With a desire to restore Denmark’s reputation and spirit after the brutal defeat in the war of 1864, the landowner and politician Johannes Hage built a public picture gallery with his private collection of the finest examples of European art.
"For many, a small and more exquisite collection of art is a delight to visit, while a visit to a large museum has an overwhelming, tiring effect."
Johannes Hage, 1908
Johannes Hage (1842-1923) was born into a wealthy merchant family and in 1872 he inherited the country estate Nivaagaard in Nivå, north of Copenhagen. As a landowner, Johannes Hage was the patriarch of the local community and he took care of his employees’ welfare. He employed the majority of people living in Nivå where he also built a church, a school, a hospital, and a public gallery for his precious art collection.
When Hage withdrew from politics in the 1890s, art collection became his great passion. Hage’s interest in art collection was a product of his upbringing in one of Copenhagen’s leading cultural environments. However, an equally important factor was his desire to restore Denmark’s reputation after the defeat in 1864 through the collection of the finest examples of European art.
In the years 1895-1905 Johannes Hage created his collection of European art from the Renaissance and Baroque periods and Danish art from the Golden Age. Through a trust deed of September 30, 1908, he converted his private art collection into an independent institution open to the public. A few year prior to this, Hage had hired the architect Johan Schrøder to erect a small temple for the art collection near Nivaagaard’s main building. In this new temple, he placed his growing collection of European masterpieces, a few of which you will now be introduced to.
Madonna and Child with the Infant John the Baptist and Angels (after 1537) by Lucas Cranach the ElderThe Nivaagaard Collection
Lucas Cranach the Elder
The insistent gaze of the Virgin Mary immediately captures the viewer. The slanted almond-shaped eyes have a mysterious sheen to them. At the very centre of the iris, the cross from a window is reflected, both foretelling Jesus’ sacrificial death and giving life to the eyes.
The grapes in John’s hands reference the Last Supper, where wine was transformed into the blood of Jesus.
The Virgin Mary is portrayed as the mother of the Son of God and as a worldly woman dressed in fine lace and embroideries. The depiction of the transparent veil and the cloth of the dress testifies to an extraordinary artistic virtuosity.
Cranach’s monogram, the winged snake, visible at the bottom left of the painting, has lying wings. Before 1537, he usually painted the monogram with fully upright wings.
Portrait of a Man (about 1520) by Lorenzo LottoThe Nivaagaard Collection
We do not know with certainty who the subject is, but it could be a wealthy merchant or banker from Bergamo. He captures the viewer with a persistent, slightly distant gaze.
He holds a rosary in his hand and the position of his forefinger and thumb suggest that he has been counting. With thin brushes, Lorenzo Lotto has accentuated the jewellery, the thick and well-manicured nails, the vest’s bow and the thick silk of the sleeves, all painted with extraordinary virtuosity.
As always in his portraits, Lotto has succeeded in presenting an individual with thoughts and emotions rather than a type or ideal.
Portrait Group with the Artist's Father Amilcare Anguissola and her Siblings Minerva and Astrubale (about 1559) by Sofonisba AnguissolaThe Nivaagaard Collection
Sensitivity, warmth and mutual tenderness permeate this family portrait depicting the artist’s father, Amilcare, brother, Astrubale, and sister, Minerva. The family relationship is weighted higher than the figurative and formal characteristics.
The white poodle has a good-natured and almost humorous expression.
There were only a few female painters during the Renaissance, because the position of women in society generally made it impossible for them to work as professional artists. Sofonisba, however, received support from her father to continue her artistic practice.
The painting was never finished, because King Philip II of Spain offered Sofonisba the position of court painter and she had to leave with very short notice.
The Return from the Kermesse (1620s) by Pieter Brueghel the YoungerThe Nivaagaard Collection
Pieter Brueghel the Younger
On a grey day, the villagers are in high spirits on the way home from the kermesse, the anniversary of the founding of the church. The nearly one hundred figures in the image illustrate a wide range of emotional states.
The villagers are depicted as plain people with primitive desires and needs, while the small group of finer citizens at the front left of the painting appear aloof and calm, acting as a kind of audience to the rowdy festival scenarios.
The atmosphere in the work spurs laughter and wonder. As a viewer, one cannot help but smile at the caricatured and slightly erotic scenes. But as is the case with all of Brueghel’s paintings featuring the kermesse, it is permeated by a strong moral message and can therefore be considered a satirical commentary on the immoderate lifestyle among the peasant class at the time.
Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (about 1646) by Claude LorrainThe Nivaagaard Collection
It is the majestic trees and the misty sunlight in the horizon that create a sense of space in this overwhelming river landscape, which is broken up by temple ruins, castle towers and aqueducts.
The Holy Family, Joseph and Maria, followed by the archangel Gabriel are on their way to Egypt to escape King Herod’s soldiers. The group is only a small detail in this magnificent landscape, inspired by the Campagna around Rome that Lorrain was so fond of.
The shepherds with their musical instruments in the foreground recall memories of a distant Arcadia. Nevertheless, the dead tree in this otherwise paradisal landscape serves as a reminder of ultimate mortality.
Portrait of a 39-year-old Woman (1632) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van RijnThe Nivaagaard Collection
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
She appears serious and shy, this Dutch bourgeois wife with the tightly combed hair and prominent forehead. She belonged to a religious sect, the Mennonites, who emphasised a devout and ascetic lifestyle.
The face and the piped collar are strongly highlighted, an example of Rembrandt’s characteristic way of working with the chiaroscuro technique.
The hand with the prayer book is an addition of a later artist, who perhaps wanted to add dynamic to the composition or emphasise the model’s piousness. The portrait is the only by Rembrandt in Denmark which authenticity has never been doubted.
Scene near the Limeworks with a View of Copenhagen (1836) by Christen KøbkeThe Nivaagaard Collection
This little painting is both a snapshot of a little slice of Danish coastline and a ceremonious image of something more universal.
The few and simple iconographic effects contribute to the peaceful atmosphere. The composition appears bold and graphically tight with the select sunlit areas, a vast, calm sky and an unusually low horizon recalling Baroque landscapes from the 1600s.
Meanwhile, the triangular composition with the small buildings and surrounding trees in the image’s centre create peace and harmony. The painting reveals careful observation of the visible world as well as an interest in less tangible phenomena such as light and atmosphere, which are depicted with a highly intuitive sensitivity.
Roman Citizens Gathered for Merriment in an Osteria (1839) by Wilhelm MarstrandThe Nivaagaard Collection
In 1836, Marstrand travelled to Rome, where he stayed for about five years. Here, he carried out several paintings with more or less staged subject matter from the Romans’ everyday and celebrations.
In an Osteria in Rome, there is dancing and celebration with plenty of local colour, good food and drink.
To the left, there is a group of darkly clad gentlemen. They are members of the Danish colony of artists in Rome, including Jørgen Sonne, Jørgen Roed and Constantin Hansen. They are joined by a few distinguished guests, including the painting’s commissioner, who is lifting a glass, court wine merchant and Councillor of State Christian Waage Petersen.
The contrasts between north and south fascinated Marstrand, and his portrayal of the Romans is idealised, colourful and charming. As is often the case in the artist’s populous paintings, the subject has a highly staged character.
Winter Landscape of Northern Zealand Type (1841) by Johan Thomas LundbyeThe Nivaagaard Collection
In line with the national Romanticist ideas at the time, Lundbye ventured out of the city and into nature to pursue his craft. He was particularly fond of painting the open panoramic Zealand countryside.
This bleak landscape, marked by a frosty stillness, is a relatively rare subject during the Danish Golden Age as wintry landscapes were not suited for plein air painting.
The composition is broad and harmonious with a massive, fluctuant sky and strong focus on the role of the lines. The blanket of snow covering the hillsides, the tracks from the sled and the reddish glow of the late afternoon sky fills the viewer with a sense of something grand yet desolate.
The GalleryThe Nivaagaard Collection
The gallery, circa 1910