Records of Lightness and Darkness

In the quest to achieve a state of supreme modernization, physical markers of past greatness are consequently overhauled. Structures and sculptures that formerly embodied the innovative spirit and aspirations of a past generation are increasingly viewed as dated, mere physical entities that do not coincide with the streamlined architectural agenda of the present. Some physical structures fail because of age or disrepair; however, others are demolished to build a newer, grander structure to convey the elevated status and taste of the current inhabitant.

It is easier to grasp why large buildings are replaced with time than to understand why smaller, transportable works are destroyed or left to decay. While some large public monuments have rightly fallen, such as statues of Stalin, which symbolized repercussion and repression, all of these monuments of monarchy and absolute power tell much about our storied and sullied predecessors. Little can be achieved by the destruction of these works, as the man, not the sculpture, wronged society with his deeds.

Ironically, both destruction and preservation of public statues can be observed in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark. Still ruled to a degree by a standing monarchy, Denmark has made a conscientious effort to preserve public sculpture, designating an entire museum, Christian IV’s Brewhouse, as an active conservation lab and viewing space. The museum houses 384 works and provides fascinating insights into the work of present conservators. The galleries remain open during periods of conservation, and the viewer is granted the freedom to explore, observing both the complete and partial reconstructions.

Yet, when one wanders through the Christiansborg Palace, the absence of figural representations of the revolutionary Johann Struensee is evident. Enacting radical reforms under the hapless King Christian VII, Struensee, the King’s royal physician, was later falsely accused for plotting to kill the King with this mistress the Queen Caroline Mathilda. He was not only beheaded, but he was also erased from the pictorial record of the period. As eloquently summed up in A Royal Physician’s Visit, a thought-provoking novel on the Great Revolution led by Struensee, “the same is true of history; people choose what to see, what is light and what is darkness” (304). However, in the absence of a physical record, it becomes difficult for the public to differentiate between the light and dark, the morally righteous and the ethically flawed.

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