Queen Charlotte Amalie’s Heliotrope Bowl

The most important acquisition of the year was Charlotte Amalie’s (1650-1714) bowl made of heliotrope, which can now be seen in the Green Cabinet. The bowl was acquired in December with the generous support of the Augustinus Foundation and the New Carlsberg Foundation.


This sublime piece of handicraft, made of the semi-precious stone heliotrope, sheds new light on royal cultural heritage at the end of the 17th century.


In the 16th and 17th centuries, bowls made of polished semi-precious stones and rock crystal were among the finest royal gifts. This was because – as was highlighted by the German engineer and mathematician Leonhard Christoph Sturm in 1707 – the polishing was so time and resource consuming, that only princes could afford it. Sturm’s point of view was more than just theory. In 1638 Prince Karl of Lichtenstein paid 3000 guilders for a vase of smoky quartz, while Rembrandt was paid 1600 guilders for The Night Watch.


Charlotte Amalie portræt


Charlotte Amalie has been an underappreciated figure in Danish history. She was the daughter of Landgrave Wilhelm VI of Hesse-Kassel and Hedwig Sophie of Brandenburg, married Christian V in 1667, and had eight children with him. Charlotte Amalie was intelligent, was given a good education in languages, natural sciences, geography and philosophy, and learned Danish.


She was an adherent of the Reformed Church, and the marital contract secured her and the members of her court the right to freedom of religion. Christian V soon began his lifelong relationship with Sophie Amalie Moth, who bore him six children, the so-called Golden Lions. In this situation, Charlotte Amalie demonstrated independence and initiative. She became an excellent estate administrator and investor, building for example a paper mill and a small glassworks. She also practiced handicraft: she embroidered, lacquered chinoiserie, carved amber and ivory, and collected rock crystal, semi-precious stones and porcelain. At the same time she supported the cause of her co-religionists, and in 1685 – the same year that she agreed to receive the Golden Lions at the court – the members of the Reformed Church were granted religious freedom in Denmark.




In the following years Charlotte Amalie and Christian V formed a closer bond, which was reflected, for example, in the annual Christmas and New Year presents. For Christmas 1695 Christian V thus gave Charlotte Amalie craftwork totalling 126 rix-dollars, followed at New Year by 5000 rix-dollars in cash. Part of the Christmas present was a bowl made of ‘agate’ worth 50 rix-dollars, which could very well be identical to this one, as ‘agate’ was often used as a common term for semi-precious stones, just as the price would fit. Unfortunately the possibilities cannot be verified, as the inventory of Charlotte Amalie’s estate and her letters were discarded a few years after her death. A list of what Frederik IV removed and gave as gifts to Rosenborg in July 1716 offers, however, a glimpse of the situation. Specified on the list are five of Charlotte Amalie’s semi-precious stones, a trophy, two bowls, and two of six pairs of teacups. The five objects presumably formed just a small part of a larger collection.


It is not known whether this bowl was a present from Christian V or whether the queen purchased it herself. Characteristically, the red spots in the green heliotrope were seen as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, and thus indirectly of the queen’s piety. Similarly, the four feet on which it is mounted can be interpreted as symbolic of the lion in the coat of arms of Hesse, now enamelled with the blue of the Order of the Elephant. The beautiful and unusual mounting, which is unmatched in Europe, taken together with Charlotte Amalie’s crowned monogram, suggests that the bowl must have been made to order and was presumably used as a present at a later date.
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