Turners of the Early Modern Period in Denmark


Portrait of Friedrich II by Hans Knieper or Melchior Lorck, 1581.

No work turned by Friedrich II has survived, although lathes were known to exist at the Kronborg Castle which he rebuilt in Elsinore between 1574 and 1585.

Portrait of Frederick III of Denmark

Friedrich III was the grandson of Friedrich II. At the Copenhagen Castle (which no longer exists), Friedrich III had a turning chamber for himself, his son Christian and his grandson Friedrich. They were instructed by Jakob Jensen Normand/Nordman.

Frederick was an avid turner and collector of ivory art from southern Germany. With his collection, he founded the Kunstkammer in Copenhagen.

Portrait of Christian V of Denmark by Jacob d'Agar, c. 1685

Son of Frederick III, Christian was known to have turned at the lathe. There was a turning chamber the Copenhagen Castle where he was instructed by Jakob Jensen Normand/Nordman.

Portrait of Frederick IV of Denmark by Rosalba Carriera, 1709

Grandson of Frederick III, Frederick IV was known to have turned at the lathe. There was a turning chamber the Copenhagen Castle where he was instructed by Jakob Jensen Normand.

A turned box with six boxes inside by Friedrich IV has survived.

Portrait of Christian VI by Johann Salomon Wahl, c. 1740

The lathe of Christian VI still exists.

Memorial obelisk by Wilhelm von Hessen-Kassel, 1766

Frederick V ruled from 1745 to 1766. His court turner was Lorenz Spengler, who is known to have instructed Frederick's son-in-law William I and his younger brothers from 1756, during the Seven Years' War. They created at least sixteen works under his tutelage.

After Frederick's death, William (Wilhelm von Hessen-Kassel (German, 1743–1821)) created a memorial obelisk, dated 1766. Mounted on its front side is a portrait medallion of Frederick identified by an inscription with his titles and life dates. An inscription across the top edge reproduces the king's motto, "Prudentia Et Constantia."

Lathe at the Rosenborg Castle (Courtesy Rosenborg website)

Sophia Magdalene was married to King Christian VI of Denmark in 1721. She led an extravagant lifestyle despite Denmark's faltering economy.

Following the fashion of queens of her day, she owned a lathe that she used for turning items of ivory and precious woods. It was designed and built by Diderich de Thurah in 1735–1736, who was a naval officer with an aptitude for mechanics and construction, as well as a skilled turner.

The lathe is displayed at the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen. It features spring-drum and foot-board with flywheel, rocking headstock, removable rosette, and one of the earliest existing sliderest tool holders, along with various sliderest tools and hand tools. Everything is fitted in a large, extravagant wooden cabinet that is capable of concealing the entire kit. A detailed article about the lathe with numerous photos was published in SOT Bulletin #139. Watch a video about the lathe at Rosenborg Castle.

Sophia Magdalene received instruction from artist and turner Lorenz Spengler who was appointed to the royal court in 1745, where he worked for many years (see below).

Portrait of Lorenz Spengler in 1751 by Carl Gustaf Pilo

Born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Lorenz Spengler was an apprentice to Johann Martin Teuber in Regensburg from 1734-1739. In 1743 he went to London (via Holland) where he met the German artists Marcus Tuscher and Johann Lorenz Natter, whom he accompanied to Copenhagen later the same year.

In Copenhagen he was employed as a turner until 1745 when he was appointed to the royal court under Christian VI and later Frederick V. At the Rosenborg Castle he was an artistic turner and teacher to the royal family until 1771. He became a prolific turner in a variety of materials including ivory, horn, tortoise shell, ostrich egg, amber, silver and gold, as well as coconut, which was considered rare and exotic at the time.

From the workshop of Lorenz Spengler, H. 44 cm. (Courtesy Galerie Neuse)

Spengler also had a workshop outside the court where he hired his own staff and apprentices who produced precious items to a wider clientele. He instructed many turners in his workshop, including Bauert, Coppi (Koppi), Fischer, Graumann, Adam & Conrad Hahn, Holm, J. J. Schmid, Schwartz, Sindel, and Spengler's grand-nephew. Turned items by Spengler were mostly made from 1740 to 1760. His interests gradually shifted to the natural sciences and medicine. He became a member of the Society of Sciences and amassed a large collection of conch shells, art materials and paintings which later became part of the state's collection.

In 1771 he was appointed director of the Royal Art Cabinet (also referred to as the Chamber of Curiosities), a position that recognized his standing as a natural scientist (and one that was later held by his son). This however marked the end of his turning career.

Many of the elaborate and beautiful ivory pieces by Spengler have the date of March 31 because this was Friedrich V's birthday. Many of his amber pieces were based on designs by Tuscher, such as the chandelier in Rosenborg Castle, designed in 1746 and completed in 1753. Other works in amber made by Spengler, both for the Danish royal family and as diplomatic gifts, also survive at Rosenborg Castle. Spengler turnings are on display at the Rosenborg Castle as well as other museums including Danske Industry Museum in Copenhagen.

Bauert came to Copenhagen in 1752 where he worked with Lorenz Spengler. Bauert added carved ivory sculptures to Spengler's turned ivory pieces and may have done some turning as well. For 45 years, he produced portrait medallions, coin-stamps and court medals. Several of his works are on display at the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen and have also been sold through auction houses.

Johann Michael Hahn apprenticed with Johann Martin Teuber. He later instructed Lorenz Spengler's sons in the art of turning anatomical parts. His sons, Adam and Conrad both worked in Spengler's workshop, producing work similar to Spengler and Teuber.

Originally from Schaffhausen, a city in northern Switzerland, Sindel worked with Spengler in Copenhagen from 1759 to 1765.

Seyler worked with Spengler primarily as a sculptor of ornate carvings and may have done some turning as well. He is known to have produced work dated 1769.

Fischer was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, son of entrepreneur Johann Conrad Fischer. He learned the trades of coppersmith and fire pump maker in his father's company. Between 1792 and 1794 he travelled through Germany, Scandinavia and England. Presumabley, it was during this time that he worked in the workshop of Spengler, who was said to be his great uncle (note: relationship not verified). He returned to Switzerland in 1794 and took over the family business in 1797, later becoming a pioneer in the steel industry.

The Danish royal courts employed numerous skilled turners and carvers. Along with those already listed above, details about additional individuals will be added as they become known. The following Danish court turners predate Lorenz Spengler (Fl. 1743-1771):

  • Jakob Jensen Nordman (Fl. 1648-1675)
  • Joachim Henne (Fl. 1667-1692)
  • Gottfried Wolffram (Fl. 1683-1716)
  • Magnus Berg (Fl. 1690-1730)

How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered into the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which have been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known!

Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 - 1788)