The Danish king who was heavily tattooed – and how his ink was recreated

Meticulous work involving study of archive films and photos has enabled graphic artists in Denmark to build a 3D digital reproduction of a bare-torso, tattooed King Frederik IX.

The Danish king who was heavily tattooed – and how his ink was recreated
A 1947 portrait of King Frederik IX next to the animation showing his tattoos. Photo: (L) Ritzau Scanpix (R) Martin Guldbaek/DR

A living member of the Royal Family who knew King Frederick IX – the father of the current Queen Margrethe II – also helped to put together the unusual royal reproduction, which can be viewed in full on the website of public service broadcaster DR.

The feature starts with a uniformed King Frederik, before baring his flesh to reveal his multiple tattoos and the stories behind them.

The King was known to appreciate the company of ‘normal’ people – a fact perhaps reflected in his partiality to body art.

Then-Crown Prince Frederik rowing in 1942, in one of the photographs used to recreate his tattoos. Photo: Ritzau Scanpix

“Frederik IX’s story is very much also Denmark’s story,” Søren Dalager Ditlevsen, a historical journalist with DR who worked on the development of the graphic, told The Local.

“A great many big changes occurred in both Denmark and Europe while he was Crown Prince and King. The monarchy was actually relatively close to being abolished, as was the case in a number of other countries. So he’s essentially an interesting person,” Ditlevsen explained.

King Frederik IX was born in 1899 and reigned Denmark from 1947 until his death in 1972.

The King’s tattoos, as well as being unusual for a monarch, were also fascinating for Ditlevsen because they “can typically tell you a lot about a person,” the journalist said.

DR’s researchers based their work to replicate the King’s tattoos on painstaking study of photographs and video footage of Frederik as both a young and an older man.

They then consulted tattoo artist and tattoo historian Frank Rosenkilde of the Bel Air Tattoo parlour in Copenhagen. Rosenkilde also runs the Danish Tattoo Museum.

Frank Rosenkilde's drawings recreating the King's tattoos. Photo: DR

Based on the DR research and his own knowledge of genres, styles and tattoo history, Rosenkilde re-drew King Frederik’s nine tattoos by hand. The tattoos were then transferred to the 3D figure.

Photo: Martin Guldbaek/DR

“It was relatively difficult, because there are only a few photographs and films in which (the King’s tattoos) can be properly seen. Many written sources, such as in newspapers and old books, proved to be quite unreliable and probably based on rumours and myths,” Ditlevsen told The Local.

Princess Benedikte, the Queen’s younger sister and King Frederik’s second daughter, also assisted the work on the 3D model, Ditlevsen revealed.

“In one instance we were helped by King Frederik IX’s daughter Princess Benedikte, who was able to tell us that a tattoo on his underarm pictured a fox. Because of bad photos, we couldn’t see what it was – our guesses had been anything from tiger to horse,” he said.

Although a 100 percent accurate reproduction was impossible due to the limited nature of visual source material, the researchers had come “as close as possible within the given timeframe” with the work, he noted.

Meanwhile, the snazzy leopard-print shorts sported by the King in the animation are not a creative flourish — he actually owned a pair just like them.

Anyone who may have additional information about the King’s tattoos is encouraged to get in touch with DR via email.

See the full 3D reproduction of King Frederik IX’s tattoo’s here.

READ ALSO: Inside the world's oldest tattoo parlour in Copenhagen 


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How a Viking king inspired one of our best-known modern technologies

A Swede and American tell the story of how they hatched the idea for the moniker 'Bluetooth' over beers.

A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth
A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

At the end of the 1990s, Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer working at telecom group Ericsson, and Jim Kardach, an American employed by Intel, were among those developing the revolutionary technology.

In 1998, at the dawn of the “wireless” era, the two men were part of an international consortium that created a universal standard for the technology first developed by Ericsson in 1994.

But prior to that, they had struggled to pitch their wireless products. Intel had its Biz-RF wireless programme, Ericsson had MC-Link, while Nokia had its Low Power RF. Kardach, Mattisson and others presented their ideas at a seminar in Toronto in late 1997.

“Jim and I said that people did not appreciate what we presented,” Mattisson, now 65 and winding down his career at Ericsson, recalled in a recent interview with AFP.

The engineer, who had travelled all the way to Canada from Sweden for the one-hour pitch, decided to hang out with Kardach for the evening before flying home.

“We received a lukewarm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realised we needed a codename for the project which everyone could use,” Kardach explained in a long account on his webpage.

‘Chauvinistic story’

To drown their sorrows, the two men headed for a local Toronto bar and ended up talking about history, one of Kardach’s passions. “We had some beers… and Jim is interested in history so he asked me about Vikings, so we talked at length about that,” said Mattisson, admitting that his recollection of that historic night is now somewhat foggy.

Kardach said all he knew about Vikings was that they ran “around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.”

Mattisson recommended Kardach read a well-known Swedish historical novel about the Vikings, entitled “The Long Ships”.

Set in the 10th century – “a chauvinistic story” about a boy taken hostage by Vikings, says Mattisson – one name in the book caught Kardach’s attention: that of the king of Denmark, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

A Bluetooth adapter from 2004. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson/SvD/TT


An important historic figure in Scandinavia in the 10th century, the king of Denmark’s nickname is said to refer to a dead tooth, or, as other tales have it, to his liking for blueberries or even a simple translation error.

During his reign, Denmark turned its back on its pagan beliefs and Norse gods, gradually converting to Christianity.

But he is best known for having united Norway and Denmark in a union that lasted until 1814.

A king who unified Scandinavian rivals – the parallel delighted those seeking to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

And the reference to the king goes beyond the name: the Bluetooth logo, which at first glance resembles a geometric squiggle, is in fact a superimposition of the runes for the letters “H” and “B”, the king’s initials.

Low-cost and with low power consumption, Bluetooth was finally launched in May 1998, using technology allowing computer devices to communicate with each other in short range without fixed cables.

The first consumer device equipped with the technology hit the market in 1999, and its name, which was initially meant to be temporary until something better was devised, became permanent.