4th December 1841
My dear Mrs Sandbach,
Your letter containing the corrected ode on Thorvaldsen’s return to Rome came in time as I had not given him the first one. Many thanks for your dear letter. On Sunday morning I doubled up the ode and placed it in your little volume of poems. I then went to Thorvaldsen, not having seen him for weeks. He was ill, after waiting a little I was told by the maid to proceed on. I never saw a servant maid there before. As I went through the rooms I observed order and cleanliness which I never saw before. The Baroness met me, Thorvaldsen’s countrywoman who had come from Copenhagen with him. He had brought her to my studio and she welcomed me gladly and conducted me to his bedroom where she sat at her needlework. ‘Ha I am so glad to see you,’ said he giving me both hands. Nothing could be more benign. We sat down three together. The Baroness, the old Cavaliere, and myself.
There was not only reform in all the rooms but the old man himself was made new as to his appearance, a new green velvet cap beautifully worked and ornamented, a superb gown, Turkish slippers, his large person strong deep expression his silvery hair his glittering gold earrings, he looked like a Grandee of Persia. No longer the careless clay bedauber. Thorvaldsen in the mist of confession. What meddling creatures women are thought I. Gibson said he, ‘I am ill, and these doctors torment my life, no patience with them, now illness comes upon me, ha its old age.’ He drooped his head, closed his fist, compressed his lips and there was a dead silence. Said I, ‘Cavaliere, during your absence I had the pleasure of bringing to your studio a patron of mine with his lady. She is a poetess and a great admirer of your works. My Hunter is for him and she wrote this ode on your return to Rome.’ I present it to you, ‘she does not think it worthy but I hope you will give it a place among your papers.’ The Baroness said it is in English and instantly got it out of his hand and to my surprise began to read it and after reading on, said ‘O Thorvaldsen, I will translate all this poetry into our language’ and I said, ‘she has written verses upon his Christ, here they are’ and gave her the little book and she read at her leisure. He was very silent, and I said, ‘my friend is pretty.’ He smiled and said, ‘Bella?’ ‘Bellina’ said I. The Baroness laughed and said ‘Truly there is beauty in the poetry.’ I did not dare to say that you are young because the Baroness is fifty me thinks. She speaks French and Italian very well and is very rich and has taken a sort of enthusiastic attachment to Thorvaldsen and is with him ever and everywhere. Her husband is here but I have not seen him. It was at her villa Thorvaldsen designed and modelled several works for his King during the three years he was absent. He is entirely now under the power of this lady, she writes all his letters, attends to all his notes, regulates all his domestic affairs. They say here he will not be able to live without her and I am very sorry to tell you what she said to Mr Benjamin the other day – that she returns with Thorvaldsen to Copenhagen never more to return to Rome, that the King sends two frigates for all his works in the studio. If it had not been for this lady he would have ended his days at Rome among his enemies and friends.
It is ten days since I saw him and last night I had the pleasure of meeting him at dinner at Lady Braye’s, recovered pretty well. I said I hope you will never go back to your own country but spend your life at Rome among us. He drooped his head and did not say one word.
The Hope is going on for you in marble and the marble is very beautiful. You wanted a cast from some bassorilievo of Thorvaldsen. Tell me the size and leave the choice to me. You must answer this, well what are you about, tormenting the soul. I must tell you what I am doing, modelling a sketch in clay for a new statue. If it should please me I shall put it into execution and you shall have the first offer. It is a subject that no sculptor here has done nor have I ever seen a statue of it. It is Aurora young and lovely. I represent her stepping from the waves of the sea upon the earth, one foot on the wave and the other on the flowers which do not bend with the weight of her ‘The dew loves the flower and does not oppress them.’ In her right hand is a vase out of which she pours the dew which she has collected from the sea and in the other she holds a young rose, ‘the rosy fingered morn’ with roses in her hand says Virgil and you see a star upon her head. I have been working some time at the corrected model of Celestial Love rescuing the Soul and it is now ready finished and gives so much pleasure to people. Thank you very much for the description of the Loves. Here is an idea which has come into my head for a bassorilievo, Venus reproving Cupid for running after Fortune. The sculptor should always express much in a little, and be clear and beautiful. Will this be so think you? Here is the Goddess of Love, here is Cupid and here is the Goddess Fortune with her attributes. My material is all beautiful and understood and the truth of the subject is felt by everyone.
I never told you that I modelled Miss Albano. I keep somethings from your knowledge, don’t I. I will write verses upon her portrait that I will.
Will you remember me kindly to Colonel d’Aguilar and tell him that his son gave me some hope that he might come here. I do not ask you to send me your lines on his picture, but I am very much pleased that you intend to write out more bits for me. You must say something kind to me in your next, a kind word from you makes me feel happy and convinces me that you do not forget me. Pardon my jealous disposition will you. Mr Wyatt is pleased with your letter about his statue. Tell me when Mrs Lawrence has seen it and Crouchley. If Mr Earle’s monument is put up go and see it. Last night at Lady Brayes I heard of the death of Lady Durham at Geneva on her way here. I made the Flora for them. I have sent a message to McCracken to know why the book you sent has not yet come. Remember me kindly to Mr Sandbach. Does he still allow you to ride Prince. Many circumstances and absence from Rome has prevented Claudia from seeng one of the members of the Arcadia to ask for the regulations you mention, but those regulations are only for the resident members. My heart says many affectionate things to you, I feel it, you hear it not, be good and write soon. Affectionately yours John Gibson