Kungliga Slotten: 500 years of national and royal history in a seminal exhibition
By Nina Bressler
2023 is a year of grand celebrations in Sweden: not only is the country turning 500 years old, but it’s also the 50th anniversary of Carl XVI Gustaf on the Swedish throne. The two historic occasions will be brought together in the exhibition Vasa to Bernadotte 1523 – 1973 – 2023. Culture in Service of the Realm, on show at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. This unique presentation will be a showcase of epic events throughout history, embodied by extraordinary artefacts and objects.
Two great anniversaries in one year deserves celebrations that go beyond the ordinary. Turning half a millennium old is a feat in itself, but having a ruling monarch celebrate half a century on the throne at the same time adds another level of historical significance. Throughout the year, the royal jubilee will be recognised with events, exhibitions and royal visits taking place across the nation.
“This year’s anniversary is for everyone – from rural Sweden to the big cities. The exhibition Vasa to Bernadotte will take a deep dive into the great history that has shaped modern Sweden: the victories and hardships, the great minds and remarkable people that, through combined efforts, have turned this country into the nation we know today,” says Bronwyn Griffith, exhibitions curator at the Royal Palaces.
Objects embodying history
Gustav Vasa was appointed the King of Sweden during a state meeting in Strängnäs on the 6 June 1523, a moment that is commonly credited as the birth of Sweden as we know it. Fast forward to 1818 when Charles XIV John is made King, and we enter the Bernadotte era. This was the family lineage into which Sweden’s current King, Carl XVI Gustaf, who ascended the throne on 15 September 1973, was born.
Vasa to Bernadotte is expertly curated by Lars Ljungström, head curator at the Royal Palaces, and will take you on a 500-year journey from the rule of Vasa to today. The exhibition of 150 objects showcases the history of the royal court as an instigator of cultural and social trends, and as an innovator responsible for shaping Sweden’s national image. Exhibition designer Ulrika Wolff has designed the exhibition rooms to give a sense of the different chapters in history by combining colours and music. “Ljungström knows the royal collections better than anyone and he wanted to put these historic artefacts in a context that will take the visitor on an extraordinary journey through time. The objects are unique and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see them assembled. This exhibition will bring them into the public eye, unveiling history in a dazzling light,” says Griffith.
From the birth of a nation to the modern days
Objects with historical significance will tell the story of the nation, from its early days, when a stabile regime was of utmost importance, through to the renaissance, when the influence of the arts and culture in southern Europe became more prominent. Onwards, through the lives of kings and queens, the story will continue, finishing in the modern day, where communication with the public plays a central role. The Older State Sword, from the mid-16th century, is one of two state swords and Sweden’s oldest state regalia.
A baptismal font, still used for royal baptisms today, is an example of how silver was modelled in Versailles – a rare insight, as most silver was melted down during the French Revolution. Elsewhere, more royal jewellery, design, furniture, tapestries, art and books will be on view in their historical contexts to bring the nation’s past to life. “Each and every object has been carefully selected for its historical significance. It’s like a theatrical play with the objects centre-stage – every piece tells a unique story,” says Griffith.
The past, present and future of a monarchy
How do you convey history when history is still in the making? Carl XVI Gustaf and the royal family are prominent figures in Swedish society, and the exhibition will portray the work that the king has been doing during his reign, spanning foundations and initiatives for the environment, state visits and his role as a unifying figure in tumultuous times. “We want our audience to leave this exhibition with a sense of the continuation of history. We’ve witnessed the first 500 years and, as we step outside, the story continues. We have created the exhibition to make people feel like they are a part of the past, and as time moves forward, we are all part of Sweden’s next chapter,” Griffith concludes.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Receive our monthly newsletter by email