Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Porphyry vase: the most absurd garden element in Sweden?

A light-hearted Friday post about what I think is the wackiest garden element in Sweden: the huge Porphyry vase in the gardens of the Rosendal Palace on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm. This 5 meter high tazza was commissioned by King Charles XIV John of Sweden, a Napoleon's Marchal who became a King of Sweden (his might be one of the most successful careers on record). It was carved out of a single 140 tonne piece of granite from the King's mines in Älvdalen i northern Dalarna. After two years of meticulous carving and polishing, the finished piece weighing 9 tonnes was transported to Stockholm with the help of 100 strong men, tens of draft horses and a fiddler (nice touch, the last!).

I'm sure psychologists and political scientists could elaborate in length about the King's motives to produce this huge statement; boasting about the natural resources and skillful subjects of his newly acquired kingdom surely were two, and self-aggrandizement certainly still another of them. Despite countless fountains and sculptures of all forms and sizes in Swedish parks and gardens, the Porphyry vase still holds an unique position amongst them. In way, it is completely out of scale and it has no function whatsoever. It just stands in the middle of a circular island of lawn, its base adorned with flowerbeds of dubious beauty. In my eyes it would have made much more sense as a fountain with water running down its scalloped rim; all it had needed was a large basin below.

All the same, I find the Porphyry vase handsome and almost deliberating in its massive, classicistic grandeur so far away from all moderation and self-restraint that usually are the preferred virtues of the Swedish society. I mean, there is so much beautiful art, architecture and gardens in that country, from harmonious 18th century interiors to airy modernist creations and contemporary sleek Scandinavian design. But as much I love it all, sometimes all that "good taste" (I'm well aware of the relativity of the concept) makes me crave for a bit of craziness. And that is where I think the Porphyry vase comes into the picture; with its gigantic size, it provides a vital touch of the slightly absurd and out-of-scale in the middle of the well-tempered beauty of Djurgården.


James Golden said...

A strange thing. I think I'd like it better without the flowerbed.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

James, I agree. And I know that you do have a refined sense for sculpture. That riot petty flowers in contrasting colors doesn't do anything but distract from calm of this enormous piece of stone. Maybe it should have been allowed to stand still, as a document of its own strange history.