The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Altarpiece That Was Never Painted

  • Magne Malmanger, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 1989
  • This is a re-publication of the summary of the article: Magne Malmanger: ‘The Altarpiece That Was Never Painted’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1989, p. 247-260.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

In 1837, the painter Adolph Tidemand came to Dtisseldorf, and this is where he First heard about the project of making an altarpiece for the Church of Our Saviour, Oslo Cathedral. Nonetheless, in Düsseldorf and Munich, and even at the beginning of his stay in Italy (1841-42), he was still occupied by historical subjects and genre pieces. It is as if he wanted to keep away from the altarpiece for as long as possible.

We are well informed about Tidemand’s stay in Rome, and his journey in general, through his brother Emil Tidemand’s diaries and later handwritten “Notes about Adolph Tidemand” , begun in 1865.

But in the winter and spring of 1842 in Rome, Adolph Tidemand started in earnest to make studies which were later to be used in Norway for the big project: Christ blessing the children. Even though Thorvaldsen’s statue of Christ in The Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, from 1821, undoubtedly made a great impression on Tidemand, there is no doubt that the figure of Christ in the studies for the altarpiece came first and foremost from the Nazarenes, and especially Overbeck’s The Resurrection of Lazarus and Cornelius’ and Schadow’s paintings The Wise and Foolish Virgins.

Tidemand’s altarpiece never got farther than the study stage. The whole affair developed into the “altarpiece dispute” as a result of which, in ridemand’s own words in a letter twenty-five years later, “the commission was taken away from me, probably in my own best interests, as things have turned out since – and probably also in the Church’s” .

The work with the altarpiece coloured Tidemand’s stay in Rome so much that the studies differ with regard to motif and style from both his earlier and his later work. For this reason, a piece of special interest is a composition study with a Franciscan monk delivering a sermon, probably in the Piazza Rotonda, with the Pantheon in the background. It creates a link with the artist’s best-known historical painting, Gustavus Vasa Speaking to the Peasantry of Dalarna in Mora Church (1841), and his major breakthrough in genre painting, The Haugians.

Last updated 11.05.2017