During the Renaissance, the kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden competed for power in Scandinavia. By 1448 Denmark controlled Norway and Iceland, and Sweden ruled Finland. Both kingdoms saw a surge of cultural and intellectual activity in the 1500s as new ideas reached the region from neighboring European states. Rivalry between the two countries continued into the 1650s, when Sweden became the dominant power and the influence of Denmark declined.
Renaissance Ideas. In the early 1500s, artists from Germany and Flanders* arrived in the Scandinavian courts. They produced portraits of prominent individuals, such as the Danish king Christian II (ruled 1513–1523). At the same time, humanism* inspired various scholars in the region to study the Latin of ancient Rome and to write about the history of local cultures.
The introduction of the printing press in the late 1400s helped spread Scandinavian writing. In 1514 the Danish scholar Christiern Pedersen printed an edition of The Deeds of the Danes (ca. 1200) by the medieval* historian Saxo. The Swedes Johannes and Olaus Magnus published History of All the Kings of the Goths and Swedes and A History of the Nordic Peoples in the 1500s.
Protestant reform movements of the 1500s had considerable success in Scandinavia. The Swedish king, Gustav Vasa, declared Sweden a Lutheran country in 1527; nine years later, Christian III did the same for Denmark. The main inspiration for the Lutheran Renaissance in Scandinavia was the German reformer Philipp Melanchthon, who attempted to harmonize Christian beliefs with the ideas of classical* culture. His emphasis on the study of classical languages contributed to the development of Latin literature in the region. The vernacular* was used mostly by women writers and for religious works. Translations of the Bible appeared in Swedish, Danish, Finish, and Icelandic.
Scandinavian Cultures. The period between 1550 and 1600 was a time of great cultural development for Denmark. Frederick II (ruled 1559–1588), an enthusiastic patron* of the arts, attracted artists, musicians, and architects to the kingdom and supported the education of promising students. Leading Danish poets included Erasmus Laetus, who composed Latin epics*, and Hans Thomessøn and Hans Christensen Sthen, who wrote hymns. Among later scholars were Anders Sørensen Vedel, who collected and edited popular folk ballads in 1591, and Arild Huitfeldt, who wrote Chronicle of Denmark (1604).
The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe established Uraniborg, one of Europe's finest research centers, in the late 1570s. An accomplished writer, Brahe also composed outstanding poetry in Latin. His sister, Sophie, gained renown as the first female scholar in Scandinavia.
The Danish king Christian IV (ruled 1588–1648) built two magnificent castles: Rosenborg and Frederiksborg. When fire destroyed the Norwegian city of Oslo in 1624, Christian rebuilt it and modernized its castle, Akershus, in the style of the Renaissance.
Humanism developed a following in Norway, especially in the cities of Bergen and Oslo. Some Norwegian writers focused on Latin texts, while others studied Norse literature and history. In Iceland the cathedral schools of Hólar and Skálholt became important centers of learning. Two prominent Icelandic authors, Oddur Einarsson and Arngrímur Jónsson, produced works defending their country against foreign prejudice.
From 1600 to 1650 Sweden experienced a period of political and cultural expansion. During the reigns of King Gustav II Adolf (ruled 1611–1632) and his daughter, Christina (ruled 1632–1654), Stockholm became a gathering place for artists, architects, and other intellectuals. Christina hired a French court painter and a German architect to help build Drottningholm Castle near Stockholm.
Rival Courts. The rivalry between Sweden and Denmark inspired various works of art and literature. For example, the Swede Johannes Bureus and the Dane Ole Worm competed in collecting inscriptions written in runes—an ancient form of writing used in Scandinavia. During the reigns of Christian IV in Denmark and Christina in Sweden, the royal courts became known for elegant entertainment. Christian employed celebrated musicians, such as the Dane Mogens Pedersen and the German Heinrich Schütz. At the Swedish court, Georg Stiernhielm provided ballets and poems in honor of the queen. Scholars consider Stiernhielm to be the first great poet to write in Swedish.
In the early to mid-1600s, both Denmark and Sweden became involved in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Sweden won significant victories, but Denmark mostly met with disaster. By the time Christian IV died in 1648, the Danish state was bankrupt. Six years later, Sweden's queen Christina shocked the country by becoming a Catholic and giving up the throne. Nevertheless, both rulers made their mark, having encouraged the growth of art, literature, and learning in their kingdoms.
- * Flanders
region along the coasts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands
- * humanism
Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history, of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living
- * medieval
referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe
- * classical
in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome
- * vernacular
native language or dialect of a region or country
- * patron
supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer
- * epic
long poem about the adventures of a hero