Per Kirkeby rotunda

Art at the Natural History Museum


Next time you visit the Natural History Museum, take a moment and explore the art of Oscar Matthiesen and Per Kirkeby, who have decorated the two rotundas in the beautiful museum building.

One of the rotundas at the museum was decorated by Oscar Matthiesen around 100 years ago. His artwork is inspired by Niels Steensen, also known as Nicolaus Steno, who is considered one of the founders of geology. Matthiesen has taken inspiration from Steensen’s thoughts on the strata of earth in Tuscany and his view on God.

Matthiesen has created a scientific worldview, where he for instance depicted the Earth’s interior and the four natural forces, which have been significant to the transformation of the Earth through time – namely the volcanic fire, the ocean, the rain and the ice, which are here symbolized through human figures.


Art by Oscar Matthiesen


One of Matthiesen’s more difficult tasks was painting the dome, as its composition was challenging. In the dome, Matthiesen has portrayed how “The light of truth has defeated the dark”, where the army of the light is seen persecute the army of the dark across the dome.

Art by Oscar Matthiesen

Beside one of the museum’s staircases, Matthiesen has created two murals, where one shows Niels Steensen in the landscapes of Tuscany, where he examines the Earth’s interior, while the other painting depicts Møn’s Cliff.  


Kirkeby’s strong coats of paint

The other rotunda at the Natural History Museum is two stories high and is decorated by artist and geologist Per Kirkeby. The decoration was completed in 2004 and it portrays the raw geology and is a modern equivalent to Oscar Matthiesen's scientific worldview.

Per Kirkeby has with his strong coats of paint decorated the hall of the museum with geological subjects and chose “uncertainty” as an ongoing theme. It is the uncertainty within geology and science, which has influenced his artistic portray of the mountains and the plain of Qaanaaq in North Greenland at the ceiling of the dome.

Art by Per Kirkeby


Kirkeby pays tribute to Niels Steensen, who is well known within the field of geology, in his paintings and it is especially Steensen’s sketch from Toscany, which has been used as an inspiration.


Art by Per Kirkeby


Per Kirkeby’s work is characterized by the many layers of colours, where the first layers often are covered by the next ones. During his work process, the museum’s hall was filled with beer bottles, as beer works as an organic binder in colour pigment, which is an old method that Kirkeby used frequently.


Natural History Museum of Denmark
Øster Voldgade 5-7
1350 Copenhagen K
Tlf: 22 82 76 79