The Carlsberg Museum: Quite Possibly the Best Ancient Collection in Copenhagen (Part One)

The Carlsberg Glyptotek, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark

The name Carlsberg is synonymous with beer.  It’s quite funny that with every bottle of beer that got guzzled, the Carlsberg family was able to amass a fortune which was put towards buying art.  Next time you want a beer that supports the fine arts, buy Carlsberg.

But seriously, the history of the Carlsberg beer empire and the museum is deeply linked.  It was JC Jacobsen who founded the brewery in 1847, named after his son, Carl.  The pair worked together until a rift in 1882 led Carl to create his own brewery, Ny Carlsberg (New Carlsberg), at which point his father changed the name of his business to Gammel Carlsberg (Old Carlsberg).  In 1906 the two companies merged and the name of the company returned to name of Carlsberg.

Having established this, it now makes sense that the museum is called the Ny Carlsberg – because it was opened in 1897, when a distinction still needed to be made between the two Carlsbergs.  It doesn’t mean that it’s a new museum.

Anyway, back to Carl Jacobsen.  He loved ancient art – which makes him my soul buddy.  He amassed quite an extraordinary collection of Greek and Roman statues, but over the years he also acquired French and Danish sculptures.  His home was extended with a winter garden in 1882, and opened to the public.  But the sculptures quickly outnumbered the plants, so he kept extending his house until there were 19 galleries.  At this point, he realised he needed an new space to house his marble habit.

In 1888, Jacobsen donated his 18th and 19th century statues to the Danish State and City of Copenhagen, on the proviso that they found a suitable building for them.  Space by the Tivoli Gardens was offered up, which Jacobsen wasn’t too happy about, not least because of its vulgar entertainment.  However, there they stand today, side-by-side – an amusing juxtaposition of high and low culture.

Despite having given his collection away, Jacobsen was still very active in the setting up of the museum – he chose the architect, Wilhelm Dahlerup, and the name Glyptothek, after Ludwig I’s extraordinary museum of ancient art in Munich.  The museum opened in 1897, and two years later, Jacobsen donated his ancient art too, so the museum had to be expanded – with Dahlerup designing the winter garden which connected the old wing to the new wing, designed by Hack Kampmann.  It opened in 1906.  

In more recent years there have also been extensions and redesigns – the last big project being in 2006.  I blame these last ones for not doing something about the lighting: it gets dark quite early during winter in Denmark, and the lighting in many galleries was either ambient, or stark.  It was a bit strange and didn’t do justice to the works on display.

The Winter Garden

One of the most striking aspects of the Glyptotek is the Winter Garden.  Brimming with tropical plants, and striking palms, there is a cosy, cute vibe to the place.  I can imagine that people visit the museum basically to see this – and it is so very attractive, if you get free entry, I think it would be nice place to pop in and enjoy without visiting the galleries.  I wouldn’t do that, obviously, because I am an ancient art nut – but I can see why non-art fans would want to.

Let’s start by having a look at the Egyptian section, and the Near Eastern/Etruscan rooms downstairs.

Ancient Egypt

A very impressive Egyptian collection is on show in a cutely Egyptian designed room and some side galleries.  The skill of the Egyptian artists is nicely demonstrated with the range of objects you get to see – sometimes it’s easy to dismiss the ancient Egyptians as making much-of-a-muchness art for two thousand years.  But rather like when you get endless Virgin and Child’s in the Renaissance, the more you look, the more you start to appreciate the small differences.

Near East

The small but lovely Near Eastern collection on show was worth seeing.  I took some awful photos, and because we’d had a long day in the Danish National Museum and then the Glyptotek, I was also extremely tired and failed to take pictures of tags.  I’m clever that way.

…please click here for Part Two…

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