The forked, reddish-brown beard; the semi-long red hair; the long, distinctive nose with its slight bend; the prominent cheekbones; the large, black hat: Michiel Sittow’s 1514/1515 portrait of Christian II establishes a range of distinctive visual characteristics that he can be recognised by – in subsequent portraits too.

Exhibition | News about the art | 26.may.2017

Christian II wanted to reclaim power through pictures

Christian II is one of Denmark’s most fascinating kings – and the first Danish king to properly use visual art to promote himself and his political agendas. From 15 June a new exhibition arranged by the Royal Collection of Graphic Art at SMK demonstrates how he used art as a tool to aid his political strategies.

Christian II is famous as the king who married into one of the most powerful noble houses of Europe, angered the aristocracy, lost his crown and was banished from the country. At the same time he had to navigate between the old Catholic Church and the new Lutheran faith. And Christian II was the first Danish king to extensively use pictures in his efforts to promote himself and his political agendas.

In a new exhibition arranged by The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, SMK shows how Christian II used pictures strategically – both while he was still king and when he was exiled, striving in vain to reclaim his lost realms. 

Pictures as weapons
Christian II was a man of vision. He wanted to bring the Nordic realms together as one. Indeed, by 1520 he had become ruler of Denmark, Norway and Sweden/Finland. However, he was deposed in 1523 and went into exile in the Netherlands, where he plotted to reclaim his realms.

During Christian II’s time in exile in the Netherlands from 1523 to 1531, his key goal was to reclaim power. He needed to persuade rulers as well as the bourgeoisie that he had been unjustly deposed, and that his noble efforts to reclaim the throne deserved support. Pictures became one of his most important tools in this struggle.

Inspired by his Habsburg family, who were experts at communicating through pictures, Christian II used paintings and – especially – prints, both engravings and woodcuts, to get his message out to all relevant persons. And he used the most famous artists of the age for his propaganda.

Even though Christian II’s made extensive efforts to reclaim his throne, he never succeeded. During one of his attempts, in 1532, he was captured by the new king, Frederick I, and lived the rest of his life in captivity until his death in 1559.

Luther and the Protestant Reformation
The exhibition Pictures and Power. The Visual Politics of Christian II is produced on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – the revolt against the old (“Catholic”) Church and the formation of the Protestant religious communities. The exhibition demonstrates how Martin Luther, who launched the Reformation movement with his famous 95 Theses against the Church’s trade in indulgences, not only had a major impact on Christian II’s faith, but also on the king’s use of pictures.

Works from The Royal Collection of Graphic Art
Pictures and Power. The Visual Politics of Christian II is an exhibition of works from The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, which is one of the oldest collections of prints and drawings in the world.  Numbering more than 240,000 works of art, the collection has roots that may go all the way back to the sixteenth century. The exhibition also features paintings from the SMK collections and loans from major European museums, including the National Gallery in London and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. The exhibition features paintings, drawings, engravings and woodcuts by artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Jan Gossart, Michiel Sittow and Lucas Cranach the Elder.



1481: Christian II is born, son of king John of Denmark and queen Christine.

Death of king John; Christian II accedes to the throne.

1514: Christian II marries Isabella of Austria (1501-1526), who becomes known as queen Elisabeth in Denmark. As a member of the powerful House of Habsburg, grandchild of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and sister of the next emperor Karl V, she was one of the most eligible women of her time.

1520: Christian II becomes king of Sweden/Finland. In order to quell all future Swedish resistance, he executes many members of the Swedish elite in the so-called Stockholm Bloodbath.

1522: Inspired by his Habsburg family in the Netherlands, Christian II improves conditions for the merchant bourgeoisie in the cities at the expense of the aristocracy's established privileges.

1523: The aristocracy denounce Christian II and appoint his uncle, Frederick I, as regent. Christian II escapes to the Netherlands with his family.

1532: Christian II sets sail for Denmark, where he has agreed to enter negotiations with Frederick I. Frederick breaks his promise and takes Christian II directly to Sønderborg Castle, where he is imprisoned.

1559: In January, Christian II dies in captivity at Kalundborg Castle.

Pictures and Power. The Visual Politics of Christian II
15 June – 10 September 2017

>> Press images for Pictures and Power. The Visual Politics of Christian II

Opening on 14 June 5 - 7 PM
All are welcome. Free admission to the exhibition

For additional information, please contact:

Curator, senior reseacher
Hanne Kolind Poulsen
T: +45 2552 7217

Art interpreter
Mette Houlberg Rung
T: +45 25527186

Digital communication assistant
Ayoe Torbensdóttir
T: +45 2552 7205


The exhibition is supported by:

Updated: 8.may.2018
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