The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Gates of Paradise

  • Harald Langberg, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 1989
  • This is a re-publication of the summary of the article: Harald Langberg: ‘The Gates of Paradise’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1989, p. 205-212.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

Most of the furnishings of Kronborg Castle Church at Elsinore were removed during the Napoleonic Wars. The state of the church interior gave rise to much criticism in the 1830s. It would have been possible to put it in proper condition for a modest sum, while restoring the furnishings from the 1580s would have been expensive. The art historian N. L. Høyen made it obvious that the old furnishings should be restored, and the architect Gottlieb Bindesbøll showed how it could be done, with scale drawings and restoration studies.

But whether or not the king would grant the necessary funds was a problem. Since he willingly listened to Thorvaldsen, it was most practical to get the old master to make a positive statement about the project. He did so, and Høyen, who was afraid that one would be satisfied with new, simple furnishings in the style of the day, carried through a restoration project in which the architects had to let their own tastes be superseded by what a scientific study dictated. Høyen represented science, and wanted the furnishings that had been preserved to be grouped exactly as they had been.

But as in nearly all restoration projects, the castle church posed problems that could not be solved “objectively” , and Høyen, who lacked precise information on how the side panel of the altar had been placed, put the relief with Abraham and Isaac on the right, probably because this was most like Ghiberti’s placement of the motif in his Gates of Paradise in Florence, which Høyen had just studied with great admiration When the restoration was carried out in the period 1840-43, however, the relief was placed on the left, where it might have been before the altar was taken down. But where it was originally placed, in 1587, we do not know. Changes had been made to the altar in the 1730s.

Last updated 11.05.2017