Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Nobel Peace Prize

Photo: Time
The Nobel Prizes hold special meaning in my family because my father worked for Elsevier Publishing when we lived in Amsterdam. For five years he was the science editor for the English-language series of all the science-related Nobel Prize Lectures from 1901 to 1966.

Though my father did not work on the Peace Prize, I was thrilled to see The Nobel Peace Center (Norwegian: Nobels Fredssenter) when we visited Oslo this summer. It is located in an old train station building overlooking the harbor in the Pipervika area.

IMG_3136 Nobel Peace Center

A temporary exhibit by Kendell Geers was installed in front of the Peace Center. Geers is fascinated by words with double meanings and those that exist in “symbiosis”. 

IMG_3135 Nobel Peace Center Exhibit

In Slaughter/laughter, the neon leading “S” flickers on and off. Originally created in response to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, Geers suggested that Slaughter/Laughter could also reflect the story of Alfred Nobel, whose discovery of dynamite ultimately led to the establishment of the Nobel Peace Prize. 

The Nobel Peace Center is within view of the Oslo City Hall (Oslo rådhus), just across the Vigeland Fountain.

IMG_2761 Oslo

IMG_2759 Oslo City Hall

Its distinctive white clock faces the harbor.

IMG_2760 Oslo City Hall clock

On the opposite side of the building is the main entrance with a double swan fountain…

IMG_2979 Oslo City Hall

… a beautiful astrological clock…

IMG_2980 Oslo City Hall clock

…and enchanting wood bas relief carvings depicting scenes from Norwegian folk tales.

IMG_3012 Oslo City Hall bas relief wood carving

Every year since 1990, on December 10th, the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony takes place in the grand Central Hall.

IMG_2990 Oslo City Hall center hall

Numerous Norwegian artists won commissions to complete the decorations of the hall.

IMG_2992 Oslo City Hall center all staircase

IMG_2994 Oslo City Hall gilded swans

Henrik Sorensens painted the large mural on the south wall between 1938 and 1950. Titled “Administration and Festivity” depicted scenes from Norwegian legends and history, including many from World War II. 

IMG_2986 Oslo City Hall  central hall mural

Alf Rolfsen painted the mural along the staircase.  The scene at the bottom of the stairs depicts the legend of St. Hallvard, Oslo’s patron saint. 

IMG_2987 Oslo City Hall center hall mural

The story of St. Hallvard is a constantly recurring theme in the decorative elements of the City Hall. According to legend Hallvard was a highborn youth who in 1043 tried to save a woman from being assaulted. He took her aboard his boat in order to reach safety on the other side of the fjord, but they were pursued and killed, Hallvard being shot by three arrows. His body was weighted down with a millstone and thrown into the sea, but both his body and the stone floated up to the surface. When this became known, the local people saw it as a sign and worshipped him as a saint. Hallvard was originally buried at Lier, southwest of the town, but when the Oslo Cathedral was completed in 1130, his bones were placed in a shrine before the high altar. Two centuries later Oslo took into use a city seal depicting the St. Hallvard legend. The present coat of arms was designed in 1924, when the capital was about to change its name from Christiana back to Oslo. Against a background of stars in the sky, St. Hallvard is shown sitting on a throne of two lions. He holds a millstone in one hand and three arrows in the other. At his feet lies a woman. The surrounding inscription reads Unanimiter et constanter Oslo(united and resolute).

IMG_2989 Oslo City Hall mural

The intricate tessellations look like a beautiful blending of M.C. Escher’s and William Morris’ art.

IMG_3010 Oslo City Hall staircase mural

IMG_2997 Oslo City Hall staircase mural

At the top of the stairs is the Munch Room with the beautifully adorned ceiling...

IMG_3000 Oslo City Hall Munch Room

...Edvard Munch's painting "Life" as the focal point...

IMG_3002  Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944) "Life"

Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944) "Life"

...and furniture with the elegant wood frames and upholstered with tapestry in a shade of blue so characteristic in Scandinavia.

IMG_2998 Oslo City Hall blue furniture

Down the hall, through these richly-decorated wooden doors…

IMG_3003 Oslo City Hall decorative wood detail

…is the grand dining hall, which boasts the painted portraits of the King Harald V and Queen Sonja…

IMG_3006 King and Queen of Norway

…and a large dining table lined with Scandinavian blue chairs...

IMG_3007 Oslo City Hall dining chairs

...upholstered in a tapestry with a regal flying swan pattern…

IMG_3008 swan chair

...which matches the chairs reserved for the 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and his wife.

Photo: Reuters
The Nobel Committee recognized his participation in the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where he urged student protestor to remain peaceful, and his continued non-violent struggle for human rights in China. Xiaobo is serving an 11-year sentence in China for subversion and was unable to be present to receive the award. The unclaimed award and document were left in an empty chair meant for Xiaobo. His wife’s chair is also vacant because she was placed under house arrest by the Chinese government. Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jangland spoke at the ceremony: “Liu has only exercised his civil rights. He has not done anything wrong. He must be released.”

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George said...

An interesting post with great photos, Dutchbaby. I love the Nobel Peace Center, which my wife and I visited a few years ago. Quite an inspirational place!

Lisa Gordon said...

Wonderful post, and great photographs.

Kala said...

Wonderful series of images and great commentary.

Ruth said...

Beautiful post. Seeing the photos of City Hall adds so much to what is in my head about Oslo and the Nobel prize. Now I can picture people entering that building when they go to the ceremony. The accoutrements, murals, furnishings, etc., are all so gorgeous. I am partial to Scandinavian art and color schemes, particularly the blue and white. (I'm a big Carl Larrson fan.) The Rolfsen mural is stunning, I just love the tessellations. You know, the reclining nude woman is very like Munch's painting of a mermaid, I don't know the name, but can be seen here.

Ginnie said...

I have tears in my eyes again, DB, in seeing especially the last video and the placement of the prize on the empty chair. I watched CNN Int'l often last week as this story played out. I pray the potential repercussions of this prize will not materialize!

Your images of Oslo brought back so many memories of my time there a few years ago. Astrid and I plan to be there this spring and will see it all again with new eyes. Oslo is such a 'must' city to visit!

Marilyn Miller said...

I loved visiting here with you today. Beautiful building and surroundings. I would love to visit here in person someday. Thanks for sharing this, I didn't know it existed in all it's beauty.

Yolanda said...

I love seeing this beautiful city through your eyes.I found it touching that they left an empty chair for the prize winner. I have visited your blog often over the post year as a lurker but I always enjoy coming here and reading your interesting and thoughtful posts.

A Cuban In London said...

Magnificent post. I loved the images. You really took me there, to that museum. And how I loved that neon sign, the (S)laughter one! It's little, subtle, irreverent, rebellious displays like that one that make me still confide in the human race. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

walk2write said...

I love the juxtapositions you've presented here in the time-pieces, the various art works, the celebration of a Christian saint and a modern dissident. Patterns repeated throughout history of things that set us apart yet draw us together in spite of ourselves and our differences.

Vagabonde said...

What a great post Dutchbaby. We did not go to the Nobel Peace Center last August but we did visit the Town Hall. You have some really great photos of the interior. We went to a party with the mayor and could not leave and look around too much. His assistant gave us a tour but they were expecting a big gala dinner that evening so we could not go in the dining area. I am pleased to see your pictures.

christina said...

i would have never imagined, this exhibit being as beautiful as it is. thank you for sharing, with us.

Jeannette StG said...

Thank you for this great post Friend! From a Dutch person: who doesn't know Elsevier?! You can be proud of your father!
The wall of artwork is phenomenal (Escher is one of my favorite arists).
When we went to China on vacation we accidentally came onto Tiananman Square, and as a person who is used to freedom of speech, something rises up in you.
There cannot be a good outcome when fear reigns.
Let justice be done!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear George,
Thank you! We did not go inside the Peace Center because we were on our way to catching the ferry to Bygdøy Island. The other two times we went to the harbor, it was evening and the center was closed. I guess this means we must return!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear lisa,
Thank you for your visit and kind words.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Kala,
Thank you; I'm very happy to share this information.

Unknown said...

Oh, WOW! You've outdone yourself on this post, db! Everything about the building is so beautiful and I loved how you led us right to the placement of the prize on the empty chair...extremely moving and touching. Kudos, my friend.

Veri word: wishes

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
I felt very fortunate to walk through the hall where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. When I saw the news reports with the empty chair, I just had to pull together this post. Those chairs in the dining hall were so memorable. I love Larsson too, and Scandinavian architecture, design, palette, woods...

Yes, there is a similarity to the mural and the Munch painting.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ginnie,
I think my son summed it up beautifully when we first heard the story about the empty chair on NPR. "You know you must be doing something wrong when you imprison the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Lucky you and Astrid - Oslo in springtime. It should be gorgeous! Are you also going on the Hurtigruten mail boat? Knowing you, you will have finished posting about your trip long before I will, even though I will have had almost a full-year's head start.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Marilyn,
I think you would love Norway. I had some delicious teas during the two weeks we were there.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Yolanda,
Thank you for coming out of the shadows and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate knowing you are there. Welcome to Dutchbaby!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Cuban,
Why am I completely unsurprised that you enjoyed the rebellious, irreverent art installation?

Dutchbaby said...

Dear walk2write,
I think you are right; this post does feature many independent minds. Thank you for that observation.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Vagabonde,
We did not get to see the inside of the Peace Center either. What a special experience it must have been to meet the mayor of Oslo. I would have loved to have peeked my head inside the dining room when they were setting up for a gala dinner.

I'm glad I'm able to show you what you missed.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Christina,
My pleasure!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear jeannette,
In the US, Elsevier seems to only be known to those who deal in textbooks.

I truly hope that the Chinese decide to do the right thing soon.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Susan,
So good to see you back! I thank you for following along; I'm glad you enjoyed the tour.

Relyn Lawson said...

All kinds of gorgeous details and patterns. WOW!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Relyn,
The patterns of the murals captivated me also.

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