Gustavian style – a Swedish style?
5 June 2017
Why has the neoclassical Gustavian style become so prominent in the Swedish self-image? A new dissertation from Uppsala University shows how researchers in art history, along with museums, commercial enterprises and the monarchy, have contributed to preserving and conveying the Gustavian style.
“An important reason for the extreme strength of the Gustavian style ideal,” says Hedvig Mårdh, doctoral student at the Department of Art History at Uppsala University, “is that it managed to unite a series of seemingly contradictory movements during the 1900s, such as tradition and modernity, and nationalism and internationalism, and that it has become part of various utopian visions.”
The Gustavian style, connected to the 18th century and Gustav III and Gustav IV Adolf, has been intimately associated with what has been designated as specific Swedish cultural heritage, linked to Swedish tastes and interior design. The style has generally been highly esteemed by both museums and art historians, who have produced national and international exhibitions and publications and have also contributed to successful furniture production from the late 19th century through today, including both IKEA’s line of 18th-century furniture as well as more small-scale production.
It’s about recurring re-use, in the form of copies, reconstructions and staging of the period. In her dissertation A Century of Swedish Gustavian Style: Art History, Cultural Heritage and Neoclassical Revivals from the 1890s to the 1990s, Hedvig Mårdh studied three periods that all illustrate the re-use of the Gustavian period in different ways:
- the 1890s, which saw the emergence of art history as a discipline, and of museums and cultural heritage
- the period 1930–1940, when the production of period furniture existed concurrently with functionalism
- the 1990s, a decade characterised by a cultural heritage boom, economic crisis and the search for a national identity in a European context.
There are a number of reasons behind the survival of the style as both cultural heritage and commercial product. Besides the fact that it has managed to incorporate contradictory social movements and forces through continuous recreation, art historians and museum curators have also played an important role by writing the style into the Swedish canon. But it’s not only academia, but also the monarchy, museums and commercial enterprises, as well as various state-financed initiatives such as international exhibitions, that have contributed to the strong position of the style and its importance for a Swedish self-image.
In her dissertation, Hedvig Mårdh examines the importance of the style concept for the discipline of art history and for cultural heritage processes.
“The concept of style can be problematic and is often ideologically charged, in that it conveys perceptions about things like changes over time and national identity,” says Hedvig Mårdh.
Style cannot be seen as a static concept, but rather as active, changeable and with agency, she says. Different uses of the Gustavian, such as artists’ interpretations or the activities of various historical societies, can enhance the understanding and interpretations of the Gustavian style. How we speak about, describe and stage cultural heritage is important because it affects how we act and how we identify and manage cultural heritage.
“There are limited resources and space for what can be displayed and preserved,” says Hedvig Mårdh. “Designating something as the best, the most Swedish or the most tasteful also means that something else is excluded. It is important to raise awareness of how cultural heritage is created, what processes lie behind it, what role the academic disciplines play in these processes and how research interacts with practice and thus stages cultural heritage.”
The dissertation is based on the research field of critical heritage studies, and researches the art historian’s role in the creation of cultural heritage and the connection to a national cultural heritage. This is a perspective that has only been partially examined previously.
The materials that are the focus of the dissertation have also not previously been put in relation to each other– how do textbooks, exhibitions, historical societies and furniture production affect one another and what role does art history research play in these contexts?
ERC grant for research into Swedish slavery
03 februari 2023
Fredrik Thomasson, researcher at the Department of History at Uppsala University, has received the ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). This grant relates to a project on Swedish colonial history on the island of Saint ...
The names given to the clouds, an important part of the university's history
04 januari 2023
The book “Molnspanare– en meteorologisk historia” (Cloud spotters – a meteorological history) tells of the emergence of meteorology as a scientific subject. Among other things, you can read about how the Latin names and classification of the cloud...
The history of Easter Island can teach us about sustainability
08 december 2022
Tourism has exploded on Easter Island over the last twenty years – something that has led to both financial gain and major encroachments on the island's environment. Researchers from Uppsala are now studying how history can teach us to build a mo...
Nobel Prize-winning literature often published by small publishing houses
05 december 2022
During the Christmas trade period, books written by the latest Nobel Prize laureate tend to sell at least as well as the more traditional bestsellers. It is very important for publishers to have Nobel Prize winners on their lists, according to res...
Conference: 30 years of EU citizenship
21 november 2022
This year marks 30 years since European Union citizenship came into being. It will be highlighted at an international, interdisciplinary conference in Uppsala on 22–23 November. Both researchers and all those interested are welcome to attend.
New honorary doctors in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences
03 november 2022
The faculties at Uppsala University have decided on the award of honorary doctorates for 2022. Among the new honorary doctors at faculties in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences are researchers in economic geography, family l...
The vulnerability of surrogate mothers in a global market
17 oktober 2022
A new dissertation on surrogacy highlights Thai women's experiences of having acted as surrogate mothers. The dissertation shows the women's vulnerability in a global surrogacy industry, but also provides a more nuanced picture of what makes women...
Historical discoveries as Linnaeus Garden is excavated
07 oktober 2022
Unique pots, eighteenth-century porcelain and the bones of countless fish and birds: archaeologists who have been excavating part of the Linnaeus Garden have come across a wealth of exciting objects that can tell us more about the people and anima...
Popular 18th-century medicine in a new form
05 september 2022
Hello to Nils-Otto Ahnfelt, PhD pharmacist and visiting researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences. Together with the historian of science Hjalmar Fors, you have developed a reconstruction of the 300-year-old medicine Hjärnes Testa...
Torgny Segerstedt Medal and Geijer Prize winners announced
05 september 2022
This year’s Torgny Segerstedt Medal has been awarded to Mikael Stenmark, professor in philosophy of religion at the Department of Theology. The Geijer Prize goes to Viktor Persarvet and Astrid Wendel-Hansen.
Digging from the present down to antiquity
30 augusti 2022
Welcome to the Viking Age! The archaeology students, with their trowels and their scrapers, have dug past the medieval layers and made their way down to the 11th century, approximately 30 centimetres below today's ground level. During the seminar ...
The sheep – Gotland’s symbol of sustainability
14 juni 2022
Sheep are the strongest symbol of sustainability on Gotland, according to Gurbet Peker. Not only do real ones graze all over the island, you can even find sheep sculpted in concrete in Visby. Peker researches the day-to-day lives of lamb farmers i...
Can democracy solve the climate crisis?
13 juni 2022
Hello Linda Wedlin, organisor and moderator of a panel discussion during Almedalen Week with the theme ‘What knowledge and what kind of democracy is needed for a successful climate transition?’ What are you going to be discussing?
Mapping people of the past by means of their bones
09 maj 2022
What is the best way to find out about a human being or animal that has been dead for perhaps several centuries? “Study the bones” is what Sabine Sten, professor of osteoarchaeology, would say. They can reveal an individual's age, body length, DNA...
Transforming space and society in Kiruna
24 mars 2022
State and corporate ideas about nature, people and the future played a decisive role in the development of Kiruna as a mining town over a century ago. Since 2004, when 6,000 Kiruna residents were informed that they would have to move because of gr...
New light cast on female pelvises in University collections
04 mars 2022
Many of the University’s museums currently hold preserved specimens of embryos, fetuses, newborns, and women’s pelvises. During the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, these formed part of embryological and obstetric collections at...
350 years old remains in a Stone Age site in Portugal
25 februari 2022
An African man who lived just 350 years ago was buried in a prehistoric shell midden in Amoreira in Portugal. This was very surprising because Amoreira and other midden sites in the Muge region are well known by archaeologists for the cemeteries o...
ERC Starting Grant for historian of ideas
31 januari 2022
The Starting Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) in its 2021 call have been announced. The awardees include an Uppsala researcher: Ylva Söderfeldt, Senior Lecturer at the University’s Department of History of Science and Ideas.
Saying and doing are two different things
18 januari 2022
COLUMN. While more and more people say Yes and Amen when you ask them about the importance of living in a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way, few actually change their behaviour, writes Katarina Graffman, PhD in cultural anthropology.
Telling the story of Sweden’s Jews
11 november 2021
"There are many ways of being Swedish, and being Jewish is one of them." These words set the seal on Carl Henrik Carlsson’s history of the Jews in Sweden (Judarnas historia i Sverige). Carlsson is a researcher at Uppsala University, and his book h...