Nestled quietly on the well-beaten tourist path between Nyhavn and The Little Mermaid statue is a museum that houses around 2,200 plaster casts of world famous statues dating from 2500 BC – 1600 AD. It’s located in a beautiful old pakhus (English: warehouse) once used for imports from the West Indies in the 16- and 1700s.
The only problem? You’re not allowed to see it. And the museum is tragically under threat of being shut down for good and all that history & culture lost forever.
Today I’m going to tell you the story of Den Kongelig Afstøbningssamling – or, in English, The Royal Casting Collection. The Copenhagen museum you’re not allowed to visit.
Officially opened as a museum in 1995, the collection actually dates all the way back to 1895 when it was founded Statens Museum for Kunst (literally “the State Museum for Art” or, essentially, Denmark’s National Gallery). The initiative was backed by Carlsberg beer founder, Carl Jacobsen – a highly influential man during his time, who supported massive amounts of funding for the arts, beautification of Copenhagen, cultural endeavors, and just the general advancement of Denmark as a whole. In fact, he really merits a post of his own one day…
It was his goal to provide these sculptures for Danes to be able to study, and to allow artists to draw, paint or simply gather inspiration. Some of the perhaps most recognisable sculptures in the collection include:
- Michelangelo’s “David” (1501-04 AD)
- Venus de Milo (ca. 150 – 125 BC)
- Donatello’s Gattamelata (1447-53 AD)
- Pietro Tacca’s Porcellino (1634)
What, you might wonder, is the big deal about a museum that’s made up of mere copies of famous works? Well, aside from the obvious cultural importance (i.e. exposing people to works they may not otherwise ever get a chance of seeing in person), some of the sculptures housed there are gradually becoming originals. Many of the collection’s works were created so many years ago that the original sculptures today are not in the same condition as when the castings were made. Therefore, Copenhagen’s extensive collection represents a more intact state of preservation than some of the actual originals.
Which brings us to why it was officially closed in 2016 and continues to remain shuttered to this day.
While the old West Indian goods warehouse is beautiful, it’s sadly lacking in the modernisation and fire safety regulations to make it safe for use as a space for many people visiting all at once. So why not simply move the collection to a newer, more modern space that does tick all these boxes, you ask?
This is where the story sadly falls into stupid Danish bureaucracy and political back-and-forth-ing. But essentially what it comes down to is: money. To move the collection to a more suitable location would cost a lot of money and sadly, undoubedtly, much of the extremely fragile collection would get destroyed during a move no matter how careful transportation would be.
So that leaves a solution of remaining in the current building and bringing the safety codes up to speed. Again: that costs a lot of money. And it seems that nobody is willing to set aside any of Denmark’s budget to back this endeavour. In fact, there’s sadly – and most recently – been talk of selling the pakhus to developers to create “luxury waterside apartments” (I’m not joking) and just move the collection into storage somewhere. That’s right – that’s something that’s actually been proposed. Shutting the entire collection off in some dark storage facility where absolutely nobody gets to enjoy them. It’s seriously infuriating.
I understand money doesn’t come from thin air but Denmark is holding onto a huge national treasure here, which they are sadly neglecting. This could be a huge tourist draw for the country and earn them lots of money but that doesn’t seem to be enough incentive for The Powers That Be (aka those in charge of such decisions).
If you’d like to keep up with news of any developments that happen with the collection, there is a group called Friends of the Casting Collection (Danish: Afstøbningssamlingens Venner). Unfortunately their website and communications are entirely in Danish but if you’d like to keep abreast of any changes, perhaps you can just use Google Translate. For Danes/those who speak Danish, if you’d like to show your support to their efforts, you can join their group (for free) via their website. They are active and vocal members of any meetings that happen in regards to the collection and are pretty much the authority and driving force behind saving the museum.
Lastly to note, technically you can still visit the museum today; I contacted them directly to ask if I was allowed access (I wanted to do a video about it for my YouTube channel). In response, they told me this:
To translate for the English speakers, they told me that the museum is closed to the public but special opening times can be arranged – however, it would cost a staggering 1,250 Danish Kroner for minimum 3 hours access. (As I contacted them many months ago, due to Covid-19 they said these special appointments were not able to be booked at the time, however I think that has changed by now as more of Denmark has become vaccinated since).
So – that’s it then. If you and a bunch of friends maybe wanted to pool together to see it, you may very well be allowed access but you’ll still need permission first and there’s no guarantee.
It’s another part of Copenhagen that makes me so sad to walk by – just like the Weather Girls I mention in my YouTube video about Copenhagen’s Forgotten History – because the potential is so huge, and it could be such a unique experience for both tourists and Danes. Let’s hope the Danish government gets the sense knocked into them soon before this entire collection falls into ruin.