Caspar Frederik Harsdorff
Caspar Frederik (Friedrich) Harsdorff, also known as C.F. Harsdorff, (26 May 1735 – 24 May 1799), Danish neoclassical architect is considered to be Denmark’s leading architect in the late 18th century, and is referred to as “The Father of Danish Classicism”.
Early life and training
He was born Caspar Frederik Harsdørffer in Copenhagen, Denmark to German-born schoolteacher Johan Christopher Harsdørffer from Nürnberg and his Swedish-born wife Anne Marie Eriksdatter.
He began his education in mathematics in order to train for the Engineer Corps, but his interest lay in architecture, which he studied enthusiastically. When the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) opened in 1754 at Charlottenborg Palace he was able to study under French architect Nicolas-Henri Jardin.
In 1756 his design for a city gate won the Academy’s large gold medallion, giving him the distinction of being the first Danish architect to win the coveted award. The award included a six-year travel grant.
Extended education and travel years
He traveled to Paris 1757, and he stayed there four years, also in the company of painter Jens Pedersen Lund and sculptor Carl Frederik Stanley who resided in Paris at the same time as Harsdorff. While there he studied diligently under Jacques-François Blondel, an architect to Louis XV of France.
In late spring 1762 he traveled to Rome, where he discovered the remains of Ancient Rome, and he understood that his education until then had been incomplete. While in Italy he drew and measured the antiquities he studied.
Career in Denmark
He returned to Denmark in 1764, and was named Building Inspector. That same year he was invited to join the Academy, and received the assignment to design "Et kongeligt Palais, liggende paa en smuk Plads" ("A royal palace located on a beautiful plaza"). His design was judged successful, and he was accepted as member of the Academy in 1765, where he was given a job as Professor in Perspective in 1766.
1766-1769 he built the memorial chapel for former Lord High Steward Count Adam Gottlob Moltke at Karise Church in Faxe, which had been begun by his former teacher and now fellow Professor at the Academy architect Nicolas-Henri Jardin.
In 1770 he was named Royal Building Master to the court of King Christian VII. In May 1770 he married Elisabeth Margrethe Fortling, the daughter of former stonemason and Building Master to the royal court Jacob Fortling.
In 1771 Professor Jardin requested that Harsdorff be named his successor as Professor of Architecture at the Academy, which position he filled that year after Jardin vacated the position on 26 March in conjunction with his leaving Denmark to return to France. As professor he played an important role in the classical education of the next generation of architects. His students included Peter Meyn, Joseph Christian Lillie and Christian Frederik Hansen.
Harsdorff also became a member of the Main Building Directorate (Overbygnings direktionen) in 1771.
In 1773 he designed the pulpit at Our Saviour’s Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke) in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen. The neoclasical wood pulpit is painted to look like golden marble, and features a frieze attributed to Johannes Wiedewelt and Peder Als.
That same year he rebuilt in the King’s Garden (Kongens Have), the gardens at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, the temple-like Hercules Pavilion for which Johannes Wiedewelt’s studio produced the reliefs of Hercules and Omphale. The pavilion now houses a café.
He also was commissioned to enlarge the Nicolai Eigtved-designed The Royal Theatre (1748) on Kongens Nytorv that year. In the course of his work on this project he received permission to develop the site between the theatre and Charlottenborg Palace, home of the Art Academy, which he then developed 1779-1780 as a home for his family. Rebuilding of the theatre was carried on 1773-1774.
1774-1779 he designed and started building the austere memorial chapels for Christian VI and Frederik V at Roskilde Cathedral. Work on this project, however, was stopped in 1779 because of lack of money. The work began again many years after his death, and was completed by his student Christian Frederik Hansen (1820-1825).
Harsdorff acted as the Academy’s Director 1777-1779, and was named to the title of Justitsraad in 1778.
In 1779-1780 he built his own townhouse at 3-5 Kongens Nytorv, which became the new model for Copenhagen townhouses of the time. Today the building houses the Danish Arts Agency, the Danish Arts Council, and the Danish Arts Foundation. The building is shown on a Danish postage stamp, part of series entitled Danish Houses which features significant Danish buildings.
1781-1785 he did the interior design in two large rooms at The Royal Library.
In 1781 he was named Head Royal Building Master.
1794-1795 he designed and built the colonnade at Amalienborg Palace to connect the recently occupied King’s palace, Moltke Palace, with the Crown Prince’s residence, Schack’s Palace.
In 1795 he was asked to create plans for Frederik's Church (Frederikskirke), now known as The Marble Church (Marmorkirken), work on which had been halted 1770 after French neoclassical architect Nicolas-Henri Jardin had led the effort. Harsdorff created two plans, and made a model of one of them. The project was approved, but Harsdorff health was now weak. The work eventually was developed according to plans by Ferdinand Meldahl.
May 1799 he became sick at his country home Rosenlund on Gammel Kongevej, Frederiksberg, and he died there on 24 May 1799. He was buried in Assistens Cemetery (Assistens Kirkegård), Copenhagen. He was survived by his wife.
In addition to his public assignments Harsdorff had many private commissions. He also designed furniture whose simple, clear construction and form contain features that would be characteristic of later Danish furniture.
Art historian and critic Niels Lauritz Høyen’s Nordic Art Society (Selskabet for nordisk Kunst) published in 1871 the book "C. F. Harsdorffs Værker" ("C.F. Harsdorff’s Works").
An exhibition devoted to his work was held in Copenahgen’s Kunstindustrimuseet September 1985.
- KID Kunst Index Danmark ("Art Index Denmark")
- Danish Biographical Encyclopedia ("Dansk biografisk Leksikion")
|Director of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts