Marichen Altenburg

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A silhouette of the Altenburg/Paus family, shortly after the Napoleonic Wars. To the right Christine and Marichen Altenburg; in the centre parents Hedevig Christine née Paus and Johan Andreas Altenburg, to the left, Miss Bomhoff and nephew Henrik Johan Paus, Altenburg's cousin, as well as the half brother of Knud Ibsen, and who grew up with his uncle and aunt

Marichen Cornelia Martine Altenburg (24 November 1799 – 3 June 1869) was the mother of playwright Henrik Ibsen and belonged to the patriciate of Skien. She is considered the model for the character Åse in Peer Gynt and Inga of Varteig in The Pretenders,[1] and indeed, she would "echo through her son's work in unremitting portrayals of suffering women."[2] Henrik Ibsen himself confirmed that Åse in Peer Gynt was based on his mother.[3]

Early life[edit]

She was the daughter of wealthy ship-owner and merchant Johan Andreas Altenburg (1763–1824) and Hedevig Christine Paus (1763–1848), and belonged to the Skien patriciate. She grew up in the stately Altenburg Manor in central Skien, and her father also owned several ships, a farm and Bratsberg county's second largest brewery. Marichen Altenburg was an avid painter and in love with the theatre. She "worried her upright parents by attending every performance of the travelling Danish troupes, and by continuing to play with her childhood dolls when she was grown."[2] Marichen Altenburg was "small, brunette, and dark-complexioned, and the only existing likeness of her, a silhouette, bears out the tradition that she was beautiful."[2]


On 1 December 1825, she married merchant Knud Ibsen, who was the step-son of her uncle, ship-owner Ole Paus (who was also best man at the wedding). Joan Templeton writes that "the marriage was an excellent family arrangement." Marichen and Knud had grown up together and "were practically regarded as sister and brother themselves."[2] Knud Ibsen had established himself as a timber merchant in 1825, and by 1830, he had taken over almost all of his wealthy mother-in-law's property. By 1833, he was the city's 16th largest taxpayer.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Knud Ibsen's heavy speculations eventually led to his downfall and financial ruin. A moody and embittered Knud Ibsen turned to alcohol and became a family tyrant, "visiting his bitterness and resentment on his wife and children."[2]

Knud and Marichen had six children: Johan Altenburg Ibsen (1826–1828), Henrik Johan Ibsen (born 1828), Johan Andreas Ibsen (born 1830), Hedvig Ibsen (born 1831), Nicolai Alexander Ibsen (born 1834) and Ole Paus Ibsen (born 1835).

Influence on Ibsen's work[edit]

His mother's suffering was formative for Henrik Ibsen; "Ibsen's sympathy with women came from his understanding of their powerlessness, and his education began at home. From the age of seven to fifteen, when he left Skien for good, Ibsen saw his father intimidate and bully his mother, who became, in the words of contemporary witness, more and more 'taciturn,' 'withdrawn,' and 'melancholy.'"[2] In a letter, Ibsen's sister Hedvig wrote about their mother: "She was a quiet, lovable woman, the soul of the house, everything to her husband and children. She sacrificed herself time and again. There was no bitterness or reproach in her."[1]

In film and theatre[edit]

Marichen Altenburg was portrayed by Kjersti Holmen in the 2006 NRK mini series En udødelig mann (Indomitable one).

She was portrayed by Cecilie Graasvold in Ibsensafari.


  1. ^ a b c Robert Ferguson, Henrik Ibsen. A New Biography, Richard Cohen Books, London 1996
  2. ^ a b c d e f Joan Templeton, Ibsen's women, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 1ff.
  3. ^