The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Critical Reflections on Thorvalds Museum as a Sign

  • Hans Dam Christensen,, 1998
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Hans Dam Christensen: ‘Critical Reflections on Thorvalds Museum as a Sign’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1998, p. 148-155.

    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.


On the basis of a critical semiotic approach, this article aims primarily at a problematisation of how “Thorvaldsens Museum” as a sign cannot refer to what might be termed an essential “Thorvaldsens Museum-ness”. On the contrary, a sign has a signification according to the discourse in which it appears. Just as “Thorvaldsens Museum” does not exist as essence, neither does there exists an essential “Danishness”. Nevertheless, the quality of “Danishness” has been conferred on the Museum.

The article then points to a diversity in notions of national identity in order to discuss how the Museum and the artist Bertel Thorvaldsen are being “naturalised” as “Danish”, despite the fact that neither the Museum nor the artist corresponds to notion of “Danishness” in comparison with other phenomena normally considered to be “Danish”.

The blank quality of the sign means that over a period of time “Thorvaldsens Museum” has appeared in a range of discourses in which meanings concerning “Danishness” have been conferred on it. At the moment, the sign is – and always has been – used to legitimise the notion of an imagined community, a national identity, despite the fact that the sign is partly a product of this notion.

Last updated 11.05.2017