While in Sweden, we visited many a slott (castle) and their grounds. The first one we went to was Skokloster Slott, located near Uppsala. Skokloster Slott was built in the mid-1600s, and has furnishing and decorations preserved sublimely today due to a combination of an entail that insisted nothing be removed from the home and the fact that many of the owners never actually lived there much.
There is a fantastic armory on the top floor, full of weapons custom made for decoration and showing off - many never actually fired - and other show-your-wealth type treasures. Suspended from the ceiling were two very long, thin, slightly curved objects. Our tour guide explained that Carl Gustaf (the big spender who stocked the armories) had loved exotic items, and he had purchased these unicorn horns to be a prized part of his collection. Of course, today we can tell that they are actually whale penis bones. There's a sucker born everyday, right? It's probably better that he never knew the truth.
A giant banquet hall was under construction when Carl Gustaf suddenly died. When they heard of his death, the workers promptly put down their tools and left - because there was no longer any guarantee of payment. Interestingly, nothing was ever done in that room again. It's a fascinating look into how such places were constructed, complete with the tools and exposed ceiling. It's even more fascinating to me that no one else ever thought "hey, let's clean this up" or "we really ought to think about finishing this room." Perhaps banquet halls were the unfinished basements of yore? You could get a house or castle with an unfinished banquet hall and think, yes, someday I will make that an awesome place to have parties and hang out! Then two hundred years later you suddenly realize you've still never quite managed to do anything with it.
The part of Skokloster Slott that has stuck in my mind the most was this beautiful glass chandelier, flowing from the mouth of a fantastic dragon. This chandelier is the oldest known glass chandelier of its kind, and marvelous. Each piece was made by hand.
Unfortunately, the chandelier was not made well. I suppose that is a relative statement - seeing as it dates from 1670 and so likely outlasts your average IKEA chandelier - but from what I understood from our tour guide, the glass was not tempered correctly and has begun to crack from the inside out. The copper wire which strings it all together has begun to disintegrate as well. In short, there is nothing that can be done, someday it will all just come down at once and shatter. And that day is not far off - our guide said that they don't expect the chandelier to last another year. There is nothing they can do to prevent this.
Perhaps this haunts me for all the same reasons that beauty and death has always haunted artists - nothing is permanent, beauty is fleeting. Memento Mori - remember that you will die. It's horrible to realize that something so beautiful awaits such eminent demise, and at the same time why should we expect permanence? We are a society who gives cut flowers to people that we love - well knowing that in doing so we have killed these flowers and they will soon shrivel and die, and yet we give them because they are beautiful and for that short time will bring joy. Perhaps things can become even more appreciated when we realize that they are ours for a limited time.
There are other layers of lessons and symbolism here - about building a good, strong foundation and doing your work properly so it doesn't all just fall to pieces someday - but rather than beating that to death let's all just take another moment to appreciate the beauty of this terminally ill chandelier.
W. Somerset Maugham said, "Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it."
Here are some additional pictures of Skokloster Slott -
I promise I'm not trying to include Linnea flower motifs in all my Swedish posts, but can you spot them in the above photo?
Good looking 21st century men.
And then of course, 21st century men pretending to be 16th century men.
Labels: Scandihoovian & Scandinavian, Where we go