And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

søndag 8. juni 2014

King Uzziah and his intrepid wife

 And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord
- 2 Chronicles 26: 4-5

Around the turn of the century, a few years before Norway gained its independence from Sweden, the great reconstruction programme at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim began, and this programme lasted well into the mid-twentieth century. By the time of the beginning of the reconstruction, the cathedral was greatly damaged from ages of neglect, dilapidation and natural hazards. One of the leading figures of this reconstruction was the Norwegian architect Gerard Fischer (1890-1977). Fischer was also was one of the pioneers of Norwegian medieval archaeology, and his research on historical buildings was vital to the reconstruction of Nidaros Cathedral. I use the term "reconstruction" here advisedly, for it was not just a restoration of an existing structure, since most of the most recent parts of the church – the western front and parts of the nave and tower – were in a very bad state and not altogether extant. As a consequence, the part of Nidaros Cathedral most people are familiar with today is a modern edifice reconstructed from ideas of how the cathedral must have appeared based on 18th-century sketches and Fischer's knowledge of medieval architecture.

The west front of Nidaros Cathedral
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo credits: Morten Dreier

 One of the perhaps most famous features of this reconstruction is the three storeyed gallery of saints and biblical figures on the western front. The basis for this gallery is three statues that survived from the late medieval western front and are now at display in the former archiepiscopal palace. These statues portray St. James the lesser and the French saints Nicasius and Denis, a small glimpse of a long-standing relationship between Nidaros and France. The remaining statues that adorn the modern front are therefore educated guesses and medievalesque rather than medieval, and were crafted by the Norwegian sculptor Sivert Donali. As an hommage to the important work of Gerhard Fischer, he modelled the statue of King Uzziah after him, as can be seen below. Why Fischer's features were chosen for this particular king – one of about four Old Testament kings depicted on the front – I do not know, but it is a magnificent compliment. Uzziah is famous for being one of the greatest kings of Israel and is included in some of the medieval catalogues of paragons of kingship – for instance that put forth by Smaragdus of St. Mihiel (c.760–c.840).

There is a rather lovely story about Gerhard Fischer and his wife Dorothea Stoud Platou (1903-92). Dorothea, known by her nickname Tulla, was an art historian and like her husband she was a vital element in the establishment of a Norwegian medievalist environment which moved beyond the confines of the 19th-century archive-based history and towards a more interdisciplinary approach.  

King Uzziah
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photo credits: Morten Dreier
The story goes that Tulla's husband suffered from fear of heights, which was a severe impediment when he was required to carry out measurements high up on the western front or on the front's two towers which also are modern additions. The solution to this problem was that Gerhard was stationed down on the ground, while Tulla climbed up the scaffolding and took the measurements. The story of Tulla's dauntless love for the reconstruction has passed into the mythology of the cathedral, and today her name is also remembered by a restaurant in Trondheim's city centre.

Restaurant Tulla Fischer
Courtesy of this website

2 kommentarer:

  1. You forgot to mention that Tulla Fischer can be seen climbing a ladder in the base of the statue of Uzziah-Gerard. Lovely little detail, that, although some have argued that it's a bit misogynist to give Gerhard a statue and Tulla a base.

    1. Thanks for pointing out that detail, it had somehow eluded me. I for my part also find it a very pleasant detail, although Tulla had deserved a more prominent spot on the front. Whether it's misogynist, however, is a different matter.