Thursday, 2014-03-13

Monument to Descartes


René Descartes famously died 1650 in Sweden, either from old age and disease, or from being overworked trying to tutor Sweden’s Queen Christina. As a Roman Catholic, he was buried among unbaptized infants in what is now the cemetery of Adolf Fredrik’s church. In 1666 his remains were moved to France.

In the 1770s, Gustav III of Sweden wished to honour the philosopher with a monument in the newly built church. The sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel received the commission, and cleverly incorporated a separate commission from the dowager queen Lovisa Ulrika into the design. This design, “Truth freed from its Shroud of Lies” was meant to honour an executed nobleman who had plotted to increase the power of the royal house.

The sculpture, rendered in lead, hangs on a pillar to the right of the altar in the church. The cherub unveiling the globe of Truth bears the likeness of Gustav III, the “Enlightenment King”.

In 2006 a friend of mine from my student days, David Sjögren, died after falling through the ice on a long-distance ice skating trek. His memorial service was held in Adolf Fredrik to accomodate all those wishing to pay their respects.

David was of French and Austrian extraction and the service was a Catholic one, in French. I’ve only lately noticed the connection.