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Christina of Sweden

P.7095-RChristina of Sweden was born on 8 December 1626, the only legitimate heir of King Gustav II Adolf and Maria Elenora of Brandonburg. The Royal couple had already lost two sons in early infancy, and they were encouraged to believe their next child would be another boy after the interpretation of an astrological phenomenon by Swedish astrologers. When Christina was born the Court celebrated the birth of a son before the blunder was realised. The King ordered that his daughter be brought up and educated as a man, so Christina wore male clothes and learnt traditional masculine pastimes such as fencing and shooting. She became queen elect at the age of six after her father’s death in battle, and was nicknamed the ‘Girl King’ (since in Swedish law the monarch was always a ‘king’, and ‘queen’ meant the wife of a reigning king, as in the English term ‘queen consort’). Christina reached maturity in 1644, and, against stiff political opposition, she became a major broker of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years’ War. She abdicated in June 1654 and shortly afterwards announced her conversion to Catholicism, which was a crime in Lutheran Sweden. She eventually settled in Rome and died there on 19 April 1689. Christina is one of only four women to be buried in the Basilica of St Peter’s.

Christina was known throughout Europe as ‘Minerva of the North’ because of her efforts to develop a ‘Court of Learning’ in Sweden. The Queen was an enthusiastic patron of ballet and theatre, was instrumental in the founding of Sweden’s first national newspaper, and invited many learned people to Sweden, including the philosopher René Descartes. It is in the guise of Minerva that Christina is portrayed in Falck’s engraving, as indicated by the inclusion of the god’s attributes, the olive branch and the owl, symbolising peace and wisdom. Minerva was a popular choice of allegory for female rulers, being associated not only with wisdom, but also strength and purity.

Jeremias Falck (c.1619-1677) was a Polish engraver who spent his early career working in Paris. In 1649 he went to Stockholm and stayed there for five years working for Queen Christina. After her abdication he returned to mainland Europe, working in Paris, the Netherlands and Germany. J.C. Block, the compiler of the standard print reference for Falck (published in 1890), records four prints of the Swedish queen, the highest number engraved of any one person.

This impression belonged to an album of portrait prints (P.4119-R) which came from the collection of the Dukes of Sutherland, and was sold at the 4th Duke’s sale (Sotheby’s) on 23rd November 1906, lot 1334. In December Bernard Alfred Quaritch, the antiquarian bookseller, sold the volume to John Charrington, Honorary Keeper of Prints at The Fitzwilliam Museum. The album, along with a substantial gift of portrait prints, was presented to the Museum by Charrington in 1933. Charrington removed a number of the prints from the album and mounted them separately. There were two portraits of Christina by Falck in the album, the other being P.7096-R

Museum Number P.7095-R