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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.

Details

  • Title: Valdemar Atterdag Holding Visby to Ransom, 1361
  • Creator: Carl Gustaf Hellqvist
  • Date Created: 1882
  • Title in Swedish: Valdemar Atterdag brandskattar Visby 1361
  • Signature: C.G. Hellqvist. 1882.
  • Physical Dimensions: w3300 x h2000 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Carl Gustaf Hellqvist was a Swedish artist and a professor at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin from 1886–89. He was also a professor at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm from 1885. Hellqvist was primarily a historical painter. He is known for his incredibly rich detail and his romantic interpretation of the events being depicted. He attracted a great deal of attention at international exhibitions, not least with his breakthrough work Valdemar Atterdag Holding Visby to Ransom, 1361 (1882). Hellqvist began his artistic training under a decorative painter in Stockholm. Then in 1864 he took up a place at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts to study painting. He travelled to Paris in 1875 and from 1877 he lived in Munich, where he embraced traditional historical painting. In 1886 Hellqvist was appointed professor at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. However, he was shortly forced to stop teaching due to painful headaches. In 1889 he was treated with electric shock therapy and put on a diet. At the age of barely 39 he died in hospital in the city of Munich, where he was also buried.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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