The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Thorvaldsens Museum – Decorations and Room Arrangement

  • Torben Melander,, 1998
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Torben Melander: ‘Thorvaldsen’s Museum – Decorations and Room Arrangement – A Sketch for a Programme’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1998, p. 98-110.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.


There is an initial reference to a sketch of plans and a cross section of a building complex identified as the Royal coach-house and its conversion into a Thorvaldsen Museum. The sketch is on the back of a cobbler’s account made out to Thorvaldsen and dated 21 January 1839 – i.e. a little less than a month after Frederik VI had donated the coach-house for use as the planned museum. Taken in context, the sketch is presumably the earliest known sketch for the future Thorvaldsens Museum. It is suggested that it stems from the Museum’s architect, M.G. Bindesbøll, the occasion being a visit to Thorvaldsen, during which Bindesbøll explained to him how it would be possible to adapt the building as a museum.

After this there is a consideration of some of the most important elements in the Museum’s decoration, the principal idea of which seems to be the motif of triumph. In the first place, there is Sonne’s frieze outside the building recalling Thorvaldsen’s homecoming on one side and the transport of works of art to the Museum on the other; finally accompanied by the pilastre capitals’ representation of the Sun and Moon, which appear to relate to each of the scenes in the main sections as they follow their course through the heavens. The scenes on both the frieze and the capitals draw on the close knowledge of the Parthenon on the Athens Acropolis which Bindesbøll achieved during his stay in Athens in 1835-36. From there we move to the entrance facade which is distinguished by depictions of Victory in the reliefs on the outer capitals and the sculptural group surmounting the building. Inside, the Victory motif continues in the entrance hall via the central section of the Alexander frieze with Alexander riding in a chariot driven by Victory/Nike, (in addition, the Alexander frieze can be seen as a completion – entirely in the way of the Parthenon – of Sonne’s frieze on the outer walls). After moving farther into the Museum under Thorvaldsens’ signs of the Zodiac (Scorpio against Sagittarius, 19 November), the triumph motif continues in the courtyard frieze’s portrayal of the putto who in 14 scenes is splendidly driving his team of two horses. It is proposed that the completion of the triumph sequence takes place on the Capitol, as Bindesbøll’s plan for the east end of the Museum with its three-cella structure is reminiscent of the Italic/Roman temple, here with an array respectively of Greek gods and heroes and a pantheon of artists on each side of the Christ Hall. In a perspective that is both pantheistic and Romantic, the grouping encompasses at once the pagan, the Christian and the humanist way of thinking. From this only the Christian element was left by the time the Museum opened in 1848, when the architect had definitively been removed from the project and Thorvaldsen himself had died a few years earlier.

Last updated 27.09.2018