A Copenhagen Bestiary – part 1

Since my first visit to Sweden in 1991 I’ve frequently traveled to Scandinavia for conferences, PhD defences, grant review panels, to catch up with friends, and to see my wife Karin‘s family in Denmark. So arriving in Copenhagen almost two weeks ago felt familiar and welcoming. There’s much that I love about Scandinavia, from the landscapes to the history and the peoples, but I am particularly enamoured by the city architecture of the early 19th to mid-20th centuries.

The old buildings of Copenhagen, where we are based for a few weeks, are at once familiar and yet alien, with respect to buildings of similar age in Britain. In particular, the unconstrained use of animals as ornamental adornments is fascinating, inventive and often bizarre. Some of these are real creatures, especially fish which represent the fishing industry on which the city was founded. Others are mythical beasts of traditional Scandinavian fables. And there’s a subset that are clearly the products of the (deranged? drugged?) minds of the sculptors.

Finland’s capital Helsinki tops the league when it comes to animals on buildings, but Copenhagen also has its fair share. I’ve taken to snapping these creatures as I encounter them so it seemed fitting to collect them into a bestiary – a compendium of beasts. Here’s the first set, presented with no commentary – the animals speak for themselves.

10 thoughts on “A Copenhagen Bestiary – part 1

  1. Peter Bernhardt

    Within this bestiary have you seen a depiction of the white weasel or ermine giving birth to her young through her mouth? I saw this as part of a frieze on the old Saffron House in Basel, Switzerland in the ’90’s. It appears to be a very old, European legend and appears in T.H. White’s translations of medieval bestiaries.`Could be Greco-Roman in origin based on the myth of the maid, Galanthis, deceiving the goddess of childbirth or Hera herself.
    The basilica here in Saint Louis has a tile of the pelican ripping open her breast to feed her offspring.

  2. Pingback: A Copenhagen Bestiary – part 2 – the Carlsberg Elephant Gate | Prof. Jeff Ollerton – consultant ecological scientist and author

  3. Peter Bernhardt

    After reading this blog I found another interesting channel on YouTube (below) and the following video treats medieval depictions of various animals. My hypothesis is that these original but highly inaccurate images last centuries because they are also incorporated into Christian symbolism, famous coats of arms and, of course, as public decorations all members of the population can enjoy. People prefer them because they are so exaggerated and seem so silly after the real animal becomes available in zoos and aquaria.

  4. Pingback: A Copenhagen Bestiary – part 3 | Prof. Jeff Ollerton – consultant ecological scientist and author

  5. Pingback: A Copenhagen Bestiary – part 4 | Prof. Jeff Ollerton – consultant ecological scientist and author

  6. Pingback: A Copenhagen (and beyond) Bestiary – part 5 | Prof. Jeff Ollerton – consultant ecological scientist and author

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