At home in Copenhagen, Abildgaard is appointed to be the artist who is to decorate Christianborg Castle's enormous banquet hall. Through 10 massive paintings, Abildgaard reinterprets the king’s power and his relationship to his subjects. These paintings no longer exclusively convey the image of an eternal, symbolic royal power or depict the body of the king wielding this power; they also depict the mundane actions of a mortal human in concrete situations.
Human rights of our times
With his paintings for Christianborg Castle, Abildgaard positions himself between an old world order and a new one, between an older form of society with an absolute monarchy where one was born into a given way of life and a newer type of society from which the human rights we know today originate.
The two body types in the banquet hall paintings:
The Banquet Hall is a part of a larger decorative programme and the king’s self-representation. The series provides a narrative of the history of Denmark, the deeds of the king, and, in particular, serves to legitimate the inherent and given power of the House of Oldenburg. Nonetheless, Abildgaard breaks with the hopes and expectations prevalent at the royal court in his time with respect to motifs, and his reinterpretations are accepted.
In the images below one can see two types of depictions of the royal body that Abildgaard incorporated into his works for the banquet hall.
Christian III helping Denmark rise, 1781
Oil on canvas, 317 x 200 cm
The Royal Art Collection, housed at Christianborg Castle
In allegorical paintings the king is often placed in a space outside time. He performs symbolic actions and is surrounded by symbols of power that serve as props to communicate his benevolence and status.
He stands in an exalted position (often from a worm’s eye view) as though stepping down from the holy firmament. In other words, he has one leg on the earth and another among the gods who chose him to be king, the scion of power.