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“Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361” by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist

Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361 by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist

“Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361.”

by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist

“Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361” by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist depicts how the Danish king Valdemar IV collects treasures from the people in the medieval town of Visby in 1361 AD. He threatened to burn the whole city to the ground if the town’s people do not fill the three big beer vats with gold, silver and other riches.

In 1361, Sweden’s largest island, Gotland was conquered by Valdemar IV of Denmark. 1,800 Gotlanders were killed in battle in front of the city of Visby. Valdemar tore down part of the wall, set up three huge beer barrels and threatened to turn his men loose to pillage the town unless they were filled with silver and gold. The Visby city fathers fulfilled the demand, with churches stripped of their valuables.

In this historical painting, King Valdemar sits to the right, on a high red throne in front of St. Catherine’s church, and watches the town’s people as they fill the vats. Hellqvist has blended realistic historical detail with imaginary heroes. At the centre of the painting, is the mayor and his family. The mayor clenches his fist and curses with his angry look the King, while his wife looks up to the sky. The wife seems to be praying and with teary eyes. The artist has created a sense that we are witnessing reality, with his use of drama to capture our emotions.


Today Visby is the largest city on the island of Gotland, Sweden, with over 24 thousand inhabitants. Visby is the best-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia, and among the most notable historical remains are the 3.4 km (2.1 mi) long town wall that encircles the town centre, and several church ruins.

Valdemar IV

Valdemar IV is regarded as one of the most important of all medieval Danish kings. He was an intelligent, cynical and clever ruler with a talent for both policies and economy. His nickname “Atterdag” meant “another day”, that is, whatever happened today, good or bad, tomorrow would be another day. Many stories, ballads, and poems have been made about Valdemar.

Carl Gustaf Hellqvist

Carl Gustaf Hellqvist (1851 – 1890) was one of Sweden’s most popular historical painters in the 19th century. He studied art at the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, and in 1875 he was awarded the Royal Academy’s highest prize for his painting. Unfortunately, in 1886 Hellqvist suffered from severe headaches which forced him to take a leave from his teaching post and later ended up in a mental hospital in Munich, where he died at the age of 38.


  • This type of taxation was known as fire taxation.
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Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361

  • Title:                Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361
  • Svenska:          Valdemar Atterdag brandskattar Visby
  • Artist:              Carl Gustaf Hellqvist
  • Date:                1882
  • Medium:         Oil on Canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 200 cm (78.7 ″); Width: 330 cm (10.8 ft)
  • Museum:         Nationalmuseum

Carl Gustaf Hellqvist

  • Artist:             Carl Gustaf Hellqvist
  • Born:              1851, Kungsör, Sweden
  • Died:              1890 (aged 38), München, Germany
  • Nationality:    Swedish
  • Notable works:

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“When the sea is calm, every ship has a good captain.”
– Swedish Proverb


Photo Credit: Carl Gustaf Hellqvist [Public domain]