Located just outside Copenhagen, the Citadel (Kastellet) was a former military fort where Christen Købke and his parents lived from 1819 to 1833, although Købke often returned there to paint. He painted this view in 1837, possibly for his mother as a souvenir of their former home.
This picture shows a drawbridge (that no longer exists) outside the north gate of the Citadel, which crosses a moat to a guardhouse. Købke made a number of preliminary sketches and an oil study on location before working up the final painting in his studio. Bathed in an evening light, with a hint of pink in the sky, the view is suffused with tones of the complementary colours red and green.
The accurate rendering of the intricate manmade structure recalls the work of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, his teacher at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, but Købke is also expressing nostalgia for the place where he grew up.
Located just outside Copenhagen, the Citadel (Kastellet) was a former military fort surrounded by moats and ramparts. Last used during the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, it still housed around 600 soldiers and their families. Christen Købke and his parents lived there from 1819 to 1833. Købke’s father was the Citadel’s master baker, and the family moved out when he retired. Købke often returned to the Citadel over the next four years. He painted several views of it including this one, which he may have given to his mother as a souvenir of their former home.
In this picture, Købke has painted a drawbridge outside the Citadel’s north gate. From a vantage point at the foot of the rampart beside the bridge, he is looking across the moat looking towards a guardhouse on the other side. Although the drawbridge no longer exits, Købke’s preliminary sketches and oil study allow us to follow the choices he made in selecting this particular point of view. In an initial sketch (National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen) he placed himself to the left of the bridge. However, realising perhaps that the bridge seen from this location would block the view, he reversed the composition in a later, highly detailed drawing (Vejle Art Museum, Denmark) and an oil sketch (National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen). The oil sketch would have been painted outdoors, on site, most likely in May 1837. The revised vantage point, to the right of bridge and slightly further from it, allows the bridge to lead our eye into the picture and gives a clear view of the guardhouse.
Købke worked on the final painting in his studio at home, signing and dating it in September 1837. In contrast to the spontaneity of the oil sketch, he returned to the detailed precision of the compositional drawing. The intricacy and complexity of the manmade structure recalls the work of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, his teacher at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen – for example, Eckersberg’s View of the Forum in Rome. Bathed in an evening light, rather than the bright daylight of the oil sketch, and with a hint of pink in the sky, Købke’s view is suffused with tones of the complementary colours red and green. Other changes included adding two soldiers fishing in the canal and replacing a soldier on the bridge with a sailor with his back turned towards us, who gazes at the scene before him, as we do. Købke also enhanced the effect of depth by placing a small group of figures at the far end of the bridge and by adding a thick band of rushes along the picture’s lower edge.
One viewer, the theologian W.F. Wiborg, pointed out that the withered rushes indicated autumn although the new leaves on the trees suggested spring. Wiborg also claimed it was impossible to identify the exact type of poplar tree and that, ‘the sky has an evening light, while the earth has midday light'. Although such demands for accuracy were typical of art criticism at that time, Købke was perhaps more interested in creating a specific mood – one infused with a fond nostalgia for the place where he grew up.
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