is the gown worn by Queen Maud for her coronation in Trondhjem Cathedral (now Nidaros Cathedral) on 22 June 1906.
The coronation dress is of gold lame, apparently hand-woven in Lyons, with scalloped lace sleeves (said to be lace inherited by Queen Maud) and richly embroidered in gilt metal thread, gold-coloured sequins, artificial pearls and diamante.
It is a joint venture by Vernon of London and Silkehuset of Kristiania (now Oslo), but we do not know how these two fashion houses divided the work. However, Anne Kjellberg of the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design has reached the conclusion that it seems as if the dress was sewn in London and embroidered in Kristiania. However, some accounts disagree with this, including one contemporary newspaper account which said that the dress had been sewn by Silkehuset and embroidered in Paris.
The gown is in the so-called “princess style”. In its décolletage it is perhaps possible to detect a hint of medieval to go along with the architecture of the great Nidaros Cathedral, which in those years was undergoing a major rebuilding and whose newly restored interior was taken into use in its entirety for the first time for the coronation.
Unlike the coronation gowns of her two predecessors, Queen Louise and Queen Sophie, which were decorated with the Norwegian heraldic lion, Queen Maud’s gown is entirely devoid of national symbols. One may argue that the dissolution of the personal union with Sweden had made the use of such national symbols superfluous. This may seem paradoxical at first, but the Bernadottes, who were kings and queens of two independent kingdoms but resided primarily in one of them, obviously used every opportunity to stress their Norwegian identity. For the new dynasty, which was exclusively Norwegian, this was not as necessary.
Queen Maud’s coronation dress also shows a clear influence from that worn by her mother, Queen Alexandra of Britain, for hers and Edward VII’s coronation in 1902. Queen Alexandra had taken advantage of the fact that theirs was the first British coronation in 64 years to wear a fashionable Parisian dress more in keeping with her own taste rather than with traditional requirements. Queen Alexandra is said to have brushed aside objections by, somewhat irrationally, insisting that she knew more about fashion than anyone else.
Following the death of King Olav V in 1991, the wardrobe of his mother was donated to the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (now part of the National Museum), where Queen Maud’s coronation gown was first exhibited in 1994. Since then it has also been exhibited in London, Trondheim and Monaco.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

On this date: The Queen’s 75th birthday

Today is the Queen’s 75th birthday. The official celebrations of hers and the King’s anniversaries took place on 31 May, but today and tomorrow there will be private celebrations, apparently including an event at Oscarshall Palace. The Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark and the King and Queen of Sweden are among the guests.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson re-elected President of Iceland

Yesterday the Icelandic voters went to the polls to decide who would be the country’s president for the next four years and, as expected, the incumbent President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was elected for a fifth term. The President won more than 50 % of the votes, while his main challenger, 37-year-old TV journalist Thora Arnórsdóttir, won some 33 % of the votes cast.
69-year-old Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who is a political scientist by profession, has been President of Iceland since 1996. He initially announced in his new year’s speech that he would not stand for re-election, but a petition signed by 30,000 voters caused him to change his mind.
At the start of the campaign he trailed in the polls behind the politically inexperienced Thora Arnórsdóttir, but his campaign gained momentum while she was on maternity leave and in recent months polls had predicted the eventual outcome quite accurately.
This means that Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson becomes the first Icelandic President to serve more than four terms in office. The role of President of Iceland is largely ceremonial, but Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has been more politically active than his predecessors and has twice used his right to veto legislation, a right no earlier president had used. During the severe financial crisis which has hit Iceland in recent years, the President has thus distanced himself somewhat from the government. The main political difference between him and Thora Arnórsdóttir was her declared intention to return the presidency to its more passive, non-political role.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was first elected President, with 41.4 % of the votes, in 1996 in succession to the universally beloved Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. He was re-elected unopposed in 2000, with 67.5 % of the votes in 2004 and again unchallenged in 2008.