The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Transportation of Thorvaldsen's Artworks to Copenhagen 1828

  • Nanna Kronberg Frederiksen, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 2014
  • Translation by David Possen
  • The majority of Thorvaldsen’s artworks and art collections were transported from Rome to Copenhagen with ships of the Danish fleet during the years between 1825 and 1845. This article discusses the 1828 shipment, in which a number of commissioned works were transported—unusually—by a private merchant vessel.

The transportation process

This 1828 shipment to Copenhagen of numerous commissioned works by Thorvaldsen has a relatively complex history, involving correspondence among a number of participants over a period of several years. This article begins with an attempt to summarize the entire affair. Following this, a list is provided of the individual artworks included in the shipment.

A frigate to accommodate the commissioners’ many wishes

In 1826, the architect C.F. Hansen was putting the finishing touches on two grand, prestigious structures in Copenhagen—The Church of Our Lady and Christiansborg Palace—which he had been appointed to rebuild after they had burned down in 1807 and 1794, respectively. Thorvaldsen’s contribution was all that was needed before important events could take place in each building: the dedication of the rebuilt Church, and—in the rebuilt Palace—the wedding of the king’s youngest daughter, Princess Vilhelmine, to her betrothed, Prince Frederik (7.).

Having learned from the experience of the previous shipment in 1825, when the brig St. Croix turned out to be too small to fit all of Thorvaldsen’s crates, King Frederik 6. decided to send a larger ship—a frigate—to the Mediterranean this time. Thorvaldsen was informed about the frigate’s progress in good time, and received long lists of the artworks that he was desired to produce and include in the shipment. Of these, the most important were Christ for the church, and the Alexander Frieze, along with two caryatids, for the palace—all in marble.

When Thorvaldsen had no choice but to reply with the disappointing news that neither the Christ statue nor the Alexander frieze would be completed in marble in time for the shipment—which was then planned for the spring of 1827—Frederik 6. first chose to postpone the frigate’s journey until the spring of 1828. He simultaneously commanded the Building Commissions for both the Church of Our Lady and Christiansborg Palace to obtain a report by Thorvaldsen listing the artworks that would in fact be complete in time for the frigate’s new 1828 arrival date.

A tribute ship for the Bey of Tunis

C.F. Hansen was by this point over seventy years old, and expressed great unease about the possibility of dying before experiencing the completion of his architectural masterworks. Of these, the Church of Our Lady—a “spiritual art museum” of Thorvaldsen’s works—weighed foremost on C.F. Hansen’s mind: he was determined not to dedicate the church without Thorvaldsen’s Christ. As a result, when a new mode of transporting Thorvaldsen’s works suddenly appeared, C.F. Hansen lobbied strongly to take advantage of it, in part by pressing the Building Commissions for both the Church of Our Lady and Christiansborg Palace to join in covering the costs of shipment.

The merchant vessel Therese was supposed to sail to Tunisia in the autumn of 1827, with a cargo of “gifts” for the ruling Bey of Tunis. Despite the terminology, these “gifts” were in truth a tribute payment, which Denmark had committed to pay annually in order to avoid pirate attacks on Danish merchant vessels. After completing its mission, the merchant ship would be free to dock at Leghorn in order to be loaded with Thorvaldsen’s artworks.

Both Building Commissions accepted this solution, on condition that the shipment be a full one, containing at minimum Thorvaldsen’s Christ (in plaster), the twelve apostles (in plaster), two candelabra (in marble) and the two caryatids (in marble). The caryatids were crucial, in the view of the Building Commission for Christiansborg Palace, as they were to flank the Palace’s throne on the occasion of the upcoming wedding of Princess Vilhelmine and Prince Frederik on November 1, 1828.

From Rome to Leghorn—in Purgatory

It was now up to Thorvaldsen to ship the completed artworks from Rome to Leghorn. The practical labor involved was undertaken by Thorvaldsen’s assistant, the sculptor Hermann Ernst Freund, who had done the same for previous shipment, in 1825. Freund hired the Italian skipper Francesco Lami, who shipped 64 crates containing Thorvaldsen’s artworks to Leghorn with his coastal vessel, L’Anime del Purgatorio (The Souls of Purgatory). For unknown reasons, however, Lami’s ship departed Rome rather late, namely, just before Christmas Eve. This gave rise to a certain nervousness in Copenhagen about whether Thorvaldsen’s crates would reach the merchant vessel Therese, then already in quarantine in Leghorn, on time.

Because of poor weather, the journey from Rome to Leghorn was rather turbulent. On the last stage of the trip, from Elba to Leghorn, the skipper Lami was barely able to dock the ship safely in the harbor without serious damage.

For Freund himself, the journey was not only physically turbulent, but emotionally tempestuous as well. After ten years in Rome, Freund was to leave his “true home” and travel on to Denmark, where a position as professor of sculpture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts awaited him. Despite the prospect of a permanent position, however, Freund was disillusioned. He was poor, and in the preceding years he had not obtained the commissions or opportunities for artistic development for which he had hoped. In Rome Freund had stagnated, so to speak, in his role as Thorvaldsen’s assistant, with all of the responsibilities involved—including such troublesome travels as Thorvalden’s courier. Now he was to leave Rome, driven by a “cold and unfeeling power,” and proceed to Denmark, where the only future awaiting him was “the grave.”

Despite both his melancholy and the “driving rains,” Freund did manage to load a total of 70 crates containing Thorvaldsen’s artworks onto the ship on 11.1.1828. The downtrodden sculptor was then offered a passenger’s seat on the merchant vessel Therese, but Freund had no wish to return to Denmark “like a barrel of sugar.” Instead, Freund chose to continue his journey on foot, on a nine-month tour that brought him to Copenhagen via Florence, Paris, and Berlin.

From Leghorn to Copenhagen

The merchant vessel Therese sailed from Leghorn in February 1828. It arrived in Copenhagen in April 1828—fast enough that it was possible to include Thorvaldsen’s artworks in the Academy of Fine Arts’ exhibitions in 1828 and 1829.

Information about the shipment

Rome-Leghorn: 21.12.1827-4.1.1828
Departed Leghorn: February 1828
Arrived Copenhagen: April 1828
Ship: The merchant vessel Therese
Captain: Schröder
Crew members:
Passengers:
Number of crates: 70
Shipment manifest: none
Documents related to the shipment: Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen 1828
Chronology: Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen 1828
Overview of all shipments to Copenhagen, 1798-1845: Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen

The artworks transported to Copenhagen

The artworks transported to Copenhagen and listed below have been identified partly from the correspondence surrounding the shipment, and partly from the Academy of Fine Arts’ two exhibition catalogues:
  • Tillæg til Fortegnelsen over de ved det Kongelige Akademie for de skjönne Kunster i Aaret 1828 offentligen udstillede Kunstværker [Appendix to the List of Artworks Exhibited to the Public by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the Year 1828], Copenhagen 1828.
  • Fortegnelse over de ved det Kongelige Akademie for de skjönne Kunster offentligen udstillede Kunstværker [List of Artworks Exhibited to the Public by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts], Copenhagen 1829.

For the Building Commission for the Church of Our Lady

Crate no. Artwork, Material Owner Previous Owner
Christ, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A82 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Peter, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A86 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Matthew, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A87 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
John, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A89 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
James the Less, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A91 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Philip, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A93 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Thomas, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A96 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
James the Greater, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A98 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Bartholomew, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A99 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Simon Zelotes, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A101 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Paul, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A103 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Jude Thaddaeus, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A105 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen
Andrew, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A108 Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen

For the Building Commission for Christiansborg Palace

Crate no. Artwork, Material Owner Previous Owner
Caryatids, marble versions Destroyed, cf. A55 and A56 Christiansborg Palace
Hermann Ernst Freund, Mercury, plaster model Danish National Gallery, inv. no. KMS5001

For the Academy of Fine Arts

Crate no. Artwork, Material Owner Previous Owner
Plaster casts of the Aeginans restored by Thorvaldsen Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Cupid and the Graces, plaster cast Presumably identical to A911 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Jelizaveta Aleksejevna Osterman-Tolstaja, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A167 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Dancing Girl, plaster cast Presumably identical to A179 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Night, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A369 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Day, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A370 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Cupid with a Swan and Boys picking Fruit, Summer, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A411 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Cupid and Bacchus, Autumn, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A413 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Cupid Revives Psyche, plaster cast Unknown, presumably cf. A431 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Cupid and Bacchus, plaster cast Unknown, presumably cf. A408 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
A genio lumen (The Genius of Art and Light), plaster cast Unknown, cf. A518 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Christ at Emmaus, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A562 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Alexander the Great in the Triumphal Chariot, ceramic, half-size Unknown, presumably cf. A504 Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Two plaster casts modeled after classical candelabra Unknown Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Two plaster casts modeled after classical statues Unknown Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen

For private individuals

Crate no. Artwork, Material Owner Previous Owner
Private items Unknown Hans Christian Holten
Portrait bust of J.C. Dahl, plaster cast Unknown, cf. A229 J.C. Dahl
Portrait bust of J.C. Dahl, marble version Art Museums of Bergen, Norway, cf. A229 J.C. Dahl

References

  • Victor Freund: Hermann Ernst Freunds levned, Copenhagen 1883, p. 142-152.
  • Fortegnelse over de ved det Kongelige Akademie for de skjönne Kunster offentligen udstillede Kunstværker, Copenhagen 1829, cat. nos. 190-191.
  • Just Mathias Thiele: Thorvaldsen i Rom. 1819-1839, III, Copenhagen 1854, p. 289-324, 463.
  • Tillæg til Fortegnelsen over de ved det Kongelige Akademie for de skjönne Kunster i Aaret 1828 offentligen udstillede Kunstværker, Copenhagen 1828, cat. nos. 203-214.
  • Frederik Weilbach: ‘C.F. Hansens Christiansborg, af Slotsbygningskommissionens Papirer’, Fra Arkiv og Museum, serie 2, bind 2, hefte 2-3, Copenhagen 1935, p. 138-140.

Works referred to

A82 A86 A87 A89 A91 A93 A96 A98 A99 A101 A103 A105 A108 A55 A56 A911 A167 A178 A369 A370 A411 A413 A431 A408 A518 A562 A504 A229

Last updated 08.02.2017