In 1626, King Gustav Aldof of Sweden’s wife, Maria Eleonora of Brandenberg, gave birth to a daughter instead of the son that had been predicted. Nevertheless, the birth was celebrated as if for a prince, and the King saw that his daughter, Christina, was raised and educated as a boy and heir to the throne. After her father’s death in 1632, Christina became Queen of Sweden at age six, despite the country’s law forbidding female rulers.
In her writing, Christina expressed contempt for traditional female roles, dress, and concern for appearance. Refusing to participate in contemporary ideals of feminine beauty, Christina controlled her public image through portraits showing her unique style of dress and cross-dress.
The independent-minded Christina was a great advocate of art, literature, and philosophy. In 1654, she abdicated the throne, leaving Lutheran Sweden to convert to Catholicism. She eventually took up residence in Rome, where she aligned herself with Alexander the Great by changing her name to Christina Alexander and wearing jewelry decorated with his image.
When Christina, who never married, died in 1689, she was one of only a few women to have been buried in St. Peter’s Basilica. In 1966, her remains were disentombed by Dr. Carl-Herman Hjortsjö in an attempt to verify whether or not Christina possessed female anatomy.
Queen Christina of Sweden inspired and appears in many works of art, sometimes portrayed as Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, war, and art. She is featured in Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, now on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Popp, Nathan Alan. “Beneath the Surface: The Portraiture and Visual Rhetoric of Sweden’s Queen Christina.” Thesis, University of Iowa, 2010.