Bertel Thorvaldsen

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Bertel Thorvaldsen, painted in 1814 by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783–1853)
Bertel Thorvaldsen, painted by Johan Vilhelm Gertner

Bertel Thorvaldsen , from 1827 also by Thorvaldsen , [ ˌbɛɐ̯dl̩ ˈtɔɐ̯vælsn̩ ] (born November 19, 1770 in Copenhagen ; † March 24, 1844 ibid) was a Danish sculptor and medalist who, despite his long stay in Rome, was one of the artistic protagonists of the Golden Age in Denmark applies.


Bertel Thorvaldsen was the son of the Icelandic woodcarver Gotskalk Thorvaldsen and his wife Karen Dagnes. Some sources name a ship between Iceland and Copenhagen as the place of birth , others only Copenhagen.

After receiving artistic lessons from his father, Thorvaldsen was a student at the free school of the Royal Danish Art Academy in Copenhagen at the age of eleven . There he was initially instructed by Johannes Wiedewelt and mainly by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard . In 1787 Thorvaldsen was awarded a small silver medal for his modeling achievements and two years later he was awarded the large silver medal for his relief of Resting Cupid . With the award of Thorvaldsen's relief The Expulsion of Heliodors from the Temple in 1791, the minister Count Christian Detlev von Reventlow became aware of him and provided him with the necessary financial means to continue his studies.

In 1793 Thorvaldsen's relief The Apostles Peter and John Heal a Lame Man was awarded a large gold medal. Associated with this award was a three-year travel grant to Rome . Since he had already accepted several assignments, his departure was delayed by three years. From 1793 to 1796 he gave private drawing lessons; but mainly completed several statues for the palace of the Hereditary Prince Frederik at Amalienborg Palace . In addition, busts of the politician Count Andreas Peter von Bernstorff and the writer Tyge Rothe were created during this time .

On August 29, 1796 Thorvaldsen was finally able to begin his journey to Rome, which he reached on March 8, 1797, interrupted by stays in Malta and Naples . Thorvaldsen celebrated this day later than his Roman birthday and called himself Sculptore Alberto there . Soon after his arrival in Rome, he made the acquaintance of the archaeologist Georg Zoëga , who supported him in studying antiquity and who over time also became his mentor . The painter Asmus Jacob Carstens also supported Thorvaldsen in his early days. In 1797 Thorvaldsen moved into his first studio in Via Babuino 119 , where the English sculptor John Flaxman had previously worked. During this time he had an amorous relationship with Anna Maria Uhden , the wife of the Prussian managing director at the Vatican, Wilhelm Uhden . Further love affairs, which he entered into with Frances Mackenzie (~ 1786–1840) and Fanny Caspers in 1818/1819 , gave parts of the Roman public and circles of German Romans in which Thorvaldsen frequented ample occasion for gossip and speculation.

Thorvaldsen (1810), painted by Rudolph Suhrlandt
Tomb of Pope Pius VII in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome made of Italian marble (1823–1831)
Detail of the tomb of Pope Pius VII.

When Thorvaldsen had sent his Bacchos and Ariadne by ship to the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen shortly before the end of the scholarship , the latter granted him a two-year extension of the grant and in 1802 another one-year extension. For Thorvaldsen, however, the years 1801 to 1803 were marked by poverty and political unrest. It was then that he met the Saxon court sculptor Franz Pettrich . When Thorvaldsen wanted to travel to Copenhagen with the Berlin sculptor Carl Friedrich Hagemann in March 1803 , the departure was delayed by a few days. During this time Thorvaldsen made the acquaintance of the English banker and collector Thomas Hope , who spontaneously commissioned a marble Jason after a visit to his studio . Thorvaldsen destroyed a first execution; a second was highly praised by Georg Zoëga and Antonio Canova , but the artist did not like it. Various circumstances delayed the work and it was not until 1828 that Thorvaldsen was able to send the artwork to Hope in Great Britain .

In May 1805 the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen appointed Thorvaldsen to its full member and in the same year the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna honored him with an honorary membership. During this time he got some state orders from Napoleon Bonaparte , who commissioned Thorvaldsen in 1809 with a monument to be erected in Thorn in honor of Nicolaus Copernicus . After the fall of Napoleon, the patron and collector Count Giovanni Battista Sommariva took over some of the work for his residence on Lake Como . The frieze of Alexander the Great's triumphal procession in Babylon was created again in 1829 for Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen and was congenially engraved in copper by Samuel Amsler .

Bertel Thorvaldsen (center) between the Schadow brothers, painted by Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow (right), Rome 1815, Nationalgalerie Berlin .
Bertel Thorvaldsen with the bust of Horace Vernet by Horace Vernet (oil, 1833, Met NY )

Thorvaldsen overcame a creative crisis in 1815 when he retired to Montenero near Livorno for some time . But he was also artistically active in the self-chosen exam. In the following years he then created some of his most beautiful works. On October 3, 1818 Thorvaldsen returned to Copenhagen, where he became professor in the modeling class at the Academy of Fine Arts. The following year he was appointed to the Danish Budget Council - more of an honorary title than a political office. In August 1820 he left his hometown again and traveled back to Italy via Germany , Poland and Austria .

Thorvaldsen's grave

It was there that his larger works were created, including the bronze monument to Nicolaus Copernicus , which was commissioned in 1809 for the native town of Thorn, but was erected at Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw in 1829/1830 . When Cardinal Ercole Consalvi had Thorvaldsen decorate his sarcophagus , the Vatican noticed him. Although he was an avowed Protestant, the Cardinal Secretary of State Consalvi entrusted him in 1823 with the funeral monument to Pius VII , which was also erected in 1830 in the Cappella Clementina of St. Peter's Basilica and is one of his most important works.

In 1838 Thorvaldsen made another trip to his native Denmark and was received there with all possible honors. Here, too, he carried out several commissions: Among other things, he created busts of Ludvig Holberg , Adam Oehlenschläger and Henrich Steffens and, at the request of the royal family, one of himself. In May 1841 Thorvaldsen returned to Rome to do some of the jobs that had already been promised . In October 1842 he returned to Copenhagen.

On March 24, 1844, Thorvaldsen collapsed during a theater performance in Copenhagen and died that same day at the age of 73. He was never married, but left a daughter Elisa Paulsen. His hometown Copenhagen was appointed administrator of the estate. The legacy came with an obligation to create a building for a museum. The city commissioned the renowned architect Gottlieb Bindesbøll , who designed and built the Thorvaldsen Museum . It was designed in the antique style and inaugurated in 1846. In the inner courtyard of this museum, which is enclosed on four sides, Thorvaldsen found his final resting place in a simple, unadorned grave.

Almost in his entire work Thorvaldsen thematized mythological figures, which he mostly idealized, but also depicted in their simplicity with quiet humor. The importance of his work lies in the revival of the idyll of ancient art.

His numerous students and studio staff include Herman Wilhelm Bissen , Hermann Ernst Freund , Emil Wolff , Ludwig Schwanthaler , Eduard Schmidt von der Launitz , Heinrich Max Imhof , John Gibson , Pietro Tenerani , Luigi Bienaimé , Heinrich Kümmel and Wolf von Hoyer . He also exerted a strong influence on sculptors who no longer worked in one of his studios and whose creative period was mainly in the second half of the 19th century, such as the Swiss Ferdinand Schlöth . In addition, during his life in Italy he amassed an extensive collection of paintings, which mainly consisted of the works of contemporary artists. From around 1815 he supported numerous painters staying in Rome by buying their works. After his death, the collection of paintings was bequeathed to the city of Copenhagen and incorporated into Thorvaldsen's museum.

Medal portraits

Thorvaldsen was also interested in ancient numismatics. After his death, his collection of 3467 coins, 2794 of which were Greek and 673 Roman / Byzantine, came into the possession of his museum. About 1000 pieces of poor condition were auctioned in Copenhagen in 1866.

Thorvaldsen's portrait was immortalized on around 20 medals. Here are some examples:

  • 1817 bronze, 37 mm, Henri Francois Brandt
  • 1838 bronze, 61 mm, Christen Christensen
  • 1837 bronze, 54 mm, Giuseppe Galeazzi
  • no year bronze, 45 mm, Gottlieb Goetze
  • 1838 bronze, 38 mm, Friedrich König jun.
  • 1982 bronze, 70 mm, Harald Salomon
  • 1837 bronze, 45 mm, Carl Voigt

Works (selection)



  • The Piazza Thorvaldsen in Rome is named after Thorvaldsen.
  • Two streets in Berlin were named after him.
  • In Munich there is a Thorwaldsenstrasse in the St. Benno district (Maxvorstadt) .
  • In Frankfurt / M. there is a Thorwaldsenstraße near the Städel , which ends at Thorwaldsenplatz .
  • In Ludwigshafen the Thorwaldsenstrasse and
  • In Wiesbaden the Thorwaldsenanlage named after him.
  • In 1953 the Thorvaldsengasse in Vienna - Meidling (12th district) was named after him.


  • Gerhard Bott (Hrsg.): Artist life in Rome, Bertel Thorvaldsen . Schleswig-Holstein State Museum Schloss Gottorf, 1991, ISBN 3-926982-23-3 .
  • Joergen B. Hartmann: Ancient motifs at Thorvaldsen. Studies on the reception of antiquity in classicism . Wasmuth, Tübingen 1979, ISBN 3-8030-1026-8 .
  • Julius H. Lange: Thorwaldsen's representation of man: an art-historical outline . German translation by Mathilde Mann. Georg Siemens Verlag, Berlin 1894.
  • Adolf Rosenberg: Thorwaldsen . 2nd Edition. Published by Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld 1901.
  • Carl Frederick Wilckens: Traits from Thorvaldsens, artists and social life . Thorwaldsen's valet. Based on the second Danish edition by Theodor Schwarz. Published by Brodreme Salmonson, Copenhagen (1875).
  • Thorwaldsen in: Elbert Hubbert: Little journeys to the homes of eminent artists . Publisher: GP Putnam's sons New York (1907).
  • C. Theodor Müller: Thorwaldsen . Gustav Weise Verlag, Berlin 1939?
  • Dieter Ohly , Martha Ohly-Dumm: Die Aegineten. The marble sculptures of the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina . Catalog of the Glyptothek Munich. I.-III. Beck, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-406-03333-4 . consisting of
    1. The east gable group . 1976, ISBN 3-406-06271-7
    2. The west gable group . 1976, ISBN 3-406-06272-5
    3. The groups on the altar place, figurative fragments, acrotere, from the temple cella, the classical restoration of the aeginetes . 1976, ISBN 3-406-06273-3
  • Plon Eugene: Thorwaldsen. His life and works Verlag Georg Gerold's Sohn, Vienna 1875, German-language first edition after the 2nd French. Edition translated by Max Münster, 352 S, with 37 woodcuts based on drawings by E. Gaillard.
  • Harald Tesan: Thorvaldsen and his sculpture school in Rome . Böhlau, Cologne 1998, ISBN 3-412-14197-6 .
  • Peter Berghaus: 'Numismatist in a Portrait', with 23 illustrations, including 4 portraits and 1 medal illustration by Gottlieb Goetze . In: Monetary History News . No. 159 , January 1994, p. 5-11 .
  • Stefano Grandesso, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) , introduzione di Fernando Mazzocca, catalogo delle opere a cura di Laila Skjøthaug, 2010, Cinisello Balsamo (MI), Silvana Editoriale,  ISBN 978-88-366-1912-2 .
  • Stefano Grandesso, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) , Introduction by Fernando Mazzocca, Stig Miss; with catalog by Laila Skjøthaug, Second English and Italian Edition, 2015, Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), Silvana Editoriale,  ISBN 978-88-366-1912-2 .

Web links

Commons : Bertel Thorvaldsen  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ L. Forrer: Biographical Dictionary of Medallists . Thorwaldsen, Albertus. tape VI . Spink & Son, London 1916, p. 84 ff .
  2. “Copernicus is not infrequently passed off as a Pole and this view has been legalized to a certain extent since a statue was erected for him in Warsaw with the inscription Nicolao Copernico grata patria . Napoleon had this monument alone ordered from Thorwaldsen in 1809, originally for Thorn, but it was only erected in Warsaw in 1829, and not without fighting with the Russian authorities. ”- Johann Christian Poggendorff : History of Physics. 1879, page 138.
  3. a b Patricia G. Berman: In another light - Danish painting in the nineteenth century . Thames & Hudson, London 2007, ISBN 978-0-500-23844-8 , pp. 71, 78 .
  4. Stefan Hess , Tomas Lochman (ed.): Classical beauty and patriotic heroism. The Basel sculptor Ferdinand Schlöth (1818–1891) Basel 2004.
  5. ^ Katharina Bott: Thorvaldsen's paintings collected in Italy. Retrieved October 7, 2017 .
  7. ^ Of the Royal Württemberg Court and State Manual 1843, page 30
  8. ^ Past Academicians "T" / Thorwaldsen, Albert Bertel Honorary 1829 . ( Memento of April 2, 2015 in the Internet Archive ); Retrieved July 17, 2015
  9. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .
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  11. Street name lexicon of the Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein (near Kaupert ):