Behind | News about the art | Exhibition | 2.mar.2009

Endangered plants at Statens Museum for Kunst

Follow the work of the Museum’s conservators restoring the precious and hitherto inaccessible four-volume florilegium (flower book) on parchment from 17th century Gottorp Castle in South Schleswig, now in the possession of the Collection of Prints and Drawings. The restoration of the delicate flower pictures will be done live so that visitors to Statens Museum for Kunst will be able to follow the minute but appreciable progress day by day, at the same time gaining an insight into the painstaking work of the conservators. A choice selection of flower pictures will also be exhibited during this period, and will be varied at intervals. The conservation and exhibition are the result of collaboration with Gottorp Castle.

The Gottorfer Codex
Statens Museum for Kunst
8 March – 14 June 2009

A Profusion of Plants
Asparagus, nettles, salvia, tulips, iris and figs. A good 1.200 plants are depicted with meticulous brushwork on the 363 pages of the Gottorfer Codex. This four-volume publication is unique. The paintings are of the highest quality and so true to life that botanists have been able to classify the individual plants with the greatest of ease.

The Duke’s Baroque Garden
The Gottorfer Codex was made in 1649-1659 on the orders of Frederik III (1597-1659), Duke of Schleswig Holstein and Gottorp. The beautiful floral portraits were intended to document the wealth of plants in Gottorp Castle’s famous Baroque garden. Gottorp Castle was one of Northern Europe’s leading cultural centres of the day. This comprehensive work, very expensive at that time, too, gives us an incredible insight into how the ducal garden was comprised of all sorts and variations of both decorative blooms and utility plants.

Flora on Calfskin
Most recent research in the archives of Gottorp Castle reveals that the floral works were executed by flower painter Hans Simon Holtzbecker of Hamburg. All the pictures are painted with gouache on parchment. The parchment is calfskin treated so that it is completely smooth and suitable for painting with watercolours. Holtzbecker worked at Gottorp Castle and in Hamburg, where he received boxes of flowers to paint from. The decease of Frederik III interrupted the work, and the many pictures have most likely lain in the library of the castle as loose leaves. After the Great Nordic War (1700-1720), the castle library and the Codex fell to Denmark as spoils of war in 1749, and the Codex was transferred to the Collection of Prints and Drawings.

A Treasure from the Basement
Access to the Gottorfer Codex has been strictly limited in recent years for fear of exacerbating the fragile state of the paintings. The Codex has been stored in the basement of the Museum, where researchers and conservators viewed it as rarely as possible. The pages bulge and there are many cracks in the colours. The most immediate damages are to the binding of the many sheets. The use of animal glue has had the effect of making the parchment shrink so that the volumes cannot be opened without risking the colour layer being shed.

Open Workshop and Exhibition
Statens Museum for Kunst and Gottorp Castle are now working together on the thorough and extremely urgent conservation of the Gottorfer Codex. First of all, the many paintings must be cautiously freed from the binding, then the layers of colour must be carefully consolidated and retouched here and there. The first stage of the long-term conservation will take place in room 269b at Statens Museum for Kunst where the public can follow the minute work from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. The conservators will tell about their methods and techniques every Wednesday at 2.30 p.m. A choice and varying selection of flower paintings will be exhibited during this period.
Free entry

Digital version
When the conservation is completed, a complete digital version of this gigantic florilegium will be made accessible at Gottorp Castle and at SMK Digital, which is Statens Museum for Kunst’s upcoming great digital project.

The conservation and exhibition are supported by Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorp

For further information:
Press Officer

Jakob Fibiger Andreasen
T +45 3374 8474
M +45 2961 6949

Niels Borring
T +45 3374 8554

Statens Museum for Kunst
Sølvgade 48-50
DK-1307 Copenhagen K

Updated: 8.may.2018
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