Christian III Succouring Denmark, 1781
The second painting
In 1781, Abildgaard was ready to deliver his second painting in the series of depictions of kings for the Great Hall at Christiansborg Palace. Like the first, it is an allegorical depiction, this time of King Christian III restoring Denmark.
The historical background
When Frederik I died in 1533, Count Christopher of Oldenburg saw this as an opportunity to make an attempt at conquering Denmark. He failed at his endeavour, but not until two years of civil war, known as the Count’s Feud, had been endured. In 1536 Christian II, son of Frederik I, took Copenhagen, and on that same occasion the Reformation was brought to bear, i.e. the transition from Roman Catholicism to Protestant Lutheranism.
Abildgaard depicted the war-torn state of Denmark as a woman helped to her feet by the ermine-clad king. The king helps Denmark while also pointing to the goddess of wisdom, Minerva, behind personifications of Justice, Faith and Peace.
The female personification of Denmark, with her loose hair and battered objects around her, caused an uproar at the time. The writer Tyge Rothe took umbrage at the humiliating treatment of the Danish nation, publishing a pamphlet in which he attacked the painting and demanded its removal. Abildgaard defended himself by declaring that the depiction was not unfavourable rather, he had painted her "[…] with a bold, heated, and somewhat sorrowful, confused pose and expression, like that of a hero being saved from a perilous, harsh skirmish where Fortune did not favour him."
The painting was allowed to remain, but only until 1794, at which point it was among the three paintings to escape the flames during the fire at Christiansborg Palace.