Friday, September 19, 2014

Nicolai Abildgaard

Culmin's Ghost Appears to his Mother
c. 1794
Oil on canvas, 62 x 78 cm
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard (1743-1809), born in Copenhagen, Denmark, was a neoclassical and royal history painter, sculptor, architect, and professor of painting, mythology, and anatomy at the New Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many of his works were in the royal Christiansborg Palace, Fredensborg Palace, and Levetzau Palace at Amalienborg.

He studied and won a series of medallions at the Academy for his brillianc, then worked there as apprentice, and moved to Rome, where he studied sculpture, architecture, decoration, frescoes murals, and the paintings of Rafael, Titian, and Michelangelo. In addition he studied sculpture, architecture, decoration, wall paintings and developed his knowledge of mythology, antiquities, anatomy, and perspective. He developed an appreciation for the literature of Shakespeare, Homer, and Ossian. He worked with themes from Greek as well as Norse mythology, which placed him at the forefront of Nordic romanticism. He returned to the Academy in Copenhagen, promoted to professor in 1778, where he taught painting, mythology, and anatomy. He was elected as Academy Director and was also assigned as a royal artist/decorator.

He was also known as a religious freethinker and an advocate of political reform. In spite of his service to the government, he was hardly a great supporter of the monarchy or of the state church. He supported the emancipation of the farmers. He was inspired by the French Revolution, and he tried to incorporate these revolutionary ideals into the Knights' Room at Christiansborg Palace. However, the King rejected his designs. He was politically isolated and cut out of the public debate by censors.

Though he won immense fame in his own generation and helped lead the way to the period of art known as the Golden Age of Danish Painting, his works are scarcely known outside of Denmark. He was a cold theorist, inspired not by nature but by art. His style was classical, though with a romantic trend.