Landing a commission to paint the portrait of a royal family is a blessing that is bestowed upon few artists. It is an important honor that not only bestows the crown's blessing upon an artist, acknowledging his or her craftsmanship. It's also a promise of immortality: paint this portrait and your work will hang on the walls of museums and palaces for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
The latest artist to be so honored may end up immortalized for other reasons entirely. When the Queen of Denmark opted to commission the first royal family portrait in almost 125 years, she turned to Thomas Kluge, a largely self-taught Danish portrait painter whose inspirations are said to include Rembrandt and Caravaggio. After four years of work, Kluge's finished painting is finally here: an inexplicably creepy portrait that reimagines the royal family as a clan of sadists, transvestites, and malevolent pigmen whose abominable ruttings have brought into the world a brood of Damien-like progeny.
According to the Danish Royalty's official website, the Queen of Denmark and her family wanted Kluge to paint a royal family portrait similar to Fredensborgbillege, a painting by Lauren Tuxen that showed King Christian IX and Queen Louise with their extended royal family in the 1880s. Kluge's finished painting, Kongehuset however, appears to be a different piece entirely: the sort of painting that would look more at home as the inside front cover of a V.C. Andrews paperback than hanging on a palace wall for the next 100 years.
Reading between the lines, it appears that the Royal Family may be aware that Kluge's finished portrait is, er, unconventional. The official website of the Danish Royal Collection takes pains to explain that Kluge's work is "a kind of magic realism," and that this painting in particular reveals almost an alternate universe where "the precise depiction of humans ... challenges the interpretations of the spectator, as they encompass something other and deeper than immediate, accurate likeness."
This makes a lot of sense. How else to explain Kluge's painting?
We begin with Queen Margrethe II, a matriarch who has been painted by Kluge with all of the graceful femininity of Tubbs from the BBC's League of Gentlemen. Next to her sits her swollen husband, Henrik, who has been captured with such close attention to detail that you can actually see the meat sweats diffusing through his skin-tight velvet suit. Note also the tumor or possible herpes sore disfiguring Henrik's upper lip, which Kluge has made sure to render with nearly Rembrandt-like fidelity.
In the lower left-hand corner, Princess Isabelle rocks back and forth on the floor, staring with milk-white eyes into the distance as she purses her black lips and slowly twists her dolly's head off. To the right, young princes Nikolai and Felix build the metaphorical tower of blood that they must eventually climb to take the Danish throne for their own. But they will not ascend to claim their crimson thrones unchallenged. To get there, they must first defeat Prince Christian, the second heir to the throne, whom Kluge depicts as the 1,000-year-old Satanic dwarf in the center of the painting. But the prince will not easily be killed: he has splintered his soul between seven horcruxes, each of which has been hidden as a sort of Easter egg within Kluge's masterpiece. Can you find them all?
If you would like to have your soul stolen by Kluge's Danish royal portrait in person, Kongehuset is on exhibit at Copenhagen's Amelienbourg Museum from now until March 2, 2014.