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(Albert) Bertel Thorvaldsen (19 November 1770 – 24 March 1844) was a Danish / Icelandic sculptor.


Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen in 1770 (according to some accounts, in 1768), the son of an Icelander who had settled in Denmark and there carried on the trade of a wood-carver. This account is disputed by some Icelanders, who claim Thorvaldsen was born in Iceland. Thorvaldsen had claimed descent from Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first European born in America[1].

Young Thorvaldsen attended Copenhagen's Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi), winning all the prizes including the large Gold Medal. As a consequence, he was granted a Royal stipend, enabling him to complete his studies in Rome, where he arrived on 8 March 1797. Since the date of his birth had never been recorded, he celebrated this day as his "Roman birthday" for the rest of his life.

Thorvaldsen's first success was the model for a statue of Jason, which was highly praised by Antonio Canova, the most popular sculptor in the city. In 1803 he received the commission to execute it in marble from Thomas Hope, a wealthy English art-patron. From that time Thorvaldsen's success was assured, and he did not leave Italy for sixteen years.

In 1819 he visited his native Denmark. Here he was commissioned to make the colossal series of statues of Christ and the twelve Apostles for the rebuilding of Vor Frue Kirke (from 1922 known as the Copenhagen Cathedral) between 1817 and 1829, after its having been destroyed in the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807. These were executed after his return to Rome, and were not completed till 1838, when Thorvaldsen returned with his works to Denmark, being received as a hero.[2]

He died suddenly in the Copenhagen Royal Theatre on 24 March 1844, having bequeathed a great part of his fortune for the building and endowment of a museum in Copenhagen, and left instructions to fill it with all his collection of works of art and the models for all his sculptures, a very large collection, exhibited to the greatest possible advantage. Thorvaldsen is buried in the courtyard of this museum, under a bed of roses, by his own special wish.


Thorvaldsen was an outstanding representative of the Neoclassical period in sculpture, in fact he became the foremost artist in the field after the death of Antonio Canova in 1822 and his work was often compared to that of Antonio Canova. The poses and expressions of his figures are much more stiff and formal than those of Canova's.Thorvaldsen embodied the style of classical Greek art more than the Italian artist, he believed that only through the imitation of classical art pieces, could one become a truly great artist.

Motifs for his works (reliefs, statues, and busts) were drawn mostly from Greek mythology, as well as works of classic art and literature. He created portraits of important personalities, as in his statue of Pope Pius VII. Thorvaldsen's statue of Pope Pius VII is found in the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican, where he was the only non-Italian artist to ever have been commissioned to produce a piece for. Unfortunately because he was not a catholic but a Protestant, the church did not allow him to sign his work. This led to the story of Thorvaldsen sculpting his own face on to the shoulders of the Pope, however any comparison between Thorvaldsen's portrait and the sculpture will show that this is just a fanciful story built on some smaller similarities.[3] His works can be seen in many European countries, especially in the Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen, where his tomb is in the inner courtyard. Thorvaldsen's Lion Monument (1819) is in Lucerne, Switzerland. This monument commemorates the sacrifice of more than six hundred Swiss Guards who died defending the Tuileries during the French Revolution. The monument portrays a dying lion lying across broken symbols of the French monarchy.

Thorvaldsen produced some striking and affecting statues of historic figures, including two in Warsaw, Poland: an equestrian statue of Prince Józef Poniatowski that now stands before the Presidential Palace; and the seated Nicolaus Copernicus, before the Polish Academy of Sciences building—both located on Warsaw's Krakowskie Przedmieście. A replica of the Copernicus statue was cast in bronze and installed in 1973 on Chicago's lakefront along Solidarity Drive in the city's Museum Campus.[4] A statue of Johannes Gutenberg by Thorvaldsen can be seen in Mainz, Germany.

Part of Thorvaldsen's work is informed by a pronounced homoerotic sensibility, traditionally encoded in European art in the myth of Zeus and Ganymede. Illustrative are his Eros, several versions of Ganymede, the Shepherd Boy with Dog, and his bas relief of Hylas and the Nymphs, depicting a shapely Hylas terrified of the nubile nymphs embracing him.
Christus, Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen.

Outside Europe, Thorvaldsen is less well known.[5] However, in 1896 an American textbook writer wrote that his statue of the resurrected Christ, commonly referred to as Thorvaldsen's Christus (created for Vor Frue Kirke), was "considered the most perfect statue of Christ in the world."[2] The statue has appealed to the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a 3.4 m replica is on display at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There is also a replica of this statue in the LDS Visitors' Center in Mesa, Arizona.[6] and images of the statue are used in official church media, such as the Internet site The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland also houses a full-size replica of the statue within its iconic dome.[7]

Thorvaldsen's Christus was recreated in Lego by parishioners of a Swedish Protestant church and unveiled on Easter Sunday 2009.[8]

Thorvaldsen's primary mastery was his feel for the rhythm of lines and movements. Nearly all his sculptures can be viewed from whatever angle without compromise of their impact. In addition, he had the ability to work in monumental size. Thorvaldsen's classicism was strict; nevertheless his contemporaries saw his art as the ideal, although afterwards art took new directions.[citation needed]

A bronze copy of Thorvaldsen's Self-Portrait stands in Central Park, New York, near the East 97 Street entrance.


   1. ^ Paul Henri Mallet, Thomas Percy, I. A. Blackwell, Sir Walter Scott, Northern antiquities, Harvard University Press
   2. ^ a b Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p. 126.
   3. ^ Richard P. McBrien:'Lives of the Popes'
   4. ^ Graf, John, Chicago's Parks Arcadia Publishing, 2000, p. 13-14., ISBN 0-7385-0716-4.
   5. ^ (but see the important paper by Dimmick below).
   6. ^ Florance S. Jacobsen. "Christus Statue". LightPlanet. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
   7. ^ Lindsay Roylance. "A Provocative Icon". Dome. Retrieved 2009-04-13.
   8. ^

    * Lauretta Dimmick, "Mythic Proportion: Bertel Thorvaldsen's Influence in America", Thorvaldsen: l'ambiente, l'influsso, il mito, ed. P. Kragelund and M. Nykjær, Rome 1991 (Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, Supplementum 18.), pp. 169–191.
    * Eugène Plon, Thorwaldsen, sa vie, etc. (Paris, 1880);
    * Andersen, B. Thorwaldsen (Berlin, 1845)
    * Killerup, Thorwaldsen's Arbeiten, etc. (Copenhagen, 1852)
    * Thiele, Thorwaldsen's Leben (Leipzig, 1852–1856);
    * Mordaunt Roger Barnard (trans) The life of Thorvaldsen: Collated from the Danish of Just Matthias Thiele, 1865 (Digitised [1])
    * CA Rosenberg, Thorwaldsen ... mit 146 Abbildungen (1896, "Künstlermonographien," No. 16)
    * S Trier, Thorvaldsen (1903);
    * A Wilde, Erindringer om Jerichau og Thorvaldsen (1884)
    * Malta 1796-1797: Thorvaldsen's Visit (Malta & Cop., 1996)
    *  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Thorwaldsen, Bertel". Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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