Is the famous Kongshorn really ours?
Yes, it’s made in Norway. It’s one of quite a few fascinating things from the Norwegian Middle Ages, and she can be a little bitter that she usually lives in Copenhagen. However, it might be worth taking a closer look at history before demanding that the Danes bring it back, as some do.
This week, however, “Kungshornet” arrived in Oslo on loan from the Danish National Museum. From October 13, anyone who wants can see it at the Art History Museum: a heavy-drinking horn, decorated with silver-gilt, from the beginning of the 14th century. It was probably made for the wedding of the daughter of King Haakon V of Norway.
Then there are those who think it would have been better to cancel the return ticket to Denmark. Asli Toje, vice-chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee and former head of research at the Nobel Institute, believes the Danes could give us back the trumpet.
Tuji sings the song of the era. Museums around the world are constantly being asked to return artifacts to the countries from which they came. “Repatriation” is the technical term. As a rule, it then concerns things that the colonial powers did for themselves in countries where they had nothing to do at all. There has often been talk of outright looting.
Perhaps the most famous conflict is between Great Britain and Greece. Every year people flock to the British Museum in London to see the statues from Greek antiquity long known as the “Elgin Marbles.”
The statues were part of the decoration of the Parthenon, the largest temple on the Acropolis. They were taken to England by the Earl of Elgin in the early 19th century, at a time when Greece was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the British. It was then sold to the state.
For more than two hundred years, the Greeks tried to recover the statues. The British Museum is clinging to them for all it can, stubbornly arguing that it is better for the public to see works of art from two countries. The conflict has reached a stalemate, but the Greeks have increasingly succeeded in winning public support.
But can Norwegian Kongshornet be compared to Greek marble sculptures? Maybe not quite. Norway, Sweden and Denmark were closely intertwined at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The same family slid up and down different thrones.
Later, during the Danish era, Denmark took control of Norway. Everything was managed from Copenhagen. The demands of the Norwegians to have their own bank and university were nervously ignored by the Danish kings who did not want Norway to become too independent. But by the time the trumpets sounded, this bias in power had not yet taken hold.
The King’s Horn disappeared in Iceland, but in 1720 it was handed over to the Danish King by the Icelandic Bishop Vidalin. If the horns belonged to Haakon V or his descendants, they were simply returned to their rightful owner. The Norwegian royal family died out with Olav IV aged seventeen in 1387.
The royal line was continued through the authorized Eric of Pomerania. From his family comes the new Danish-Norwegian royal line. Frederick IV, who belongs to this family tree, is the king who receives the century from Iceland. It can therefore be said that it belongs to the Danes as much as it belongs to us.
Also, sending items back to the country they came from is often more complicated than it seems. Jars, utensils, and jewelry from the same culture can accumulate in one place. Museums will have less diverse collections to offer the public.
Few tourists interested in history have the opportunity to travel around the world. If the goal is to enlighten and inspire as many people as possible with testimonies about the way people once lived, then perhaps it would be better to find objects from many cultures in many places in the world.
There is a point of balance that is not easy to find. On the one hand, authorities and museums should try to address the looting that has occurred over hundreds of years, which has often been driven more by greed and grand politics than by any desire to preserve history for future generations. On the other hand, they must keep in mind what is best for spreading knowledge about ancient cultures.
I remember being at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. There they have some amazing seals from ancient Mesopotamia. I was in awe as I stood and looked at the small inscriptions of people and animals, on the seals that were only a few centimeters high. In the region where the seals really belong, Syria and Iraq, civil war has broken out.
ISIS took control of Iraq and used its power to destroy, among other things, priceless and inalienable statues of the past. The ISIS regime is an extreme example, but history does say one thing: there can be a difference between where a piece of history belongs, and where it is best for it to stay.
It’s probably not too dangerous as Kongshornet lives this way on a daily basis. Most importantly, it is preserved. It gets a little traveling sometimes. That century makes us think of those who came before us. On the kings who might have swung it, and on the goldsmith who sat bent over his work, working day and night to create something great and beautiful.
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