Bertel Thorvaldsen

Sender’s Location



Nicolai Abildgaard

Recipient’s Location


Information on recipient

Tilskrift: Til / Høistærende Hr Justidsraad / Abildgaard
Udskrift: A Monsieur / Monsieur N. Abildgaard / Professeur et Conseiller de / l’Academie des beaux arts / a / Copenhague. / Franco TrentoI.

Dating based on

Brevet er dateret med årstallet 1789, men dette er en fejlskrivning af Thorvaldsen. Af sammenhængen fremgår det utvetydigt, at året er 1799. Thiele, 1831, note 70. p. 155, angiver dog året som 1798, men dette beror ligeledes på en fejllæsning af sammenhængen.


Thorvaldsen thanks Abildgaard for his support. He tells him that many of the Roman art collections have been drained of masterpieces primarily by the French. Neapolitan troops have once again conquered Rome. Thorvaldsen wishes to remain in the city, but if the war continues, he will begin his journey back to Denmark in the spring of 1800. He will send a crate with art works to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as soon as possible. He inquires about the crate he sent in 1798 and offers to execute commissions for Abildgaard in Rome.


Rom d. 12de October 1789II

Høistærende Hr Justidsraad

Den 5d: October bekom ieg Brev fra min Fader af 20 MajIII, hvoraf ieg med stor Glæde seer at De befinder Dem frisk og velIV. Derres sædvanlige Godhed for mig og mit Vel, har paa nye Rørt mig, og de som min Velgiøre bliver altid en hellig errindring for mig saa lenge ieg lever. Jeg har ikke meget behageligt at ommælde, thi i al den tiid ieg her har tilbragt har ieg oplevet en Nyhed efter den anden, men ingen af dem til Konstens Fordel. Roms Tab har væet udhyre fra alle Sider, Museerne og Kirkerne er de beste Konst Verkker borte og Privat Gallerrierne som Corsini[,] Colonna[,] BorgheseV og andre har solt de beste af deres Malerrier. vem som har haft Penge nok i denne Tid har kundet kiøbt mange smukke Ting for got KiøbVI. men som di franske Comiserer var di eneste der havde Penge saa har de og været de eneste her har kiøbt. Vi har nu igen neapolitaniske TrupperVII som har taget Rom i Besiddelse og har i Gaar faaet Forsterning af RuserVIII. HvorIX Lykke har været at den franske GenneralX overgav sig paa CapitolasionXI saa det hidentil er gaaet Rolig og Stille af, Di franske har efterladt alt Hvad de havde indpakket af Villa AlbaniXII hvis Bestemmelse man endnu ikke ved. Jeg har saa ofte bedraget mig i mit Haab om beder Tiider, at ieg ogsaa nu da Tingene synes at tage en fordelagtigere Venning frygter for nye Forandringer, og ikke vover at giøre Reigning paa fortvarende Roligheder; Derfor saa meget ieg end ønskede at kunde blive her og nyde i Fred Hvad endnu er bleven tilbage, saa agter ieg dog at indrette mig saaledes at ieg ifald omstendighederne skulde medføre det i Foraaret at kunde tiltrede Hiemreisen, hvis angaaende ieg ogsaa har melt i mit BrevXIII som ieg i Dag sender til Academiet. Jeg tør vente af JustidsRaadens Venskab at De vil meddele mig Deres mening og RaadXIV herover, og i alle Fælde befordre mit Beste ved Academiet. Jeg har indpakke det af mit Abeide som ieg agter at skikke til AcademietXV med første Leilighed, ieg troer at det nu skulde være lettere at skikke noget herfra end som før, da vi nu er i Fred med Engelænder[ne]XVI. Den CasseXVII som ieg sende forrige sommer Me[n?] har ieg ingen efterretning haft om siden den gik fra LevorneXVIII. Dersom at Justidsraaden har noget som De vil have besørget her saa beder ieg at De vil være saa god at lade mig vide det, saa skal ieg med stor Fornøelse besørge det –

Deres underdanigst Tiener
B. Thorvaldsen

[påskrevetXIX for oven med Abildgaards hånd:]
3, 5 og 6 Deel af Museum ClementinumXX.
nogle MedaillerXXI for 10r
eller hvad andet der maatte forekomme Dem for got Kiøb, et 50rd maa De disponere overXXII som ieg kan
sende Dem naar De har forladt Rom paa Hiemreisen.
et lille Malerie efter en klassisk Mester eller et antikt Hoved, en Figur i Bronce etc. etc: –

[påskrevet i margen på brevets første side med Abildgaards hånd:]
RaphaelXXIII i Marmore

[påskrevet i margen på brevets sidste side med Thorvaldsens hånd:]

Oversættelse af dokument

Rome, October 12th 1789

Dear Sir, Counsellor.

October 5th I received a letter from my father of May 20th from which I see with great pleasure that you are well and healthy. Your usual kindness to me and my welfare has touched me afresh and you as my benefactor will always be a sacred memory to me as long as I live. I do not have many pleasant things to touch on, as I have experienced many pieces of news during the time I have stayed here, but none to the benefit of art. Rome has suffered heavily on all parts, the best works of art are gone from the museums and churches and the private galleries such as Corsini, Colonna, Borghese and others have sold the best of their paintings. Those who have had enough money these days have had the possibility to purchase many beautiful things cheaply. But as the French commissaries were the only ones who had money they were the only ones who bought. Once more we have Neapolitan troops which have taken possession of Rome and yesterday Russians came as reinforcement. It has been our good fortune that the French general surrendered and it has proceeded quietly and peacefully. The French have left everything which they had packed up from Villa Albani the destiny of which is still unknown. Very often I have deceived myself in the hope for better times so that now when things seem to take a more favourable turn I fear new changes and do not dare to count on permanent peace. So as much as I would like to stay here and peacefully enjoy what has been left, I still intend to organize matters so that if circumstances demand it I shall be able to start my journey home in spring, which matter I also have announced in my letter which today I send to the Academy. I dare expect from the Counsellor’s friendship that you will tell me your opinion and advice as regards this matter and in any case will do the best for me at the Academy. I have packed up the samples of my work which I intend to send to the Academy at the first opportunity. I think that it is now easier to send things from this place than earlier, as we now are at peace with the English. The crate I sent the summer before last I have had no information about since it left Leghorn. In case the Counsellor wants me to do something for you here I ask you to let me know and I shall with pleasure carry it out.

Your humble servant,
B. Thorvaldsen

[written at the top in Mr Abildgaard’s writing:]
3, 5, and 6 volumes of Museum Clementinum
Some medals for 10 rix-dollars
Or what else might seem to you a good bargain.
You may have 50 rix-dollars at your disposal which I can
send to you when you have left Rome on your journey home,
a small painting after a classical master or an antique head, a figure of bronze etc., etc.

[written in the margin on the first page of the letter in Mr Abildgaard’s hand]
Raphael, marble

[written in the margin on the last page of the letter in Thorvaldsen’s hand]

[Translated by Karen Husum]

Document Type

Færdigt egenhændigt dokument

Archival Reference

Håndskriftafdelingen, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, NKS 2337, 2º.


Gengivet hos Thiele I, p. 143-145, og et uddrag gengivet i Thiele, 1831, note 70. p. 155.




A751 Homer, 1799, inv.nr. A751
A208 A.P. Bernstorff, 1797, inv.nr. A208
A1 Bacchus og Ariadne, 1798, inv.nr. A1
A225 Tyge Rothe, 1797, inv.nr. A225


  1. Dvs. Franco Trento, hvilket ville sige, at portoen var betalt indtil grænsebyen Trento beliggende i provinsen Trentino i det nuværende Norditalien syd for Brennerpasset.

  2. The year is a slip of Thorvaldsen’s pen; it should be 1799 as is evident from the context, see i.e. the reference to Gotskalk Thorvaldsens letter of 20.5.1799.

  3. See Gotskalk Thorvaldsen’s letter of 20.5.1799.
    Thorvaldsen received his father’s letter around 4½ months after it was sent from Copenhagen, which was clearly an unusually long time and shows that postal services were very slow in war-torn Europe, see the related article about Mail Processing Time.

  4. The first sentence of the letter is reminiscent of the introduction to the letter from his father, which reads: “With great pleasure I have received your loving letter dated the 29th of March, from which I learn that you are well and healthy.”
    Thorvaldsen seems to have used his father’s words as an introduction to his own letter to Abildgaard.

  5. Galleria Corsini is in Palazzo Corsini on the Tiber, where Queen Christina of Sweden lived in the 17th century. The palace later came into the possession of the Corsinis, where it remained until it was acquired by the Italian state in 1883. The collection is now called Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Corsini. The core of the gallery remains the Corsini collection of old paintings, but this has subsequently been added to. Galleria Colonna is in Palazzo Colonna, Piazza SS. Apostoli. The collections of especially paintings are still in the possession of the Colonna family.
    In Thorvaldsen’s time, the Borghese family’s collection of paintings was in Palazzo Borghese on the Tiber, and not until 1891 was the collection transferred to the family’s summer palace in the Villa Borghese / the Villa Borghese gardens, where the collection of sculptures has always been.
    Prince Camillo Borghese, who was married to Napoleons sister Paolina, sold a number of the most famous antiques to the Louvre in 1807, but the collection was later reconstructed, and new acquisitions were added. In 1902 everything was acquired by the Italian state.
    Regarding art collections in Rome ca. 1800, see also Louis Bobé: Frederikke Brun, født Münter, og hendes Kreds, hjemme og ude, Copenhagen 1910, p. 101-107.

  6. As early as 1797, the writer Friederike Brun in Denmark had pointed out the possibility of exploiting the troubled times by acquiring Roman art treasures at low prices. She called on rich Danes to initiate a national subscription concerning the acquisition of important paintings and antique sculptures in Rome. Brun’s initiative, however, did not succeed.
    Later, in 1800, she repeated her call in Prosaischen Schriften, Copenhagen 1800, p. 285-286, again without result. Among other things she wrote: “Why do we not invoke the law of salvage by pulling the precious pieces of wreckage from Southern Europe on to our shores?” See Louis Bobé: Frederikke Brun, Copenhagen 1910, p. 100-101.

  7. The French and the Neapolitans were fighting intensely for control of Rome in 1798-99. On 10.2.1798, Rome was captured by the French under General Berthier (1753-1815), but the Republican French were driven away by the Royalist Neapolitans, and on 29.11.1798 King Ferdinand I of Naples entered Rome. However, in December 1798 the Neapolitans were again driven away by the French under General Championnet (1762-1800), but on 27.9.1799 the French had to surrender to the Neapolitans, who entered the city on 30.9.1799 shortly before Thorvaldsen wrote this letter.

  8. It is not completely clear what Russian troops had arrived in Rome “yesterday”, i.e. 11.10.1799. In the spring of 1799, a Russo-Austrian army under General Aleksander Suvorov (1729/30-1800) advanced into Northern Italy, but it moved into Switzerland at the end of that year. Other Russian army units under Admiral Voinovitch took part in the siege of Ancona in November 1799. Troops from some of these armies may have been in Rome, but Thorvaldsen may also have heard a false rumour.

  9. Dvs. Vor Lykke…

  10. The French general was Pierre Garnier (1755-1809), who had been commandant of Rome since May 1799.

  11. Dvs. kapitulation.

  12. Villa outside Porta Salara, built by Cardinal Allessandro Albani (1692-1779), who patronized the neoclassical art critic par excellence, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768). The house had a large collection of antiques, catalogued by Winckelmann, part of which was taken by the French in 1798-99.
    Since 1866, the Villa Albani has been owned by the princely family of Torlonia.

  13. Letter of 12.10.1799 from Thorvaldsen to the Academy of Fine Arts.

  14. Abildgaard’s answer to this request was very liberal: In his letter of 3.12.1799 he leaves the decision about the length of Thorvaldsen’s stay in Rome to the sculptor himself:”… let me know how you live, how long you intend to stay in Rome …”

  15. According to a letter of 12.10.1799 from Thorvaldsen to the Academy of Fine Arts the works were: a copy of Pollux, one of the Dioscuri, in half size and the marble busts of Homer, A751, and A.P. Bernstorff (Brahetrolleborg). Thise works were sent to Leghorn in order to be shipped to Copenhagen in the spring of 1800, but they were not sent until 1802, see related article.

  16. After the Neapolitans had been driven out from Rome and the Papal States by the French, the English no longer blockaded the ports.

  17. The crate containing, among other things, Bacchus and Ariadne, A1 and the bust of Tyge Rothe, A225. In a letter of 30.6.1798, Thorvaldsen informed the Academy of Fine Arts that the crate had been sent, but for various reasons the matter was not dealt with until 30.9.1799, see the related article about Transportation of Crates.
    In the margin of the letter Thorvaldsen has written the mark (MIC / #J) which had been put on the crate as was the custom when forwarding goods. The J may stand for the shipping business of Jaume & Schwarz in Leghorn, which Thorvaldsen used in 1800 when he sent more crates to Denmark.

  18. Dvs. Livorno.

  19. The text fragment is a draft of the letter of 3.12.1799 from Abildgaard, in which he asks Thorvaldsen to get some of the objects mentioned.

  20. Three volumes of the catalogue of the part of the Vatican collections in the so-called Museo Pio-Clementino, established by Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799). The title of the catalogue is: Il Museo Pio-Clementino, descritto da Giambattista e Ennio Qvirino Visconti, T. I-VI, Roma 1782-96, (copy in Thorvaldsens Museum, M134).
    Abildgaard asked for the three volumes in the letter of 3.12.1799.

  21. See letter of 3.12.1799 from Abildgaard, in which he asks Thorvaldsen to buy “some medals, preferably Greek”.

  22. See letter of 3.12.1799 from Abildgaard, in which he asks Thorvaldsen to buy the above-mentioned medals “or something else which you think I would like, then you may have 50 rix-dollars at your disposal”.

  23. This must be taken to mean a bust of Raphael in marble by the sculptor Pietro Paolo Naldini/Baldini (ca. 1605-1650), which stood on the painter’s tomb in the Pantheon at that time, see letter of 3.12.1799 from Abildgaard, in which he asks Thorvaldsen to execute the busts of Raphael, A752 and Homer, A751 instead of the above-mentioned small painting, the antique head or the bronze figure.

  24. In the margin at the end of the letter Thorvaldsen has written the letters MIC / #J. This must be the identification mark which had been put on the crate as was the custom when forwarding goods.
    The J may stand for the shipping business of Jaume & Schwarz in Leghorn, which Thorvaldsen used in 1800 when he sent more crates to Denmark, see the related article about Transportation of Crates.

Last updated 05.03.2015