ALBERT EDELFELT, “DUKE KARL INSULTING THE CORPSE OF KLAUS FLEMING".
Sign. 1877. Oil on canvas 31,5x41 cm.
Study for “Duke Karl insulting the corpse of Klaus Fleming”, 1878.
Signed and dated 1878. Oil on canvas, 31.5 x 41cm.
Literature: B. Hintze, Albert Edelfelt, WSOY, Porvoo 1953, Catalogue No. 100a. Pictured on page 103.
Exhibitions: Albert Edelfelt Centenary Exhibition 1954, Ateneum, No. 17.
Albert Edelfelt’s large historical painting “Duke Karl insulting the corpse of Klaus Fleming” has been reproduced in numerous history books covering the late 16th century in Finland. The scene is set in the chapel of Turku Castle in 1599. The duke (1550-1611), future King Charles IX of Sweden, had just seized Turku Castle from Ebba Stenbock, whose dead husband had been laid in a coffin in the chapel. Fleming (ca. 1535-1597) had been Lord High Admiral and Governor of Finland under King Sigismund (1566-1632). As Lord Lieutenant, Duke Charles waged a war against Sigismund, his own nephew, in 1598-1600 in order to depose him. The war resulted in the abolition of the Catholic church in Sweden, and Sigismund acknowledged the Evangelical Lutheran faith as the only religion in the Swedish realm.
In Edelfelt’s painting, Duke Charles is tugging the deceased Claes Fleming's beard. According to legend, the duke said: “Had you been alive now, sir, your head would have come off." To which the deceased’s widow, Ebba Stenbock, replied: “Had my husband been alive, my lord, you would never have entered here.” The painting was executed in Edelfelt’s studio, which was located just north of Montparnasse in Paris, in the winter of 1877-1878. He rented historical costumes from Mr Morin, the costume designer at Opéra Garnier, borrowed muddy riding boots from a French artist friend, used both professional models and his own Finnish friends at the École des Beaux-Arts as models, studied objects at the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris and built gilded wax models of the Fleming and Stenbock coats of arms, which he placed on the side of the coffin.
On 5 December 1877, Edelfelt presented the final draft composition to his French studio teacher, Jean-Léon Gérôme, who specialized in Orientalism and historical scenes. Under the school’s curriculum, the students always had to produce a small-scale esquisse peinte before starting on a large canvas. In Gérôme’s opinion, this sketch was good but Ebba Stenbock required more elegant handling. The models for Edelfelt's sketch were other Finnish students at the École des Beaux-Arts. According to Hintze, the man in blue farthest to the right can be identified as Ernst Nordström (1850-1933). Nordström later became headmaster and curator respectively for the school and museum of the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design in Helsinki. The model for the man holding the lid of the coffin was Otto Wallenius, who later became a famous opera singer. Edelfelt gave this sketch to him in 1878 as thanks for looking after him during a prolonged pleuritis in Paris in autumn 1877.
Edelfelt exhibited the final painting at the Salon in Paris in 1878, and it was bought by the Finnish Art Society. The painting is now part of the Ateneum collection and on display in Turku Castle.