Reputed provenance: Purchased in Paris 1784 by King Gustaf III of Sweden along with three other identical lanterns, which he gave to his sister Sophia Albertina for her residence the Sofia Albertina Palace, Stockholm, now used by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Subsequently hanging at Vegeholms Slott in Scania. Later hanging at Ludvika Herrgård in Dalarna until 1983 when the estate was divided up. Sold by one of the heirs to Ludvika Herrgård in 2009.
Håkan Groth, “Neoclassicism in the North: Swedish Furniture and Interiors 1770-1850”, 1990, p. 112, pl. 95, illustrating a similar but larger lantern hanging on the landing at the top of the main staircase of Sofia Albertina’s Palace and p. 47, pl. 22, illustrating another similar Louis XVI gilt bronze lantern with only four sides but with almost identical scrolled supports, which hangs in the passage outside the Queen’s Bedroom at Gripsholm Castle, Sweden. Jan Mårtenson, “Sofia Albertina, en Prinsessan Palats”, 1997, p. 88, illustrating an identical Louis XVI gilt bronze lantern in the Grande Toilette or boudoir in the Sofia Albertina Palace, Stockholm.
A highly important and extremely fine Louis XVI gilt bronze six-light lantern, reputedly one of a set of four commissioned in Paris in 1784 by King Gustaf III of Sweden, of hexagonal form, surmounted by a hanging loop above a Vasakärve finial formed as a sheaf of wheat – the emblem of the Swedish Royal House of Vasa, the Vasakärve encircled by a small corona ring issuing six serpentine-shaped supports attached at their lower ends to the main body of the lantern, each of the six slightly tapering rectangular sides fitted with glass, each panel with an upper scalloped rim with a gilt bronze laurel leaf border that suspends from ribbon-tied roundels, the lower part of the panels with a pierced Greek key border above small toupie feet, one of the panels having a handle formed as a hand holding a rod and opening to reveal a thin detachable rod suspended from the upper finial supporting six candle branches each terminating in circular nozzles and drip pans. Now wired for electricity
Paris, date circa 1784
Height 85, diameter 45 cm.
This handsome Louis XVI gilt bronze lantern, which comes from an important Swedish collection, is believed to have been one of a set of four lanterns that were commissioned by Gustaf III (1746-92), during a trip to Paris in 1784. The Swedish king then gave the four lanterns to his only sister Princess Sophia Albertina (1753-1829) to hang in her newly built palace in Stockholm, now used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Whilst the provenance is only by repute, it can be assumed to be correct since the present lantern is identical to one that was, until recently, hanging at Sophia Albertina’s Palace in her Grande Toilette or boudoir (illustrated in Jan Mårtenson, op. cit, p.88). Perhaps more significantly and as Jan Mårtenson notes in his book, the lantern in the Grande Toilette features the same Vasakärve, formed as a sheaf of wheat, which is clearly visible at the top of the lantern, just below the hanging loop. The Vasakärve, the emblem of the Swedish Royal House of Vasa, was one that Gustaf was proud to promote in recognition that as a member of the House of Vasa he descended from Gustaf I of Sweden, also known as Gustaf Vasa (1496-1560). To this end, in 1772, the year of his coronation, Gustaf III instituted the Royal Order of Vasa as an award to those Swedes who had distinguished themselves in service to state and society especially in the fields of agriculture, mining and commerce. Another interesting aspect is the door latch which is formed as a human hand holding a rod. The rod with its distinctive balls at each end could be taken as a tubal cain and may indirectly relate to the fact that Gustaf III was a Freemason.
We know that Gustaf III ordered the set of four lanterns in 1784 during his second trip to Paris, just after he had travelled around Rome where he had admired its great collections of art and Antiquities and also the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. The Swedish king, who was a great admirer of French art, was on a study trip in France when he heard of the death of his father King Adolf Frederick in 1781. When he returned to Sweden, Gustaf took with him many drawings and works of art that reflected how impressed he had been by the courtly life at Versailles and by the prevailing French Neo-classical style. It was that style which took its inspiration from classical antiquity, as typified by the present lantern with its distinctive Greek key motifs and ribbon-tied laurel swags, that Gustaf aimed to infuse within his own culture, in an endeavour to re-establish the greatness that Sweden had once enjoyed but had lost two generations before.
Gustaf was strongly international in his outlook. His uncle was Frederick the Great of Russia while his mother Lovisa Ulrika was a personal friend of Voltaire, with whom she often corresponded. Furthermore, Gustaf’s first tutor had been the French-orientated Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, who was a diplomat and connoisseur as well as the son and grandson of two esteemed Swedish architects. Inspired by his highly cultured and international upbringing, Gustaf made several foreign trips, the most important of which were to France and Italy. Like Louis XVI of France and later Napoleon Bonaparte, Gustaf saw patronage of the arts as one way in placing his country on the international map. To this end he created a new Gustavian style, based primarily on French Neo-classicism; not only did he buy French works of art for his own residences but encouraged French architects and artisans to work in Sweden.
The four lanterns, which were made during his second and last trip to Paris in 1784, compare closely to others made in the French capital but at the same time they feature the Vasakärve, to denote Gustaf’s Swedish royal heritage and his strong sense of patriotism. As such they were a fitting gift for his only sister Sophia Albertina who was to hang them in her newly built palace in the heart of Stockholm. Following their mother’s death in 1782, Sophia Albertina used her inheritance to buy the mid seventeenth century residence built for Field Marshall Lennart Torstensson. Her brother Gustaf agreed to pay for it to be significantly restored and extended by the architect Erik Palmstedt. Facing Stockholm’s Gustaf Adolf Square, the Sophia Albertina Palace, known now as Hereditary Prince’s Palace or Arvfurstens Palats and occupied by the Foreign Ministry, was begun in 1783; the exterior was completed in 1792 and the interiors three years later. In keeping with the Gustavian style the interiors were decorated in the Neo-classical style typified by clean crisp lines, cool even-toned colours, classical columns and antique Roman wall panels to offset its elegant Neo-classical furniture and furnishings.
Although it is not known where each of the four lanterns hung, the photograph in Jan Mårtenson’s book on the palace, shows one of them hanging in Princess Sophia Albertina’s former Grande Toilette or boudoir. However, since the publication of Mårtenson’s book in 1997 the lantern has been replaced by a crystal chandelier. Situated on the first floor of the palace, the room is now used by the Foreign Ministry as the state secretary’s office (kabinettssekreteraren). In the princess’s day, her boudoir led off, on one side, from the Small Bedroom where she usually slept and on the other from the State Bedroom which she tended to use as a reception room. Her boudoir, adorned with gilded bas-relief swags, musical trophies and cornucopias above the doorway, was one of her more private rooms where she could retreat to write letters or read books.
Similar lanterns hung elsewhere in Sophia Albertina’s Palace, including a larger one that still hangs at the top of the main staircase which, designed by Erik Palmstedt, incorporates piers where once stood three grand French Neo-classical bronze vases that were given by Gustaf to his sister (illustrated in Groth, op. cit, p. 112). It also compares with other French Neo-classical lanterns still hanging in different Swedish royal palaces, counting among them one hanging in the passage outside the Queen’s Bedroom at Gripsholm Castle. Built on an island in Lake Mälaren and dating from the sixteenth century, the castle was largely refurbished by Gustaf III during the last quarter of the eighteenth century in the Neo-classical style. One can also compare it to a Louis XVI lantern in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (gifted from James Walter Carter in 1963), which as here is of hexagonal form and is similarly shaped above but unlike this lantern it no longer contains its interior fittings to accommodate six candles.
Although the records remain mute as to when Sophia Albertina’s set of four lanterns were separated from one another, it is believed that the present one then went onto to grace Vegeholms Slott or Vegeholm Castle in Scania, Southern Sweden. This imposing stone edifice, built on the site of a former castle, was constructed in 1530 for Tyge Krabbe and remained in his family until 1663 when it was acquired by Gustaf Otto Stenbock, followed by Olof Nilsson Engelholm and thereafter by Johan Cedercrantz until 1814. Having been owned by the Ehrenborg, Sjöcrona and other families it was then bought in the early twentieth century by W. and W. von Hallwyl and then their daughter Irma von Geijer, whose family still owns it.
After hanging at Vegeholms Slott the lantern is said to have then been moved to Ludvika Herrgård in Dalarna, a fine mansion with a central part dating from the late seventeenth century flanked by older wings. Ludvika Herrgård’s history is closely linked with the Roth family who owned the Ludvika Ironworks and occupied the mansion from 1836 up until the early 1980s. Thus, if as we have been told, the lantern once hung at Ludvika Herrgård then it was certainly owned by the Roth family. The first to live in the mansion was Carl Reinhold Roth who having worked as a merchant in Stockholm then bought a third of the Ludvika Ironwork in 1836. Five years later he bought another third while the final third was bought by Carl Reinhold’s children after his death in 1858. The mansion and family business then passed down through the male line to Carl Roth (1862-1932), after which Ludvika Herrgård was owned by Carl Roth’s daughter Augusta, who continued living there after the death of her husband Atle Lundström (1888-1955) and up until her own death in 1981. Thereafter the estate and family possessions were subsequently divided among her heirs, one of whom inherited this lantern and continued to treasure it up until 2009.