The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Comment on Jason and the Hope Commission

It is evident that Thiele (at Thiele I, p. 165) read Thorvaldsen’s message to the Academy as implying that the clay model would soon fall apart, i.e., in the future—perhaps as a product of his view that its destruction only occurred as late as 1802. An entirely different explanation of the clay model’s demise, meanwhile, is found in Wilhelm Schadow’s memoir, op. cit. p. 70. Here it is claimed that the clay model fell apart because Thorvaldsen had insisted that he himself craft its underlying iron structure—which then turned out not to be strong enough. However, no other extant reports support this account. Schadow first arrived in Rome in 1810, and so the information that he provides in this case is not based on first-hand knowledge. Accordingly, Schadow’s narrative should probably not be regarded as reliable, especially since we can rely on Zoëga’s report on the arts—a contemporary document—to support an alternative account.

Nor are purely practical considerations of help in specifying the date of the model’s destruction more precisely. Regular replacement of wet cloths around the clay model would have made it possible to preserve it unchanged for a very, very long time. The only “danger” would have been mold growth; but that would not have affected the shape. As an alternative, the model could have been dried slowly, which would have confined the damage to small areas; but it cannot be determined whether Thorvaldsen’s workshop was a suitable site for controlled drying of this sort. The most likely method of preserving the model, therefore, is the use of wet cloths mentioned previously. Many thanks to curator Tobias Sørensen, Fælleskonserveringen, Kronborg Castle, Elsinore, for sharing his expertise on these matters.

Last updated 21.12.2014