The Trundholm Sun Chariot
By Trine Møller Madsen, art and culture writer, 2006
Sund god on wheels
Yellow, glowing and many millions of kilometres away. We yearn for it during winter and worship it without constraint during the summer. Chase it over great distances and try to imitate it with monstrous machines. The sun has power over humans, and it has always been like that.
In ancient times, the sun was considered God himself. Actually not so strange. People paid tribute to the sun at special ceremonies and adored it, carrying sacrifices. Such a sacrifice is the Sun Chariot from about 1350 BC. It is ingeniously shaped in bronze with the finest ornaments chiselled into the metal. One side of the sun disc is coated with pure gold. The other is dark - that was how the sun was at night.
The debut of Danish art
The Trundholm Sun Chariot is the oldest known Danish artwork. It dates back to the Older Bronze Age - from a time when people imagined that the earth was flat, and that the sun was pulled across the sky by its helpers: the fish, the snake, the horse and the ships. In fact never on wheels, but by rope. The sun chariot has six wheels because they made it possible to pull it across the sacrificial area - as a particularly dramatic effect under the divine ceremony.
The symbolism and attraction of the sun is endlessly strong. In the history of art going back several millennia, countless works feature the sun as the main figure. Even in the most recent art. Just remember the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson who attracted more than two million visitors to Tate Modern in London with his gigantic solar installation The Weather Report in 2004. It was more than 3000 years after the Sun Chariot rolled out for its last journey in the bog.
Did you know?
When the Sundholm Sun Chariot was plowed up in West Zealand in 1902, supervisor Frederik Willumsen thought he had found a toy. He therefore gave the horse figure to his son and laid the rest in the ceiling. It was only when the neighbor discovered after a few days what it was that Willumsen had found that the object was reported to the National Museum.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Visuel Art, 2006
The Trundholm Sun Chariot is the oldest representation found on Danish soil. We don’t know the origin of the work; there is no signature, or any certainty regarding the country of origin. We do not know whether the Sun Chariot was brought here. Whether the work is truly unparalleled, or if there are other even more magnificent sun chariots buried in the ground somewhere in the world – whether another sun chariot will one day emerge from the grounds, perhaps even more dazzling and beautiful.
The sun as a motif runs throughout the history of art by virtue of human-religious relationships with light and unconditional dependence on celestial bodies. The sun has always been the subject of aesthetic fascination. Sculpturally, the Sun Chariot is masterful, precise in its spanning of the geometric and organic. The horse’s stylised body, the sun’s round disc, gilded on one side, dark on the other. Exquisite in shape and detail, chiselling, ornamentation. The Sun Chariot is a subtle work. It represents art’s enigmatic leap between the simple and the complex.