The tale of the Danish King Valdemar Atterdag’s sacking of Visby tells how the Danes gave the citizens of the city an ultimatum: fill three oil barrels with silver or watch your city burn! The merchants of the trading city are said to have filled the Danes’ barrels in less than a day.
Hellqvist blends faithfulness to realistic historical detail with his own imagination, anachronisms and rousing staging. In the middle of the picture stands the hero, with his clenched fist and angry look directed at the conqueror and invader King Valdemar – good versus evil. Hellqvist has striven to create a sense that we are witnessing reality, that we are present. He uses drama and special effects to capture our attention.
One of the anachronistic details is sniffing around the bottom of a barrel: a dachshund. The dachshund only appeared in Sweden in the 17th century. In addition, the man on the far right is wearing a hat that Jewish men were forced to wear during the Middle Ages. However, the first time that a Jewish name appears in Swedish documents is in the 16th century. The armour worn by the knights also raises certain issues of historical accuracy.
The painting makes a regular appearance in Swedish schoolbooks.