Bertel Thorvaldsen

Sender’s Location



Herman Schubart

Recipient’s Location


Dating based on

Dateringen fremgår af Herman Schubarts svarbrev af 28.12.1804.


Thorvaldsen apologizes for his late answer to Schubart’s letter. He thanks him for the commission of Baptismal Font, cf. A555,1. He has almost finished the modelling of Bacchus, cf. A2, and Ganymede Offering the Cup, cf. A41, is currently being carved in marble. He wants to produce a relief of The Contention of Agamemnon and Achilles and a colossal statue of Diomedes. He understands that the portrait busts of the Schubarts, A718 and A719, cannot be sent to Rome at the moment. He asks for the measurements of his relief The Dance of the Muses on Helicon, cf. A705, with a view to having it carved in marble. His health is tolerable. He mentions that he has received payment for the commission to Irina Vorontsova.


Derre kiæ[r]komde[?] brev af 26 NovenberI ser jeg De ikke har bekkomet mit siste Skrivel

Af Deres kiære Brev d 26 Nov[e]mber seer jeg Deres Excellenza ikke har bekommet mit SvarII som jeg har skrevet Postdag derefter det er mig ikke mulig at opfy[l]de min Skyldi[g]hed og Pligt at besvare Dem samme Dag da jeg bekommer Brevene saa sildig saa stor en Heldt som jeg endog er i at skriveIII.
Med stor Glæde imodtog [jeg] det arbejdeIV som Deres Søster Grevinde S[c]him[me]lmannV har den Godhed for mig at jeg maa forferdig[e] men ønskede at have den fornøielse at tale med Deres Excellenza da jeg behøver Deres Raad føren jeg kan giøre en udført te[g]ning og skikk[er] hermed dette lidet UdkastVI imedens
Jeg kan ikke beskrive hvo[r] undt det giør mig at Deres Excellenza maa opholde Dem ennu denne aar[s]tiid paa MonteneroVII med Deres Sygelige GemalindeVIII og tillige saa endsomt[.] maaIX jeg veste Deres Excellenze maatte blevX vinteren over saa vilde jeg med fornøielse komme til Dem og arbejde hos DemXI
Jeg er nu snart ferdig med at modelere en BachusXII af samme størrelse som min GanimedXIII der nu kryber ud af MarmoretXIV og har Componert endel Bareier[?]XV som jeg agter at udføre besynde[r]lig et BarellieXVI som forestiller StridenXVII imellem agamemXVIII og alkiles der vilde dræbe ham agamXIX men bliver tilbageholdt af Minerva[,] jeg har her leælighedXX til at vise alle Grekenlands fø[r]ste EroiXXI som var i denne forsamling[,] tillig tenker [jeg] paa at modellere en DiomedesXXII som bortfører Paladium fra Troja samme størrelse som min JasonXXIII. Dersom min Helsen tillader det saa [tænker] jeg at arbejde meget[,] min Helbred er Gudskelov temlig god jeg har igen føelt nogen LivsmerteXXIV og Rider nu en Halv Time hver Dag paa Rideskolen som giør mig godt
at BysterneXXV ikke kan komme hertilXXVI for det første begriber jeg meget vel, og ønskede kun at Deres Excellenze samt Deres Gode Gemalinde var her saa kunde Busterne snart giøres igienXXVII. jeg beder saa omtrendt størrelsen om hvor mange Romerske PalmerXXVIII mit BasireffXXIX langt og bredt da her er et smuk stykke marmor som jeg synes kunde være passende[.] med min VexelXXX har det ingen Hast[,] jeg var først da jeg kom her i Forlegenhed for Penge da TorloniaXXXI ikke vilde udbetale mine for Grevinde VorentzowffXXXII men nu har han faaet BrevXXXIII fra hende og jeg er betaldt og er en Riemand af 400 og 25 Piastre

Oversættelse af dokument

From your welcome [?] letter of November 26th I see that you have not received my last letter

From your dear letter November 26th I see that Your Excellency has not received my answer which I wrote the next mail day it is not possible for me to fulfil my duty and obligation to answer you the same day as I receive the letters so late, so great a hero I even am at writing.
With great pleasure did [I] accept the work which your sister Countess Schimmelmann has the kindness for me to allow me to make but i wished to have the pleasure of speaking to Your Excellency as I need your advice before I can make an executed drawing and herby I send this small sketch in the meantime
I cannot describe how sorry I feel that Your Excellency still at this time of the year has to stay at Montenero with your invalid wife and besides so lonesome. If I knew that Your Excellency had to stay over the winter I should come to you with pleasure and work at your place
I shall soon have finished modelling a Bacchus of the same size as my Ganymede now crawling out of the marble and have composed some bas-reliefs which I intend to execute especially one bas-relief which represents the strife between Agamemnon and Archilles who wanted to kill him Agamemnon but is detained by Minerva, here I have the opportunity to display all the first heroes of Greece who were in this assembly, furthermore I am thinking of modelling a Diomedes who carries off Paladium from Troy the same size as my Jason. If my health permits me, I think I shall work a lot, my health is thank goodness rather good I have again felt some pain in my abdomen and am now riding for half an hour every day at the riding school it does me good.
I understand very well that the busts cannot come here for the time being and only wished that Your Excellency as well as your kind wife were here then I could soon remake the busts. I ask the approximate size of how many Roman palms my bas-relief is long and wide as here is a slab of beautiful marble which I think might be suitable. There is no hurry with my bill. At first when I came here I was in trouble for money as Mr Torlonia would not pay me for Countess Vorontsova, but he has now received a letter from her and I have been paid and am a rich man of 400 and 25 piastre

[Translated by Karen Husum]

General Comment

This sheet of paper has served several purposes. In order to understand the mutual relation and chronology of the individual parts, they will here be dealt with together.
The sheet contains five parts on both sides:

In order to establish the sequence in which the paper has been used, Camillo Buti’s bill of 22.11 is the original document and the natural starting point.
It then seems reasonable to assume that the two sketches for Baptismal Font constitute the next step in the use of the sheet because the pencil drawings are under the ink, and because Thorvaldsen was not likely to have drawn on a piece of paper which he had already filled with writing as it would have been difficult to get a sense of the drawing. See more about the commission in The Baptismal Font for Brahetrolleborg Church.

Sketches for the Baptismal Font
Two pencil sketches for Baptismal Font, cf. A555,1, excerpt of the sheet with various drafts.

Draft of one or two letters?

Regarding the three drafts, Thiele I, p. 259-60 writes that they are drafts of two letters. The drafts dated 30.11.1804 were combined into one letter that was finished and sent off the same day – according to Thiele.
He then thinks that Thorvaldsen – after a week of reflection – discovered that he had not responded to the most important part of Schubart’s letter of 2.11.1804 and the friendly reminder of 26.11.1804, i.e. whether the sculptor accepted the commission for the baptismal font for Brahetrolleborg. Therefore Thorvaldsen sent another letter 7.12.1804, the date of which we know from Schubart’s reply of 28.12.1804, and of which the above is a draft.
This explanation, however, seems unlikely. It is also possible that Thorvaldsen did not send off a letter on 30.11.1804, based on his first drafts of that date but only sent one answer Schubart, i.e. that of 7.12.1804 based on a combination of the drafts of 30.11 and the above undated one.
This is also suggested by Schubart’s answer of 28.12.1804, in which he only mentions Thorvaldsen’s letter of 7.12.1804 and writes nothing about an earlier letter of 30.11.1804. And when you consider the contents of all the drafts and Schubart’s answer of 28.12.1804, there is nothing to indicate that Thiele’s assumption is correct.

The two pencil sketches for the baptismal font at Brahetrolleborg Church also suggest that the five drafts only resulted in one letter that was sent off. The baptismal font has been in Thorvaldsen’s mind as the first part of his planned answer to Schubart.

Therefore, it does not seem very likely that Thorvaldsen “…had forgotten to mention what his answer was really about, i.e. whether he would accept the commission for the baptismal font for Countess Schimmelmann.” (Thiele I, p. 260). It is more likely that Thorvaldsen’s answer was delayed, perhaps because of too much work or, rather, because of his well-known dislike of writing letters.

The chronology of the sheet.

Therefore, the sheet seems to have been filled in the following five stages as outlined in this picture of the two sides of the sheet of paper:

m28 nr. 19
The sequence of the sections of the sheet.

Although the matter cannot be determined with certainty, this explanation of the chronology of the bill, the pencil drawings, and the drafts seems the most likely.

Document Type

Egenhændigt udkast

Archival Reference

m28, nr. 19b


Gengivet hos Thiele I, p. 260-261.




A555 Døbefont, Kristi dåb, 1805-1807, inv.nr. A555,1
A555 Døbefont, Maria med Jesus og Johannes, 1805-1807, inv.nr. A555,2
A555 Døbefont, Tre svævende engle, 1805-1807, inv.nr. A555,3
A555 Døbefont, Kristus velsigner børnene, 1805-1807, inv.nr. A555,4
A2_ Bacchus, 1804, inv.nr. A2
A41 Ganymedes rækker skålen, 1804, inv.nr. A41
C22r Agamemnons strid med Achilleus, 1804, inv.nr. C22r
C23 Agamemnons strid med Achilleus. Døbefont, 1804, inv.nr. C23
A52 Jason med det gyldne skind, 1802-1803, inv.nr. A52
C7 Diomedes bortfører Palladiet, ca 1804, inv.nr. C7
C8r Diodemes med Palladiet og Odysseus. Døbefont (?), ca 1804, inv.nr. C8r
C13r Achilleus og Penthesilea. Diomedes med Palladiet og Odysseus. Amor. Omfale. Orion dør. Kriger kæmper mod Amazone, 1801-1817, inv.nr. C13r
C74 Prometheus og Minerva. Diomedes med Palladiet. Tempelfront, inv.nr. C74
C182v Diomedes med Palladiet og Odysseus. Amor og Psyche, ca 1804, inv.nr. C182v
C503v Bacchus. Diomedes med Palladiet. Hebe(?) , ca 1804, inv.nr. C503v
A718 Herman Schubart, 1804, inv.nr. A718
A719 Jacqueline Schubart, 1804, inv.nr. A719
A705 Musernes dans på Helikon, 1806, inv.nr. A705


  1. I.e. Schubart’s letter to Thorvaldsen of 26.11.1804.

  2. Thorvaldsen probably did not send any answer before 7.12.1804 – the date of this draft – and uses a white lie as an excuse, see the general comment for a closer discussion of this.

  3. As can be seen, Thorvaldsen is slightly self-ironic concerning his difficulties in committing anything to paper. His writing skills were impaired by his dyslexia, as is clearly shown in this draft.
    See more about this in Thorvaldsen’s Written and Spoken Language.

  4. I.e. the commission of Baptismal Font, cf. A555,1, A555,2, A555,3, A555,4, which Thorvaldsen received in letter of 2.11.1804.
    See more about this in the Baptismal Font for Brahetrolleborg Church.

  5. I.e. Schubart’s sister, the Danish salon hostess Charlotte Schimmelmann.

  6. This sketch is not known, but the two pencil sketches on this sheet under the draft of 30.11.1804 must give some idea of the sketch for Baptismal Font which was sent to Schubart 7.12.1804.
    The two pencil sketches can be seen in the general comment below.
    As can be seen, these early sketches for the baptismal font look very much like the finished work. Basically, there is also here a square pedestal with reliefs on the sides. In one pencil sketch we see the Baptism of Christ, which is very close to the finished relief, cf. A736. The only major difference between these pencil sketches and the finished baptismal font is the bowl on the top of the pedestal in the sketch.

  7. I.e. the Schubarts’ country house at Montenero, just south of Leghorn.
    When Thorvaldsen is sorry that the family was staying at Montenero, it is due both to the winter cold and to the fact that they had been prevented from going elsewhere because of a yellow fever which restricted people’s freedom of movement owing to the danger of infection, see more about this in Schubart’s letter of 26.11.1804.
    The cold at Montenero caused the Schubarts to move to nearby Pisa for the winter, see Schubart’s next letter of 28.12.1804.

  8. I.e. Jacqueline Schubart.

  9. Dvs. Naar.
    Ordfejlen er sandsynligvis et udslag af Thorvaldsens ordblindhed, se mere herom i Thorvaldsens tale- og skriftsprog.

  10. Dvs. blive.

  11. From July until September 1804, Thorvaldsen had stayed and worked at Montenero.

  12. I.e. Thorvaldsen’s Bacchus, A2, which was part of “Vorontsova’s Commission”:/artikler/vorontsovas-bestilling.

  13. I.e. Thorvaldsen’s Ganymede Offering the Cup, cf. A41 – also part of Vorontsova’s Commission.

  14. This marble version of Ganymede Offering the Cup was sent to Russia and has probably been lost, see more in “Vorontsova’s Commission”:/artikler/vorontsovas-bestilling.
    The marble version of the sculpture in the museum, A854, dates from the 1820s.

  15. The word has been corrected several times and is therefore difficult to decipher. This clearly shows the difficulties that the spelling of the word caused Thorvaldsen, but there is no doubt that he has wanted to write bas-reliefs.

  16. Dvs. Basrelief.
    Thiele I, p. 261 tyder ordet på samme vis.

  17. The relief that Thorvaldsen was planning was to depict the scene from The Iliad (Book 1, v. 197), in which Minerva is trying to prevent Achilles from killing Agamemnon.
    There are no known reliefs by Thorvaldsen, in which he depicts this scene, but there are two drawings of this subject, C22r and C23. There is no doubt that these two drawings are conceived as reliefs.

  18. Dvs. Agamemnon.

  19. Dvs. Agamemnon.

  20. Dvs. lejlighed.
    Stavningen synes her igen betinget af Thorvaldsens ordblindhed.

  21. Italiensk for helte, af eroe i ental.

  22. Diomedes is one of the Greek heroes in The Iliad. With Odysseus he stole the Palladium, the statue of Athena that protected the city of Troy.
    Thorvaldsen was never to model any statue of Diomedes, but among his drawings there are several sketches of the subject both with and without Odysseus, C7, C8r (here there is also a sketch for Baptismal Font), C13r, C74, C182v and C503v.

  23. I.e. Thorvaldsen’s statue Jason With the Golden Fleece, A52, which was a so-called colossal staue, 245,5 cm tall.

  24. Thorvaldsen is here referring to his illness in 1803-04. He suffered from constipation, which developed into hemorrhoids, and this passage is one of the few places where the illness is mentioned directly. See more about this in Thorvaldsen’s Illness 1803-04.
    As appears in the following sentence, it was apparently common to relieve the pains by riding.

  25. I.e. Thorvaldsen’s two colossal busts of Jacqueline and Herman Schubart.
    They were modelled during the sculptor’s stay at Montenero from July 1804.
    Both the original models and the later marble copies of the two busts are in Thorvaldsens Museum A718, A719, A219 and A220.

  26. Thorvaldsen and Schubart had arranged for the two plaster busts to be sent from Montenero to Rome so that they could be carved in marble.
    See Schubart’s letters of 2.11.1804 and 26.11.1804.

  27. This probably means that Thorvaldsen could model two new busts if the Schubarts were in Rome.
    Thiele I, p. 261 interprets this in the same way.

  28. 1 palmo is a Roman linear measure that corresponds to 0,223 m.
    See Weights and Measures.

  29. The relief is The Dance of the Muses on Helicon, cf. A705, the modelling of which Thorvaldsen completed at Montenero not later than 24.9.1804. Like the two busts mentioned above, the work was to be sent to Rome in order to be carved in marble, which is why Thorvaldsen goes on to asks the precise dimensions that would fit the marble slab that he had chosen for the purpose in Rome.

    Incidentally, it is quite paradoxical that Thorvaldsen had such difficulties spelling the word bas-relief as his reliefs are very often emphasized as his best works, and as he was later known under the flattering epithet of The Patriarch of the Bas-Relief, see the Subject Heading regarding this.

  30. It appears from the later correspondence that this bill concerned the so-called gratification of 300 rix-dollars that Thorvaldsen received 6.3.1804 from Fonden ad usus publicos in Copenhagen. The bill was to be drawn on the royal “Bank Comptoir” in Altona.
    Schubart had asked Thorvaldsen to send the bill in letter of 2.11.1804.
    They must have arranged for the sculptor to draw a bill on Schubart, who would then be able to collect the money at a favourable rate of exchange in Toscana.
    However, Thorvaldsen did not receive the money until January 1807, see more about this in The only Price I Charge.
    Regarding bills of exchange, see also the article about these.

  31. The Roman banker Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia.

  32. I.e. the Russian countess Irina Vorontsova, who had commissioned five marble statues from Thorvaldsen, and who therefore owed him money.
    See more about this in Vorontsova’s Commission.

  33. This letter from Irina Vorontsova to Torlonia, mentioned here by Thorvaldsen, is not known.
    However, the letter has undoubtedly authorized Torlonia to pay another instalment of Vorontsova’s commission, where each statue was to cost 400 scudi per figure, corresponding to the amount mentioned by Thorvaldsen in this letter. Scudi and piastres had approximately the same value, see Monetary Units.
    See also Thorvaldsen’s Works, Prices.

Last updated 15.07.2015