The land of the Goths and Vandals: the visual presentation of Gothicism at the Swedish Court, 1550–1700


  • Much of this material was presented at the annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in Chicago in April 2010, and at a stimulating symposium on early modern origin myths organized by Dr Stefan Donecker at the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskollege at the University of Greifswald in September 2011. My thanks to the University of California, Riverside, for supporting the research presented here.


In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Swedish court militantly promoted its claim to descent from the Gothic tribes described by ancient authors. Although fully entwined in many aspects of court life and well known in the literature, it is familiar as an essentially textual project. The court was fully aware of the importance of visual modes of representation – from portraiture to architecture – and went to great trouble to attract skilled artists to Stockholm, but any perceptible trace of the Gothic claims seems to be absent from their works, which instead meet a fairly standardized international expectation for royal representation. Rather, the visual representation of the Gothic nature of the kingdom is to be found in the representation of northern nature in paintings, prints, and other media. Many official works include a remarkable emphasis on the natural world that was central to the literature, much of which presents the land as formative for the Gothic people. This allowed the court and its monarchs to present themselves within European-wide conventions of representation and simultaneously to frame it within the landscape from which its Gothic heritage arose.