The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Comment on Antagelig marts 1797

It is not known who the draft letter below is addressed to, but the handwriting is Thorvaldsen’s. The first two lines must be a first draft of the start of the following, slightly longer draft since both have been written in the same ink and apparently at the same time, and since the wording is identical with a few changes.
The letter fragment is likely to date from March 1797 or before. The two Danish draft letters to Jørgen West in section 1 (bottom) and 2 can be dated with fairly great certainty to this period, and these two drafts must be later than the Italian for the simple reason that one of the Danish texts starting ”Now I have finally come…” undoubtedly has been written over part of the Italian (see the discussion about the date in the general comment).
As can be seen, Thorvaldsen’s Italian is far from perfect: his spelling is full of mistakes; he confuses e.g. i and e and n and m; he often omits double consonants; there are no indications of stress; and his conjugation of verbs is uncertain. Thorvaldsen’s dyslexia did not improve matters. In spite of these sources of error, a translation might be as follows:

With great pleasure I have received your note,
in which you ask for news


With great pleasure I have received your letter
I am grateful for your attention
of course, I should come and see you, but
at present it is impossible[,] maybe it would be better[.]
I ask you to settle the matter with your sister[.]
try to enjoy yourself as much as possible [or: when you can]


The last line is difficult to understand, and the translation is tentative. Thorvaldsen seems to have crossed out the first two words of the line (the deletion is not completely clear). It probably reads: “molto ebbe”, but it could also be “molto cose”. Either way, these two words were probably meant be replaced by the words “a sercate di”, which Thorvaldsen has added below the deleted words. These three words are so close to the line above that they have to be understood as part of it and not as a continuation of the last words in the line. This interpretation, however, depends on the word “sercate” being seen as a form of the verb cercàre, i.e. to strive or try, whereby “a sercate di” could be understood as suggested in the translation.
The many errors of form in the draft might indicate that Thorvaldsen is the author of the draft, and that, at the time of the writing, he had acquired sufficient knowledge of Italian to proceed in spite of the errors. However, about two months before in January 1797, his knowledge of Italian was – as far as we know – very modest, see the letter dated 27.1.1797 from Vincenzo Manno to Francesco Manno and also the related article about “Thorvaldsen’s Spoken and Written Language “:/artikler/thorvaldsens-tale-og-skriftsprog. Therefore, it seems most likely that Thorvaldsen had some help with the draft letter, but considering the errors, it could not have been from an expert writer.

Not a great deal can be said about the recipient of the letter. He or she had apparently shown Thorvaldsen some kind of attention and may have been in Rome, but the draft may also have been written during Thorvaldsen’s month-long stay in Naples in February 1797 and addressed to someone there. Nor is it known who the said sister is.
Thiele I, p.112-113 suggests that the draft is a love note to Anna Maria Uhden, and although the text seems too formal, it might be the case, and she had a sister, but Thorvaldsen and Uhden probably did not start their relationship in 1797. This is most likely to have happened a year later, cf. Uhden’s biography.
However, Thorvaldsen has signed the letter “Alberto”, which he did very rarely, but it is found in his letter dated 26.8.[1805] to Anna Maria Uhden. In section 3 of this sheet he has even written “Carissima Amica” – a form of address which he used with Uhden, and which might have been intended as the address in this draft letter. It is worth noting that Thorvaldsen adopted the name Alberto so soon after his arrival in Italy. Regarding this, see the related article, Alberto or Bertel.

Last updated 21.08.2017