Nicolai Abildgaard

Sender’s Location


Information on sender

Under et stykke papir anes et laksegl og et stykke snor til at lukke det sammenfoldede brev.


Bertel Thorvaldsen

Recipient’s Location


Information on recipient

Udskrift: Til / Her Thorvaldsen / i / Rom

Dating based on

Dateringen fremgår af brevet.


Abildgaard is happy about Thorvaldsen’s success in Rome. He has received the busts Thorvaldsen sent to Copenhagen after they have been left outside for more than a year. He asks the price of the busts and wonders whether Thorvaldsen has any special plans for them. The busts are now in the care of Crown Prince Frederik (6.), to whom Abildgaard has suggested that Thorvaldsen should remain in Rome in order to work on the commissions he will receive for Christiansborg Palace.
 Abildgaard tells Thorvaldsen that his mother has died, and that he helps Thorvaldsen’s father as much as he can.


17de Jan 1804

Kiære Ven,
Uagtet ieg icke hører nogetI fra dem uden paa anden HaandII, saa kan ieg icke unlade at tilkiendegive dem den glæde ieg føler ved den fremgangIII de har giort, da ieg uforandret er deres oprigtige Ven.
De BüsterIV de har sendt mig, har ieg nu først faaen, men de ere bleven meget bedærvede af dybe Rust PletterV, da KassenVI har staaen under aaben Hemmel i 15 MaanderVII mig uafvidende. Tak for RaphaelVIII, som er mindre beskadiget end alle de andre. lad mig vide hvad ieg maa sælge de tilsendte Byster foreIX, eller om nogle af dem har Bestemmelse. ieg har forevist dem ved Hoffet, og de staa alle hos Kron PrindsenX og da man har besluttet at give dem Arbeide ved SlottetXI som nu skal bygges, har ieg foreslaven at man skulde lade Dem giøre dette Arbeide i Rom, som har funden biefald, lad mig nu vide om de ere dermed tilfreds, som ieg dog haaber, da her icke er et Menniske der kan arbeide i Marmor, saa De kunde være tient dermedXII.
Om de icke allerede veed det, vil ieg hermed lade Dem vide Deres Moder er død og begravenXIII for 14 dage siden, naar Deres FaderXIV trænger kommer han til mig og ieg giver ham den understøttelseXV ieg formaar, som ieg for fremtiden skal vedblive for Deres Skyld.
naar De skriver mig til vil ieg bede dem lade mig vide hvad en BüsteXVI som en af dem De har sendt kunde koste, med Marmor og Arbeidsløn for en god arbeider der giorde det under deres opsynXVII. NB. De maatte icke fortiene noget der ved da det er for mig selv, og ieg har icke raad at betale Dem som ieg gierne vilde. bliv saa lyckelig som ieg ønsker Dem der altid er Deres uforanderlig

Ven Abildgaard

Oversættelse af dokument

January 17th 1804

Dear friend,
Although I hear nothing from you except second hand, I cannot omit to let you know the pleasure I feel at the progress you have made, as I am still unchanged your true friend.
I have only just received the busts, which you have sent to me, but they have become much damaged from deep rust stains, as the crate has been left in the open for 15 months without my knowledge. Thank you for Raphael, which is less damaged than all the others. Please let me know for how much I may sell the busts sent to me, and if some of them have a destination. I have presented them at court and they are all with the Crown Prince. Since it has been decided to give you work at the Palace, which is now to be built, I have suggested that you should be allowed to execute this work in Rome, which has been approved. Now let me know if you are pleased with this, which I however hope, as here there is no person who can work in marble, so that it would be good enough for you.
If you do not already know about it, I shall hereby let you know that your mother is dead and buried, which took place a fortnight ago. When your father is in want he comes to me and I give him the support I am able to, and which I shall continue to do for your sake.
When you write to me, I want you to let me know what a bust might cost like one of those you have forwarded. With marble and wages for a good worker, who worked under your supervision. N.B. you must not make any profit by it, as it is for myself and I cannot afford to pay you as I should like to. May you be as happy as I wish for you, I who will ever be your true

friend Abildgaard

[Translated by Karen Husum]

General Comment

Abildgaard is not consistent in his use of capital D in the polite form of the second-person pronoun (De, Dem, Deres). The letter has been faithfully transcribed, cf. the Editorial Principles of this publication.

Archival Reference

m1 1804, nr. 1


Gengivet hos Thiele I, p. 209-210.




A759 Agrippa, 1799-1800, inv.nr. A759
A760 Cicero, 1799-1800, inv.nr. A760
A752 Rafael, 1800, inv.nr. A752
A208 A.P. Bernstorff, 1797, inv.nr. A208
A751 Homer, 1799, inv.nr. A751
A900 Edmund Bourke, 1800, inv.nr. A900


  1. Thorvaldsen’s last known letter to Abildgaard from 20.3.1802 was almost two years old. As Abildgaard’s remark about the missing correspondence indicates, it is most likely that there had been no correspondence between the two artists from 1802 until the time of this letter.
    Although Thorvaldsen was not the most diligent letter writer, it seems to have been Abildgaard who owed his pupil an answer to the letter dated 20.3.1802 even though it cannot be ruled out that letters from both may have been lost in the meantime; see, however, the list of the correspondence between the two artists in Abildgaard’s biography.
    Besides, a gap of two years between letters is not completely unususal considering the long distances in Europe and the slow and often uncertain postal services of the times. cf. the related articles On Letters and Writing and Mail Processing Time.

  2. It is not known who had informed Abildgaard of Thorvaldsen’s activities. He may have read about him in magazines and newspapers that already in 1803 had written about Thorvaldsen’s success with Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52, see e.g. Carl Ludwig Fernow: ‘Kunstnachrichten und neueste Literatur von Rom.’, in: Der Neue Teutsche Merkur, vol. II, 8. Stuck, August 1803, p. 312-319.
    Abildgaard had probably also received news about Thorvaldsen from other Danes in Rome, e.g. Georg Zoëga.

  3. Abildgaard is undoubtedly referring to the news about Thorvaldsen’s success with Jason, A52, cf. the previous note.

  4. Already in 1802, Thorvaldsen sent some crates to Abildgaard, see the letter dated 20.3.1802. The crates contained the following busts: A.P. Bernstorff (Brahetrolleborg, original plaster, A208), Homer, A751, Edmund Bourke, A900, Raphael, A752, two Cicero busts, A760 and A761, and Agrippa, A759, see the related article about Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen 1798 and 1802.

  5. The “deep rust stains” on most of the busts cannot be seen today. It is only possible to see faint traces of spots that might be rust on Agrippa, A759, and Cicero, A761.

  6. The crate that Abildgaard refers to here must be the so-called crate no. 5, which contained only busts, see the section 2nd Consignment 1800-02 in the related article about Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen 1798 and 1802.

  7. The busts reached Copenhagen on board the frigate Triton 10.12.1802, cf. T.A. Topsøe-Jensen & Emil Marquard: Officerer i Den Dansk-Norske Søetat 1814-1932, Copenhagen 1935, vol. I, p. 98. However, the busts did not remain for 15 months at the Custom House, as Abildgaard writes. According to a letter dated 21.1.1804 from Herman Schubart to Thorvaldsen, they had already been placed on 15.12.1803 at the residence of Crown Prince Frederik (6.), as Abildgaard mentions below.
    So, Abildgaard exaggerates the length of time the busts remained at the Custom House, nor is it entirely correct that “…I have only just received …” news of their arrival. Already a month before the date of this letter, he must have had the busts in his care in order to be able to send them to the Palace.
    Abildgaard may exaggerate a little in order to hide that he had actually been informed of the arrival of the busts at the Custom House earlier but had not had time to take care of them?

  8. Thorvaldsen’s marble copy of a bust of Raphael, the Renaissance painter, executed by the sculptor Pietro Paolo Baldini (also known as Naldini, ca. 1605-1650). In 1674, the original was placed on Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon, also known as la Rotonda. Together with the other busts in the Pantheon, the bust was moved to the Capitol in 1820, and the collection was named La Protomoteca Capitolina, the Capitoline portrait galleri. See Cataloghi dei Musei comunali di Roma, V, La Protomoteca Capitolina, Rome 1955, p. 11-12, 80. Thorvaldsen’s copy of the bust was acquired at the auction in 1850 after Abildgaard’s widow and is now in Thorvaldsens Museum, A752.

  9. Dvs. en ældre stavemåde af præpositionen og adverbiet for, jf. Ordbog over det danske Sprog.

  10. I.e. the Crown Prince Frederik (6.), who was the de facto ruler of the country. As mentioned in the note above, the busts were placed at the residence of the Crown Prince not later than the middle of December 1803.
    Displaying the busts in the most prestigious quarters was part of the plans to promote Thorvaldsen in Denmark not only in order to get him commissions but also to endorse his continued stay in Rome, as appears indirectly below. See also the related article about “Thorvaldsen’s Continuance in Rome”:/artikler/thorvaldsens-forbliven-i-rom-1803-04.

  11. I.e. Christiansborg Palace that was being rebuilt after the fire in 1794. The plans for this had just been approved in 1803. Regarding Thorvaldsen’s planned and executed works for the palace, see the “related article”:/artikler/bestillingen-til-christiansborg about this.

  12. Thorvaldsen’s inability to find sufficiently qualified marble carvers in Copenhagen became one of the arguments of the Danish Government to permit Thorvaldsen to remain in Rome although, as a recipient of a scholarship from the Academy of Fine Arts, he was really obliged to return and enter the service of the State/King. See more about this in the related article about Thorvaldsen’s Continuance in Rome.

  13. Thorvaldsen’s mother, Karen Thorvaldsen died 7.1.1804 and was buried in Nikolaj Churchyard in Copenhagen, see her biography for more about this.
    Thorvaldsen met Abildgaard’s news about her death with silence in his answer dated 25.2.1804.
    At first he tried to describe the strong impression his mother’s death made on him in a draft letter to Abildgaard some months later, dated
    6.8.1804: “I formerly received the letter which Your Honour has honoured me with and whose contents were so much more painful to me as I at once and without being prepared in any way had to learn about the death of my beloved mother. You informed me about this sad piece of news in few words, and God knows how painful it was to me. I am, however, completely convinced that Your Honour did not mean to cast me down to such a degree by the few lines you wrote to me.”
    However, in the final version dated 6.8.1804 to Abildgaard, the matter was not mentioned, so Thorvaldsen obviously found it difficult to tell Abildgaard about his grief.
    Thiele I, p. 209, thinks that Abildgaard’s news about the mother’s death was conveyed in ”a very rough and indifferent manner”, which aroused a “feeling of bitterness” in Thorvaldsen, but the question is what Abildgaard could have written to soften the harshness of the news. Thiele continues on p. 210: “At the time Thorvaldsen hid his ill-will towards Abildgaard because of this letter [dated 17.1.1804] as well as he could by not mentioning his mother’s death at all in the letter [dated 25.2.1804] that he then wrote to him…” Whether one is to understand Thorvaldsen’s silence as ill-will towards Abildgaard or not, it is still a fact that the sculptor suppressed his reaction both in his first letter dated 25.2.1804 and also in the second one less than six months later.

  14. Gotskalk Thorvaldsen.

  15. Thorvaldsen’s father did, on some occasions, receive financial support from Abildgaard. In his letter dated 20.10.1805, the father wrote “When your mother was ill, Abelg: twice gave me 5 rd which I spent on her care.” And: Abildgaard “…gave me 10 rd to help pay for your mother’s funeral.”
    As Abildgaard promises below, he also proved generous to Gotskalk Thorvaldsen later: When the latter was admitted to Vartov, he received 15 rix-dollars for bedding from the sculptor’s old teacher, see again the letter dated 20.10.1805.

  16. I.e. like one of the above-mentioned busts that were copies after antiques. Regarding the price of a bust on the favourable terms that Abildgaard asks for below, Thorvaldsen answers in his letter dated 25.2.1804: “A bust of the size like the ones I have sent will cost about 30-40 Piastres.” Thorvaldsen normally charged 40-60 scudi for a bust after an antique, see e.g. the related article Ropp’s Commission 1804-05. One scudo was roughly equivalent to one piastre, cf. the Monetary Units møntenheder, of the time, so the price Thorvaldsen gave Abildgaard included a substantial reduction. See also the related article Thorvaldsen’s Works, Fixing Prices.

  17. Abildgaard’s suggestion that a marble carver work under Thorvaldsen’s supervision instead of asking Thorvaldsen to execute the bust himself must be understood to mean that this was normal practice for works in marble: The sculptor did the modelling of the bust in clay while the rest of the process was largely left to assistants in the workshop. Usually, however, Thorvaldsen would undertake the final treatment of the marble. Regarding this, see the related article
    Thorvaldsen’s Workshop Practice.

Last updated 22.01.2018