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More about the Court Theatre and the Theatre Museum

The Court Theatre is a living part of the history of Denmark. The building is part of the first Christiansborg, which was erected during the Absolutism from 1730s as a replacement for the old Copenhagen castle.

In the Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre visitors may move freely all over the auditorium, on the stage, in the balconies and in the small lodges, in which among others King Christian VII’s physician and Countess Danner have spent many evenings. Below the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre are the Royal Staples. Christiansborg Riding ground, one of the most beautiful grounds in Denmark of the Rocoko style, from which the Royal horses and the Danish military horses are daily taken out for a ride. Next to the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre is the Danish Parliament (Folketing) and The National Archives (Rigsarkivet), Thorvaldsen’s Museum, Tøjhusmuseet, the Jewish Museum, The Royal Library, the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister’s office, the Ministry of Finance and Slotskirken. If you walk across Frederiksholm’s Canal and the Marble bridge you walk straight towards the National Museum.

The first Christiansborg was built by Häusser in the years 1733-1745. The royal family lived at the castle, and in 1766 the French architect Nicolas-Henri Jardin who lived in Denmark was asked to change the arsenal above the Royal stables into a court theatre. Having served as arsenal, that is to say a place where you stored weapons, rusting armour and riding gear, in 1766 the building was made into a neoclassical room in pearl grey and gold, where the balconies were supported by 22 columns, typical of the time and in the style of other European court theatres. To day you still find traces of the original neoclassical theatre in the entrance and the foyer.

The first Christiansborg was hit by fire in 1794 around thirty years after the inauguration of the Court Theatre, however the part of the building where the Court Theatre is situated  escaped the fire.  

From the outset the Court Theatre reflected the political, cultural and social importance of the house with balconies and lodges and a floor for spectators which could be raised to the level of the stage when masquerades were to be held. Christian VII was young and newly wed when the theatre was inaugurated in January 1767; during the following years French actors performed on the stage. Five years later, on January 16, 1772 following a masquerade at this place the king’s physician Struensee was taken prisoner together with the head of the theatre, Enevold Brandt. Later on they were beheaded, accused of treason.

Over the following years the Court Theatre was an auxiliary stage to The Royal Theatre and the ballet school had its home here.

In the early 1840s the last absolute king, Christian VIII arranged for the Court Theatre to be renovated and transformed it to a Biedermeier interior of red velvet and lodges, as you see it in the auditorium today. During the following years the Court Theatre became a base for among others Italian opera companies.

When Frederik VII ascended the throne and later married Countess Danner the Court Theatre became a natural home for royal theatrical entertainment during the eighteen fifties. During one single year, 1855-56, the place experienced a virtual renaissance under Frederik Høedt a man of the theatre. As a protest against the elitist style and repertoire of The Royal Theatre a large, popular repertoire of a more realistic style of acting was shown  during the so-called Court Theatre season. The following year the fine players moved on to The Royal Theatre and Folketeatret, and the Court Theatre found its previous less public position.

A large theatre fire in Vienna in 1881 resulted in the closure of all wooden theatres in Europe, including the Court Theatre. The following year all furniture etc was sold and the place became a furniture storage – until the Theatre Museum came into the picture:

The Theatre Museum was founded as a private initiative and moved into the Court Theatre in 1922; at that time the Court Theatre had been closed and hidden away for four decades. Today the Court Theatre is a historic piece of living cultural heritage; through generations the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre has developed into a cultural institution with a broad spectre and the theatre culture at the centre.

The collection of the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre describes the history of the theatre in the Danish language from 1700s until the present day. It is made up of drawings, etchings, paintings, photos, costumes, models of set designs etc.

The collection which has been created from 1912 until today is found both in the permanent exhibition in the Court Theatre, available to the public and in the many different archives. The open exhibition is placed in the auditorium of the Court Theatre, in the lodges, in the corridors on the stage and backstage.

Roughly speaking 9/10 of the collection is held in the archives of the Museum. It is from these archives the museum staff takes out material for their many annual, larger or smaller special exhibition.

Over recent years the collection has been registered and placed in specific archives and storage rooms, from which material is easily available for exhibitions, for teaching or research purposes. The archives and storage rooms to which the public has no access are:  Letter- and manuscript archives, programme archives, photo archives, library, storage rooms for paintings and drawings, busts, posters, models of props and for set design. There is a costume storage, a department for personal archives finally and finally a furniture storage. Furthermore it should be mentioned that the collection includes such items as shoes, hats, handbags, jewellery, wigs, canes, pocket watches, glass .. puppet theatres, make-up boxes and much more.

During the 1770s the Court Theatre was an active institution in the development of a political and artistic debate. Today The Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre is the centre of a broad spectre of activities and arrangements. The annual party of the Parliament, the New Talk show with Anders Lund Madsen, culturally aimed programmes with wry angles such as Spise with Price, a special edition, and the Voices of Voldsmose, theatre and concerts, shows with Eddie Skoller and others, release parties, book receptions, wedding receptions, private dinner arrangements, seminars, talks, conferences, photo sessions o. a.

In the middle of it all the building is also a theatre museum and an exhibition venue. The Theatre Museum was founded in 1912 and has been an integrated part of The Court Theatre since 1922. During the years the collections at the museum have been augmented, and the museum still collects and registers everything which is documentation of the professional theatre in Denmark. Today visitors have access to the Court Theatre itself as well as the corridors and foyers where you will find a selection of drawings, paintings, costumes, models of set design, programmes, posters as well as items which all in all give you a depiction of the development of Danish theatre since the time of Holberg at the beginning of 1700s and up till today. The museum archives and library contain large collections which are under continuous expansion and available for students and researchers.

We offer various tours of the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre apart from a walk’n’talk tour of Slotsholmen guided by Peter Christensen Teilmann, director of the museum. We adjust time and subject to the wishes of the individual groups of visitors.

At present the Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre is the centre of a broad spectre of museum-activities and culturel arrangements and events. Continuously, you will find a variety of larger and smaller exhibitions in the Theatre Museum focusing on historical topics with a current perspective or exhibitions in which current topics are seen from a historical perspective. English introduction to all exhibitions » please read more

Through out these years The Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre is undergoing a renewal process which is both a strengthening of the communication of the artistic and institutional history of the theatre as well as the communication of the theatre as an integrated part of the surrounding society.  This happens with an increasing awareness of the fact that the theatre and the museum is a living part of Danish society and cultural life, which surrounds it at a given time.  What happens in society and the cultural life is reflected in the theatre. What is being performed and happens in the theatre at times affect the public around it. During the coming years The Theatre Museum at the Court Theatre will open both stage and also museum to various activities. We will seek more closely the fractures and focul points which you find in between the historic and the actual theatre and the surrounding society and cultural life. This will manifest itself in various types of activities and arrangements from both the classical as well as the more experimental fields of theatrical and cultural life.