Jason and the Hope Commission

  • Kira Kofoed, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 2009
  • Translation by David Possen
  • This article describes the production of Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52, Thomas Hope’s commission of the statue in marble, A822, and the twenty-five years it took to deliver the statue. After recounting these events in detail, an attempt is made to reconstruct the causes of Thorvaldsen’s long delay in completing and delivering the statue. The article closes by presenting a series of selected primary sources relevant to the history of Jason.


Jason with the Golden Fleece was Thorvaldsen’s breakthrough work as a sculptor. It accordingly enjoys a special status: in what is already a voluminous literature on Thorvaldsen, Jason is one of the works that is written about most. As a result, the history of the statue has come to be mythologized by its narrators over time—mythologized nearly as much as the ancient legend of Jason itself. The aim of the present article is to peel off as many mythological layers as possible from Jason’s history, and instead set forth what is known of references to the statue by its contemporaries, from Thorvaldsen’s own first mention of the Jason motif, in 1800, to the delivery of the completed statue to his client twenty-eight years later. In what follows, the most significant of these statements are reviewed and assessed, and a possible explanation is offered for why it took Thorvaldsen so long to complete the statue.

It is important to emphasize that this article does not presume to supply the final or “true” account of Jason’s origins. What it does provide is a survey and evaluation of the major extant sources, making some progress possible in the effort to wrest Jason out of the mists of myth. It cannot be ruled out, however, that new material might one day be discovered that will necessitate that details of this account, or indeed larger portions of it, be rewritten or dated more precisely.

Readers should thus be prepared for an unusually detailed presentation of the history of Jason. For those who simply seek an overview, it is recommended to start with the introductory summary below, and then skip directly to the conclusion.

Summary: Thorvaldsen’s rise to fame, Thomas Hope’s commission, and the 25-year delay

In the spring of 1803, Thorvaldsen was readying himself to leave Rome and return to a less than encouraging future back in Copenhagen. Thorvaldsen’s travel grant from the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen had expired, and he was now required to return home to serve King and country. Twice by then, the sculptor had attempted to prove his ability by completing large clay models of the mythological hero Jason; but no buyer had yet appeared.

At almost the very last minute, the British-Dutch art collector Thomas Hope commissioned Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52, in marble, A822. The immediate consequence of this was to permit Thorvaldsen to extend his stay in Rome, then capital of the art world. In the longer term, the Hope commission also played a role in giving the sculptor the confidence to defy completely his obligation to work exclusively in and for Denmark. Despite this, however, Hope would have to wait for twenty-five years, and dun Thorvaldsen repeatedly, before the statue was finally completed.

In the year 1800-1801, Thorvaldsen had already produced an early clay model of Jason in life size or heroic size. Though this model met with praise in Roman artistic circles, by the summer of 1801 Thorvaldsen had destroyed it, as he could not afford to have it cast in plaster.

In late summer or autumn of 1802, Thorvaldsen tried his hand once more at Jason, this time at life-and-a-half scale. By January 28, 1803, the new clay model was virtually complete, and no later than March 19, 1803, it was cast in plaster, A52, at the expense of the author Friederike Brun.

This model came to be Thorvaldsen’s breakthrough work, and was praised highly by contemporaries. Between March 19 and 21, 1803, Hope commissioned the statue in marble; and no later than by the summer of that year, Thorvaldsen entered into a contract with the marble carvers Finelli and Keller to supply marble for the statue and carve it to the point where Thorvaldsen himself would take over. Further work on the statue, however, was repeatedly delayed. It was only in August 1828, after twenty-five years and countless dunning letters and reminder notices, that Jason with the Golden Fleece, A822, was delivered to Hope—who, satisfied, sent his thanks for receipt of the statue on August 3, 1829.

A demonstration of Thorvaldsen’s diligence

The likely spur for Thorvaldsen’s idea of making a full-size statue was the fact that his stipend from the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen was about to run out. It would thus have been to his advantage to bring with him, on his return, a representative piece that would demonstrate how far his stay in Rome had brought him as an artist. This was a common rationale at the time, and does not seem illogical here. Thorvaldsen’s contract with the Academy stipulated that he was to send home annual samples of his work to demonstrate his progress—and so far he had only sent minor works home. It therefore seems logical that, at the end of his stay, Thorvaldsen would wish to test and prove his talent with a full-size statue.

According to Thorvaldsen’s biographer Just Mathias Thiele, there is a clear connection between Thorvaldsen’s choice of subject and his effort to present the abilities he had acquired during his period of study in Rome. Namely: Jason is the hero of ancient myth who, finding himself in a strange land after many hardships, completes his mission and brings home proof of that completion—the Golden Fleece that he was sent to conquer. Correspondingly, Thorvaldsen was charged with bringing home his own proof (i.e., his statue of Jason) that he too, over the course of his trials/studies in Rome, had completed his mission and fulfilled what was expected of him by Academy, government, and King. In order to emphasize the allegorical connection between Jason’s and Thorvaldsen’s accomplishments, Thiele precedes his account of Thorvaldsen’s work on Jason by relating how the sculptor had cut off the heads of all of the model statues that he had made. In other words, Thorvaldsen had done battle with his own demands for perfection, just as Jason had overcome numerous enemies on his quest: “With this battle with himself and his own works, [Thorvaldsen] surely revealed, albeit without himself knowing it, that the goal that he was finally to attain was further away than usual. In this frame of mind, he now decided to produce a statue that could make an advantageous case for him in Denmark; and to that end he chose, from the history of the Greeks, to represent the hero Jason, and how he retrieved the Golden Fleece in a strange land, after overcoming all resistance.”

While Thiele’s phrasing is marked by nineteenth-century diction and a flair for fantastical storytelling, at the core of his explanation we ultimately find the simple desire by Thorvaldsen to prove his abilities to those back at home.

A life-size nude figure

The first clear mention of the early version of Jason appears in a letter dated 24.10.1800 from Thorvaldsen to the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. At that point Thorvaldsen was already at work on the model: “What concerns me now, first and foremost, is a nude figure in natural size representing Jason in the act of returning to the ship after having seized the Golden Fleece, which he wears on his left arm, while holding a spear in his right hand…”

Thorvaldsen’s idea of producing a Jason statue can probably be traced still further back. In April of the same year, Thorvaldsen had written to his mentor Nicolai Abildgaard of plans to cast a life-size statue. Thorvaldsen had even thought of carving it in marble, if his otherwise tight finances would permit it. At the time, as it happened, Rome was plagued by famine; people were starving, and could rarely afford more than the most basic necessities. Thorvaldsen wrote:

“…And as soon as this is finished [the bust of Raphael, A752], I intend to try my hand at a marble statue in life size, provided I am not hindered in this by the present costs, as marble too is exceedingly expensive.”

The clay model is completed, and is praised by contemporary critics in Rome

By April of the following year, the clay model of Jason was certainly complete, and Thorvaldsen wrote to the Academy once more. This time he was both satisfied and despondent: while the statue had in fact garnered praise, Thorvaldsen had no money to have it cast in plaster. And if the clay model were not cast in plaster, it would be lost—it would be impossible either to display it to the Academy or carve it in marble:

“I have modeled a standing figure in [Dan. ‘over’] natural size depicting Jason with the Golden Fleece, which has had the good fortune to meet with the artists’ approval. I intended to let it be cast [in plaster], but found the expense disheartening. It would have cost 36 scudi, which, in these exceedingly expensive times, would have greatly inconvenienced me; and I was even less hopeful of being able to make use of such a thing, as there are no prospects of sending something off to Copenhagen.”

A letter written by Thorvaldsen’s mentor in Rome, the archaeologist Georg Zoëga, bears witness to the positive reception of Jason: “Our countryman Thorvaldsen, after having modeled a Jason with the Golden Fleece in clay in heroic size, together with a near-life-size seated figure of the Goddess of Peace bearing the God of Wealth as a child in her arm, both of which had brought him much honor, has found himself forced to tear the one down after the other without even letting them be cast in plaster, which, in these times when everything is so incredibly expensive, would have incurred greater expenses than he believed he could bear.”

How large was the first Jason?

When it comes to the size of Thorvaldsen’s first Jason, the sources conflict. In his letters, Thorvaldsen describes it as (respectively) “in life size,” “in natural size,” and “in [Dan. ‘over’] natural size”; in the final case, the Danish word ‘over’ could theoretically mean either that the model was larger than life-size, or that it was made in natural size—on which see the dictionary Ordbog over det Danske Sprog [Dictionary of the Danish Language]. Both life-size and natural size correspond to the size of the human body, which in Thorvaldsen’s own case would have been 167 cm.

The Academy in Copenhagen, which was the recipient of Thorvaldsen’s report of a Jason executed “in [Dan. ‘over’] natural size,” noted subsequently in its records that the model had been made in natural size. Accordingly, the Academy must either have understood “in [Dan. ‘over’] natural size” simply as in natural size, or have deduced the same from Thorvaldsen’s previous reports, in which he had described the model’s size as “natural.”

On the other hand, Zoëga, who must have seen the model himself, wrote “heroic size” instead. Heroic size normally means larger than life size. And Brun, who had only heard about the model, wrote that it was executed in life-and-a-half size, or one-and-a-half times body size.

The varying descriptions of the model might mean that Thorvaldsen changed his mind along the way, making the model larger than first intended. Alternately, one may imagine that Thorvaldsen used his own height as his standard, and that this alone might have led some to believe that the model was in heroic size. At 167 cm, Thorvaldsen was in fact considered a tall man; and “heroic size” refers not to some fixed height, but simply to a figure’s being larger than an ordinary human being. Nevertheless, the precise height of Thorvaldsen’s first Jason cannot be established with certainty on the basis of the sources available.

Jason med det gyldne skind Only a single loose draft sketch by Thorvaldsen’s own hand of Jason, C708, is known. This depicts a walking Jason with helm, spear, baldric, and sword, along with what must be assumed to be the Golden Fleece over his lowered left arm. The draft must presumably be dated 1800-1802, i.e., as a sketch of the statue of Jason with the Golden Fleece, but it is not known whether it is a sketch of the first or second model.
Thorvaldsen’s general description of the first clay model, cf. the letter dated 24.10.1800, also corresponds to the appearance of the second, A52, so that it is impossible to differentiate between them on this basis. Neither baldric, sword, nor helm are mentioned in Thorvaldsen’s initial description, but this in no way means that these were only present in the 1802-03 version. They are not mentioned in the Hope contract either—which describes the original model, A52, of the second Jason, in which all of these attributes were definitely present.

Thorvaldsen runs short of money, and the model is destroyed

The above citation from Thorvaldsen’s correspondence indicates that he could not even afford to let the clay model be cast in plaster, and that the much more expensive plan to carve it in marble was therefore out of the question. It is not clear from this letter, however, whether Thorvaldsen had already destroyed the model at the time of writing, or whether it could still have been cast the if the opportunity had presented itself. A close reading of the letter, and in particular of the past-tense verb “intended,” seems to indicate that the destruction of the model had already occurred. Had Thorvaldsen used a more encouraging formulation, such as “I have not yet found myself in a position to let it be cast, because of the exceedingly expensive times,” that would have indicated that the model was still intact and could have been used for casting if someone—e.g., the Academy—would have provided a subsidy. But this is purely a matter of interpretation. According to Thorvaldsen’s first biographer, J. M. Thiele, the clay model was not destroyed until the spring of 1802, i.e. a full year later; but that cannot be. As early as on August 22, 1801, the archaeologist Georg Zoëga had written, in his report on art to Crown Prince Frederik, that Thorvaldsen had had to destroy the model because of a lack of funds. Thus the destruction of the model certainly took place before August 22, 1801. Whether it had already taken place when Thorvaldsen wrote to the Academy, however, cannot be determined on the basis of the sources available.

Jason rebuilt, 1802-03

On November 27, 1802, Friederike Brun wrote in her diary that she had visited Thorvaldsen’s workshop that day and seen his second version of Jason with the Golden Fleece in progress in clay. This diary entry is, at present, the earliest source that mentions the new Jason. Today the clay model is known indirectly through the cast version in plaster, A52, as well as through the marble version, A822, that it led to.

The occasion for Brun’s first mention of Thorvaldsen in her diary was a visit by her and the Humboldt couple to the sculptor’s workshop. There they saw the second Jason, this time certainly in life-and-a-half size, i.e., 245.5 cm tall; cf. A52.

Brun wrote:

…Thorwaldsen unser Landsmann – entschiedenes Genie zu Heroen gestalten – Sein Jason wovon Er das Modell 1 1/2 Lebensgröβe vollendet hatte u[nd] weil es zu Groβ zum ausbrennen war u[nd] Er kein Geld zum abformen einmal hatte zerschmeiβen muβte – jetzt in 5 4 Tagen wieder aufgerichtet – voll Geist Kraft u[nd] Bewegung – schöner Kopf Haar u[nd] Ohren steht fest auf Seinen Beinen (welches Canovas Helden nie u[nd] selten die neüen thun)…

If Brun’s account of the four-day period is to be believed, then Thorvaldsen must have started the modeling process on November 11, 1801.

Rasmus Emil Bruun cited one of Thorvaldsen’s assistants as having explained that, by constant daily work, Thorvaldsen could model a full-size statue to completion in just six weeks. Bruun’s specific example was Dancing Girl, A178; but Jason, which was one-and-a-half times life size, presumably took just as long to complete, even the second time. Thiele assumed that work on the new Jason had already begun during “the late summer of 1802,” but that assumption is not supported by the sources.

Nevertheless, the modeling process does seem to have been quite far advanced by the time of Brun’s visit, given that she commented on such details as the hair and ears. On the other hand, there was clearly much left to do. On her next visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop two months later, on January 28, 1803—once again in the company of the Humboldts—Brun wrote of the statue, inter alia, that its “legs—hands—[and] feet are not yet finished, and the last hand is missing from the whole clay mold—” In Brun’s revised Danish version of her diary entry, the following appears: “Arms, legs, hands, and feet are not yet fully modeled, but are already drawn completely.”

It is thus unclear whether Brun’s highly precise dating of the start of Thorvaldsen’s modeling work can be taken at face value. Nor can one pinpoint when the clay model’s finishing touches were completed—though this must have been the case before March 19, 1803, the definite date by which the model had been cast in plaster. More on this below.

From clay to plaster: When was the model cast, and at whose expense?

The next point of uncertainty in the story of Jason is the date of its casting in plaster. We can, however, safely say who paid for it: this was Brun, as is confirmed by the testimony of Georg Zoëga, art critic Carl Ludvig Fernow, and Thorvaldsen himself. Even Thiele, who was originally of a different opinion, reached the conclusion that this was likely the case.

In a letter dated March 21, 1803, Georg Zoëga wrote about the casting of Jason: “Mde Brun en a fait la depense.” This quotation is contemporaneous with the event that it describes. Zoëga must be regarded as a reliable source, since he both lived in Rome and served as Thorvaldsen’s adviser in questions about antiquity.

During the same year, the aforementioned Fernow made the first well-known and highly significant mention of the statue, in which he reported, inter alia, that Brun had paid for the plaster casting. Fernow stayed in Rome during the winter of 1802-03 and spent a great deal of time with Brun, so his report should also be regarded as a first-hand account.

In his later years, finally, Thorvaldsen himself told Baroness Christine Stampe that Brun had paid.

On the other hand, none of the sources provides a precise date for the casting of the statue.

Brun’s diary entry of January 28, 1803 indicates that the model was not yet finished by that point, and so the casting cannot have happened before then. Another entry provides a corresponding end date: on Saturday, March 19 of the same year, Brun recorded in abbreviated form that she had held a festive gathering to celebrate Thorvaldsen’s Jason. Both the date and the celebration are confirmed in the aforementioned letter by Georg Zoëga to Herman Schubart, where Zoëga wrote that the subject of the celebration was precisely the casting of Jason in plaster: A Votre retour Vous verrez le Jason de M. Thorvaldsen formé en plâtre. Mde Brun en […] a donné une fête en cette occasion.

In her 1812 / 1815 revised version of the diary entry, Brun herself wrote that the celebration was of both the casting of the statue in plaster and its commission on marble. But this mention of the commission can possibly be attributed to a misplacement of memories: Unsers Thorwaldsen’s Jason, seine erste Statue und die jüngste der Antiken, war nun aus der Form, ja, war schon in Marmor durch den reichen Holländer, oder, wie mir Andre gesagt, Schottländer Hope bestellt, und also ihre Unsterblichkeit im Reiche der Erscheinungen gesichert. Unser Aller Freude hierüber war so groß, daß ich beschloß, sie in einem kleinen Feste auszulassen […]

Given the above, the casting of Jason must have taken place between January 28 and March 19, 1803.

Hope’s commission – when and how?

Thiele’s account of the visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop by Sir Thomas Hope, the Anglo-Dutch art collector, banker, and man of means, has a fantastical, legendary air. According to Thiele, Hope made his appearance on the very day when Thorvaldsen ought to have embarked on his dreaded return trip to Copenhagen, but had to postpone his departure by a single day because of sudden passport problems on the part of his traveling companion.

Thiele reported that Hope’s visit to the workshop and prompt commissioning of Jason in marble can be dated to the middle of March 1803, or perhaps as early as 8.3., i.e., the sixth-year anniversary of Thorvaldsen’s arrival in Rome. It is unknown what basis Thiele had for this assumption. His conjecture about the actual anniversary date seems all too fantastical to be entirely reliable, and the traveling companion’s convenient passport problems smack more of legend than of fact. Thorvaldsen himself, however, did not contradict this story when it was presented to him in 1829, when the architect Frederik Ferdinand Friis read the manuscript of Thiele’s first biography to him aloud. In that context, Thorvaldsen’s only correction was to add that the traveling companion was a sculptor from Berlin who later “died.”

This should probably not be taken as a univocal guarantee of the story’s truth, but rather as acceptance of the triumph of a good story over the tedium of mere facts. It is clear that Thorvaldsen had indeed prepared for a return trip in the spring of 1803, but evidence suggests that he was not quite as close to leaving Rome as Thiele represented him.

Thomas Hope træder ind i Thorvaldsens atelier for at købe Jason Thorvald Jensen’s (1844-1921) depiction of Hope’s first visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop contains much mythic material: Thorvaldsen is shown waiting with packed suitcases; Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52, stands illuminated and elevated behind him (albeit in its reworked form from the 1830s); Thomas Hope, dark and robed as fate itself, enters the workshop—and, by commissioning the statue, assures Thorvaldsen of a shining future. Hope was described by contemporaries as a shy and unsightly man; whether the robe was added to emphasize these characteristics, or simply to add to the story’s tension, is not known.
Thorvald Jensen, Thomas Hope arriving in Thorvaldsen’s Studio to buy Jason with the Golden Fleece, 1872, lithograph, 451×291 mm, E2250

Hope commissions Jason in marble

It is Georg Zoëga who must be credited with the most accurate dating of Hope’s commission of Jason in marble. On Monday, March 21, 1803, Zoëga had begun the letter to Herman Schubart mentioned previously, in which he wrote inter alia about the casting of Jason in plaster and the festive gathering hosted by Brun. Zoëga also wrote that Thorvaldsen had not yet found a customer willing to commission a completed Jason in marble. To this end, Brun had written to Denmark to track down a possible client there, and Wilhelm von Humboldt had written to Berlin and Weimar for the same purpose; but both had no luck. Put briefly, it is clear that when he started the letter, Zoëga had not yet heard the news of Hope’s commission.

As Zoëga was closing the letter, however, Thorvaldsen broke in with the long-awaited news. Zoëga wrote: J’y etois pour fermer la lettre, dans cet instant M. Thorvaldsen vient me faire part que M. Thomas Hope l’a engagé à faire son Jason en marbre. Je m’en réjouis, et Vous ferez autant.

Hence Jason was commissioned no later than on March 21, 1803—indeed, perhaps even on that very day, if we assume that Thorvaldsen related the news to Zoëga immediately after Hope’s visit. In any event, there cannot have been a delay of more than a few days, as the rumor must have spread quickly, and according to Zoëga the commission was not the reason for the party organized by Brun a mere two days previously, on Saturday, March 19.

We do not know whether Zoëga attended Brun’s party. It is certainly possible that Hope appeared at Thorvaldsen’s studio on the 19th and, with an oral agreement, gave the celebration a new basis then and there. This would be consistent with Brun’s later account of the events. Nevertheless, it does not seem likely that Thorvaldsen would have waited so long to pass along the good news to Zoëga, his mentor in all things Roman.

In sum, we must conclude that Hope’s commissioning of Jason likely took place no earlier than on March 19, 1803, and no later than on March 21 of the same year. Whether we can narrow the dating any further depends on how we weigh the respective testimony of Brun and Zoëga. It is evident in any case that Thiele’s hypothesis—that the Hope commission took place in early March, possibly even on Thorvaldsen’s “Roman birthday”—cannot hold.

Thorvaldsen signs the contract for Jason with the Golden Fleece, A822

The contract between Hope and Thorvaldsen was likely not dated any more precisely than le Mars [March] 1803 at first signing. It was originally drawn up in duplicate, presumably with one copy for Hope and one for Thorvaldsen. Neither of these originals is known today, but the Archive does possess a transcript of Hope’s copy, made in May 1821 by Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia, Hope’s banker in Rome. In this transcript, which one must assume is literal, there is an empty space next to the contract’s first endorsement, at the spot where the exact date in March should have appeared. From the above, however, we do know that the oral commission must have taken place on March 21, or at most one or two days earlier.

The second signature, which was added to the original contract at payment of the first installment, is dated March 23, 1803. But because the transcript alone does not reveal whether there were differences in ink or handwriting between the first and second endorsements of the original contract, it cannot be determined whether the contract was drawn up immediately upon Hope’s first visit, or whether the agreement was initially an oral one, and was not put in writing until March 23.

From the dating of the first installment payment, however, it is clear that, contra Thiele’s report, Hope did not in fact make an initial payment to Thorvaldsen on the immediate occasion of his visit to the sculptor’s workshop. After all, the first payment can be dated securely only to March 23, 1803—i.e., to at least two days after Thorvaldsen told Zoëga about the order. If Hope had in fact given Thorvaldsen an advance at their very first meeting, it would have been over and beyond the agreed price of 600 Roman sequins set out in the contract, and also beyond the bonus that was to be paid to Thorvaldsen if Hope declared himself satisfied with the result upon receipt. That bonus is not included in the contract itself, but was mentioned, without no amount specified, by Hope’s agent Patrick Moir in a dunning notice to Thorvaldsen sent on 8.4.1806.

It is evident from several sources—Thiele I, p. 183; Caroline von Humboldt’s letter to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe of 20.4.1803; and August von Kotzebue’s mention of it in Der Freymüthige, a Berlin weekly—that this bonus was for 200 sequins, which may be assumed to be correct.

It thus hardly seems probable that Hope would have given Thorvaldsen a further advance beyond the agreed-upon total of 800 sequins. A likelier explanation is that, by the time Thiele came to write of the incident many years later, the delay of approximately two days had faded into the “promptly” of a compelling narrative.

Contents of the contract

With respect to its contents, Thorvaldsen’s contract with Hope is among the more comprehensive of the contracts extant in the Archive’s collection. The model for the marble version is specified as the one Hope had seen in Thorvaldsen’s studio by the Piazza Barberini, namely, Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52. The subject of the statue is described in its main features: mention is made of Jason’s lance and the Golden Fleece, and the height is set as 11 Roman palmi. The price is indicated as 600 Roman sequins, to be divided into four installment payments:

  • a first installment to be paid on completion of the model;
  • a second installment to be paid on the arrival of the marble block in Rome;
  • a third installment to be paid when the marble block had been carved to the point where only the finer finishing touches remained;
  • and a fourth installment to be paid on final completion of the statue.

The additional bonus of 200 sequins, mentioned previously, does not appear in the contract.

It is unknown whether the lack of precise dating of the first endorsement on the transcript (cf. above) stems from the original contract or from the process of transcription, e.g., due to difficulties in deciphering the date.

Underneath the main text of the contract and its first endorsement, Thorvaldsen subsequently acknowledged receipt of the first three installments, on the respective dates March 23, 1803, August 27, 1804, and February 27, 1805. The contract itself offers no information about receipt of the fourth installment. The fourth installment is mentioned, however, in a letter to Thorvaldsen dated 8.4.1806 from Hope’s agent Patrick Moir. In the letter, Moir stated on Hope’s behalf that the fourth installment could be collected at Torlonia, inasmuch as Hope then assumed that Jason must have been ready for shipment to England. But Jason was not finished at that point; and judging by a letter from Hope to Thorvaldsen dated 6.4.1819, it seems that, as late as 1819, Thorvaldsen still had not collected the fourth installment payment. More on this later.

Completion of the plaster model — Hope’s first payment

Stig Miss, op. cit, p. 14, assumes that the statue was cast in plaster, A52, just before the celebration on March 19, 1803. This makes good sense, inasmuch as the first installment from Hope was paid out on March 23—and that particular installment, according to the literal terms of the contract, was to come due when the model was finished, i.e., cast in plaster. If the date of payment is taken as concrete evidence of this completion, it would follow that the plaster model was not entirely finished until just before March 23.

Nevertheless, the demolding of the cast may well have taken place days (and likely even weeks) earlier. After demolding, the plaster model needed to dry and be reassembled, examined and scrutinized for plaster burrs, etc. This work obviously took some time. It may well have been that Hope saw the plaster statue at some point during this process, and believed that it was already finished; after all, he was clearly impressed enough by the plaster model to order it made in marble on the spot. What is certain is that he could not have observed the clay model, since such models were almost always destroyed during the demolding process, and the clay was recycled to the extent possible.

This would also explain why, according to the contract, the first installment was to fall due at the model’s completion—a formulation used only seldom in Thorvaldsen contracts. Another possible explanation is still simpler, namely, that it took some time for Hope to get the money released for payment.

Whatever the case may be, the plaster model must have been completely finished by March 23 at the latest, since the first installment was paid out on that date. It must accordingly be assumed that, in this case, the actual conditions of payment corresponded more or less with the contract’s literal wording. Later on, as we shall see, only perfunctory correspondences obtained.

The production of Jason with the Golden Fleece, A822

The contract with Finelli and Keller

It is not known precisely when Thorvaldsen began work on the marble version of Jason, A822, inasmuch as the contract he entered into with the marble carvers Pietro Finelli and Heinrich Keller, covering the delivery of a block of marble and execution of the initial work on the statue, was not dated precisely at either its first or second signing. The first exact dating stems from August 3, 1805, when the third payment to the carvers took place. The contract must therefore have been entered into earlier; and indeed, for the reasons listed below, it was evidently entered into no later than the summer of 1803.

The contract specifies that the marble carvers were both to purchase and to deliver (that is, to pay to transport from the marble quarry in Carrara to Thorvaldsen’s workshop in Rome) a marble block of the highest quality. The block was to be flawless, with no blemishes visible before carving began. The carvers were to cut and sculpt it into a statue up to the point where the toothed chisel was to be used, i.e., where the basic carving of the statue in all three dimensions was complete, and only the final adjustment and perfecting by the master himself remained. The price for purchasing and delivering the marble block, together with the carvers’ own sculpting work, was set at 650 Roman piasters, of which 300 were to be paid immediately, while the remaining 350 were to be disbursed as needed.

The marble block arrives in Rome—Hope’s second installment payment

By the date of Hope’s second installment payment, which according to the transcript took place on August 8, 1804, it seems that there was only a perfunctory correspondence between the letter of the contract and events on the ground. The installment was supposed to have been paid on the marble block’s arrival in Rome, but as early as September 2, 1803, Zoëga had written to Schubart: L’ébauchement du Jason est très avancé …

Jason, in other words, was already being sculpted by Finelli and Keller at the start of September 1803, and Thorvaldsen himself had moved to another workshop, to avoid the air full of marble dust and the severed pieces and fragments that flew through the air during the carving work. It follows that the marble block must have reached Thorvaldsen no later than during the summer of 1803: otherwise the carving process could not have been as “advanced” as Zoëga described it. This indicates, in turn, that Thorvaldsen must have entered into his contract with the assistant sculptors soon after Hope’s commission on March 19-21, or at the latest over the course of the summer.

There are several sources that confirm this early start on Jason, and correspondingly substantiate an early dating of Thorvaldsen’s contract with Finelli and Keller.

By around February 1, 1804, the basic work on Jason had progressed far enough that Thorvaldsen himself was to take over the work: “My Jason is so far along that it is waiting for me; but I do not yet dare to work in my workshop on account of the humidity,” he wrote to Schubart.

In other words, by the beginning of 1804 the statue had apparently been carved and sculpted in marble to the point where Thorvaldsen himself was to take over and undertake the last adjustments and fine-tuning.

Pauline Dorothea Frisch, another visitor to Rome, also saw Jason well underway in marble on April 5, 1804, when she visited his workshop: Sein Jason eilt seiner Vollendung in Marmor entgegen. What is more, an English journal published in 1804 also describes Jason as being sculpted out of a beautiful marble block.

Thiele assumed that Thorvaldsen’s contract with Finelli and Keller dated to his trip to Carrara at the end of August 1804; but in light of the above, this can hardly be accurate.

Given that the marble block cannot have arrived in Rome as late as August 1804, and given that the transcript is simply a transcription of Thorvaldsen’s original contract with Hope, it seems not unreasonable to assume that there could be an error in the transcript’s dating of the second installment payment, namely, the installment that was supposed to be disbursed upon arrival of the marble block in Rome. Suppose, in particular, that the correct date was not August 27, 1804, but August 27, 1803. This would bring the payment of the installment into closer alignment with the contract’s provisions, and would also explain how Finelli and Keller would have had the period from August 1803 to the winter or spring of 1804 to carve and sculpt the marble block up to the point where Thorvaldsen would take over. The alternative is that the second installment was paid out much later than, and perhaps even more than a year after, the actual arrival of the marble block; but it seems unlikely that Thorvaldsen would have waited so long for money that he was contractually entitled to and, indeed, may well have needed for use. In any event, there does seem to have been some slight delay in the payment of the second installment beyond the arrival of the marble block in Rome, inasmuch as it would have been impossible, during the period from August 28 to September 2, 1803, for the assistant sculptors to have carved the marble to the point where Zoëga could rightly describe their work as très avancé.

From the receipts for Thorvaldsen’s payments to Finelli and Keller, it emerges that the marble carvers were paid 150 piasters on “August 28”—with no year specified. Because the next installment is dated in the spring of 1805, however, it is clear that this August date refers either to 1803 or to 1804. Given that Thorvaldsen may well have received Hope’s second installment payment on August 27, 1803 (see the above thesis regarding an erroneous date in the transcription of Hope’s contract with Thorvaldsen), it is tempting to assume that Thorvaldsen’s payment to his assistants followed immediately thereafter, and must accordingly be dated August 28, 1803. It may thus be regarded as probable that Thorvaldsen had already entered into his contract with Finelli and Keller during the spring or summer of 1803, given that he had already made one payment prior to the “August 28” payment.

Nor is it inconceivable that, shortly after entering into his contract with Hope, Thorvaldsen signed a contract with the assistants who were to undertake the basic marble carving necessary. Thorvaldsen promptly paid the marble carvers 300 piasters, presumably for the purchase of the marble block: this would have enabled them to investigate the quality and price of various candidate blocks, and deliver the selected block to Thorvaldsen’s workshop at some point prior to August 27, 1803, at which point Hope accordingly paid out his second installment. With this money in his pocket, Thorvaldsen could then pay his assistants another 150 piasters—either because the marble block had proven more expensive than expected, or as compensation for their labor.

Jason carved “down to the points”—Hope’s third installment payment

It is already evident from the above that by late winter or spring 1804, the work on Jason had already reached a very advanced phase. By this point the statue seems merely to have awaited Thorvaldsen’s final touches. This stage is described in the contract, and ought to have triggered payment of the third installment.

However, according to the receipt recorded on the contract transcript, the third installment was not in fact paid until February 27, 1805: a full year, evidently, after the statue seems to have reached the relevant stage. Once again—though to raise this possibility is to flirt with an interpretive slippery slope—there may well be a dating error in the transcription, perhaps a compound of the first error (suggested above); alternately, it may be that Finelli and Keller had not in fact made as much progress as Thorvaldsen had indicated to Schubert. It is difficult to conclude anything from Frisch’s statement other than that the sculpting of the statue was well underway: her note does not indicate what precise stage in the process Jason had reached when she saw it. Thorvaldsen’s payments to Finelli and Keller for Jason may have continued up to January 3, 1807, which can be read as an indication that their work on the statue was not finished until the winter of 1806-07. Another possibility is that Thorvaldsen could not afford to pay his assistants the entire remaining amount at once, and paid them in smaller installments instead. Meanwhile, these late payments may also have been completely unrelated to Jason: they may have been compensation for the carvers’ work on other pieces.

The account books from Thorvaldsen’s workshop reveal that further work on Jason was performed by both stonemasons and assistant sculptors during the years 1820-21, 1824-25, and 1827. In other words, the carving of the marble, which generally was done before Thorvaldsen undertook his own finishing touches, was in fact only completed decades later. This suggests that Hope’s third installment may in fact have been disbursed before there was a full contractual basis for it. Here it must be said, however, that assessment of the completion of this third phase may very well have been a matter of interpretation. In his letter to Schubart, Thorvaldsen clearly regarded his assistants’ work as completed; but his later payments to the same assistants and others indicate otherwise. Perhaps Thorvaldsen keenly wished to give Schubart a better impression of Jason’s progress than reality permitted. Alternately, perhaps Thorvaldsen had come to the view—as his own workload had grown, thanks to other incoming commissions, and as his assistants had become more experienced—that his assistants should do even more of the sculpting work before he himself would take over.

Jason is assumed to be finished—Hope’s fourth installment payment

On 8.4.1806, Hope’s agent Patrick Moir wrote to Thorvaldsen on his client’s behalf, expressing his hope and assumption that Jason was nearly ready for shipment. At that point, however, with the Napoloenic Wars looming, shipment to England had become no simple matter. In Italy, all things English were confiscated, and so Moir’s letter was greatly concerned with how to avoid this problem, namely, by omitting Hope’s revealingly English-sounding name and address from the shipment. Rather than sending the statue directly to England, Moir suggested that Thorvaldsen send it to one of his own friends in Copenhagen under his own name; then Hope himself would arrange for further transport to England. There is no receipt for this payment, however, and it is not clear from Moir’s letter whether Thorvaldsen would simply be able to withdraw the fourth installment payment from Torlonia immediately, or whether he would need to supply the banker with some form of proof that the statue was complete. Nor is it clear whether Thorvaldsen would have to wait, voluntarily or involuntarily, for the money to be paid to him.

No receipts for the disbursement of Hope’s fourth installment are extant today. In his dunning letter to Thorvaldsen dated 6.4.1819, Hope remarks that only the first two installments—by which he obviously meant installments two and three of the contract—were paid promptly at Thorvaldsen’s request; and at the time of writing Hope had receipts for these two payments in his possession. This statement indicates that, as late as 1819, Thorvaldsen had neither requested nor received the final installment payment.

In his same letter, Moir mentions the bonus payment that Hope (cf. above) had promised Thorvaldsen, above and beyond the agreed-upon sum of 600 sequins. Inasmuch as the fourth installment of the 600 sequins is not mentioned, one may infer that this amount was disbursed at some point between 1819 and 1829, and that the receipt for this payment was subsequently lost.

Why Jason remained unfinished: initial causes

The first stage in the completion of Jason was carried out, as mentioned, by the marble carvers Finelli and Keller, who had contracted with Thorvaldsen to undertake the basic work of cutting the marble. In the summer of 1803, Keller reportedly fell and broke his leg, and so was unable to work for a long period. Finelli was thus forced either to work on Jason by himself or to find a new partner, both of which might well have caused delays. In 1805, Keller abandoned sculpting work entirely for health reasons.

Thorvaldsen himself was ill for an entire year, from approximately May 1803 until well into 1804—it was not until February, according to one source, or August, according to another, that Thorvaldsen wrote that he was starting to recover. It was this sickness that led him to spend the summer of 1803 in Albano in order to recuperate.

Illness must be regarded as the main reason why Thorvaldsen did no further work (if anything) on Jason during this period. In January 1804, Thorvaldsen referred to the high humidity in his workshop as a reason why he could not work on Jason: his health could not tolerate the damp air.

The case drags on; reminders from Hope

The first time that Hope asked (amicably) about the completion of Jason was in the aforementioned letter dated 8.4.1806, which was written by Moir on Hope’s behalf. There are no records indicating that Thorvaldsen ever responded to this letter; on the contrary, Hope’s letter of 6.4.1819 makes clear that he had heard nothing from Thorvaldsen beyond what he learned when he had visited him personally in Rome in the year 1816-17. If Thorvaldsen had replied to the 1806 letter, then his reply did not, so to speak, reach its audience. Had Jason been shipped around 1806, Hope would surely have declared the statue’s period of production reasonable; but nothing happened, and indeed ten more years passed, all while the Napoleonic Wars continued to stand in the way of shipments to and from England—and Thorvaldsen prioritized other tasks.

No workshop account books have been preserved that might illuminate the extent to which Jason was in production during these years.

Hope’s visit of 1816-17

In 1816, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Hope was finally able to travel to Rome once more, in order to seek Thorvaldsen out in person. And judging by the letter of 6.4.1819 mentioned previously, it seems that in 1816-17 Thorvaldsen promised to complete his work on Jason without further delays. On the other hand, in 1820 Danes could read a rather different account of Hope’s visit to the Danish Phidias. This report should be read, it should be noted, with an extraordinarily large grain of salt, and with the understanding that Thorvaldsen’s hometown badly wished to explain the delayed production of Jason in a manner that would reflect positively on Thorvaldsen, and so on the fatherland as well:

“About fifteen years ago, the noble Briton Thomas Hope came to Rome. He became acquainted with our Thorvaldsen, and was so struck by the talents and genius [that Thorvaldsen] had demonstrated to the age in the model for a colossal statue of Jason that he commissioned it in marble. But the period that followed—so unfavorable for the sciences, arts, and all of humanity’s noblest productions—prevented Thorvaldsen from completing, and Mr. Hope from receiving, this work that is elevated beyond all praise. But arma togis cesserunt, and Mr. Hope took advantage of the good fortune [of peace] in the year 1816 to see the new masterpiece of sculpture. The great artist, meanwhile, was inundated with commissions to such a degree that Mr. Hope, with the delicacy that so beautifully befit his sense of nobility, asked Thorvaldsen not to hurry with Jason. And because, in addition, some bad spots were discovered in the stone during the production of the statue, our countryman decided, with the delicate feeling that is the highest adornment of genius, to order another block that would be more worthy of the statue, which became the foundation of his worldly happiness.”

That Hope should have been so humble and understanding is inconsistent with his letter of 1819, and should be regarded as a tale clearly slanted toward national interests. The idea of using a new marble block, meanwhile, is attested to neither by Hope nor in Thorvaldsen’s surviving letters; so that portion of the account also seems unfounded in reality. It attests instead to an assumption that may have arisen quite naturally, given both the long production time and the fact that the purchased block’s marble was indeed quite mottled. If he had wanted to do so, Thorvaldsen would have had ample time to find another marble block during the twenty-five years that Jason was in progress. And while there likely was some irritation present with the block’s defects, the course of events makes clear that neither Thorvaldsen or Hope were prepared to pay for a new marble block or for new preparatory labor. Finelli and Keller, who had delivered the block, had disclaimed responsibility for such contingencies in their contract with Thorvaldsen. Any additional expenditure would therefore have accrued to Thorvaldsen alone; and given the slow pace that he had already adopted in his work on the statue, it seems unlikely that Thorvaldsen would have freely chosen to put still more money and work into it.

During his 1816 visit to Rome, Hope also commissioned marble busts of himself, his wife, his youngest son, and possibly his oldest son as well (Thomas Hope, A823, Louisa Hope, A824, Adrian John Hope, A826, and Henry Thomas Hope?, A266), evidently with the further hope that these new commissions would have the effect of sparking enthusiasm for the completion of Jason. According to a letter dated 25.5.1817 to the architect C.F. Hansen, Thorvaldsen in fact postponed a visit to Denmark with the claim that he could not travel before completing the commissions that he had promised to carry out.

Hope’s 1819 dunning letter

Thorvaldsen did not fulfill the promise that he had made during Hope’s visit in 1816-17, and so on 6.4.1819, Hope sent the artist a manifestly impatient dunning letter. Here Hope referred to the commission’s long history, and sharply but politely deplored the fact that Thorvaldsen had repeatedly postponed the completion of Jason for the benefit of other, far more recent commssions. Hope concluded by announcing that he had now transferred the matter to the Torlonia banking house, which would be empowered to threaten Thorvaldsen with punitive economic measures if he did not deliver the statue as quickly as possible. Thorvaldsen was thus to regard Torlonia’s instructions as Hope’s own.

There is no record of a reply to this letter in Thorvaldsen’s own hand. However, a note on the envelope stated that Thorvaldsen was to appear in person at Torlonia. If Thorvaldsen did reach an agreement with Torlonia, this was presumably an oral agreement—or was perhaps preserved in writing at Torlonia’s bank.

In 1819 Thorvaldsen was dunned not only by Hope, but also by Torlonia through the latter’s stepson, Thorvaldsen’s friend Luigi Chiaveri. According to Thiele, Chiaveri repeatedly told Torlonia that Thorvaldsen was abroad in order to preserve the sculptor’s reputation. While it is unknown whether this interpretation of Chiaveri’s letter is correct, it is certainly clear that Chiaveri was loath to mix friendship and business. The sentence “Scusati la mia seccatura” attests to his awareness of Thorvaldsen’s irritation at reminder notices and dunning letters.

Thorvaldsen was in Denmark from 14.7.1819 to 16.12.1820, which naturally prevented him from undertaking any work at all on the statue during this period. It is likely that he told of his upcoming trip at his meeting with Torlonia, and so received a reprieve until his return to Rome. Thorvaldsen’s workshop accounts in fact provide evidence of work on Jason starting immediately following the sculptor’s return to Rome, on December 16, 1820, that is, from the end of December 1820 until the end of May 1821, and again in September 1821.

Torlonia takes over the proceedings, 1821-28

After Thorvaldsen’s return to Rome in 1820, the case of Jason was apparently handled exclusively by the Torlonia banking house, as Hope had menacingly announced in his 1819 letter to Thorvaldsen. In Torlonia’s letter dated May 1821, it emerges that Thorvaldsen was by then required, according to an earlier agreement with Torlonia, to have completed the statue and prepared it to be shipped. It is not known with certainty whether the agreement in question had been reached before Thorvaldsen’s trip to Denmark, or shortly after his return to Rome; but in any case Thorvaldsen appears not to have kept his word, but instead to have asked for a postponement until summer. Accordingly, Torlonia sent—as a kind of trump card on Hope’s behalf, to remind Thorvaldsen of his obligations—a transcript of the original contract for Jason. While there is no record of a written reply to this letter by Thorvaldsen, it emerges from Torlonia’s next letter that a new agreement (with a deadline set at the end of the summer) must have been reached at this point.

On 20.8.1821, Torlonia wrote once more, expressing his conviction that the statue must now be finished. Thorvaldsen’s draft reply is dated the next day, and reflects his views both on dunning procedures and on his own work. It is shot through with barely-concealed annoyance at the incessant reminders, and simultaneously elevates his own work high above the ordinary conduct of business:

“As I have explained to you on other occasions, it [i.e., the statue of Jason] has been worked on painstakingly, even before you honored me with your esteemed promptings. ... You will never be able to compromise on a promise once given; but you should know that, in the world of art, one cannot delimit time precisely.”

It is abundantly clear that Thorvaldsen was annoyed at being dunned in a case that, on the one hand, no longer seemed to occupy or even challenge him artistically, but on the other hand, on account of its artistic nature, transcended the profanity of a mere business dunning letter. Nonetheless, Thorvaldsen reaffirmed the he would be finished with the statue—and satisfied with it—within a month’s time.

Two years later, on 15.4.1823, Torlonia was compelled to dun Thorvaldsen for delivery of the statue once more, after having received numerous letters (today unknown) from Hope. No written response to Torlonia by Thorvaldsen is known; but he may well have, as before, gone to meet Torlonia in person.

Torlonia dunned Thorvaldsen again on 12.6.1826 and 13.6.1827. The last dunning letter makes clear that Torlonia clearly had an agreement with Thorvaldsen about the imminent completion of Jason, and hoped to be able to send off the statue before the autumn storms arrived.

Thorvaldsen’s own friends and acquaintances, too, urged him to remove this burden from his shoulders. On 9.8.1825, for example, the author A. Andersen Feldborg indirectly prodded Thorvaldsen to finish Jason with the following words: “Britain longs for Jason. Professor Brøndsted, however, has passed on to me your views about the aforementioned statue, and these prompt me to believe that the longer Jason is withheld from England, the more welcome he will be.”

It cannot be determined with precision what Thorvaldsen’s views about the statue were at this point. The message implicit in Feldborg’s statement, however, seems to be that Thorvaldsen’s own growing dissatisfaction with his youthful work had led to a deliberate tactic of delaying delivery of the statue for as long as possible, in the hope that, with time, the glorification and mythologizing of Jason would both eliminate the recipient’s disappointment with the long wait for the statue and make him blind to faults that, conceivably, Thorvaldsen himself could see in the statue’s composition.

All the same, there was work being done on Jason during the years 1820-1827. Thorvaldsen’s workshop accounts show that assistants worked on the statue during 1820-21, 1824-25, and 1827, to which we must add the time Thorvaldsen himself worked on it, as was witnessed by Thiele, for example, in 1824. Thorvaldsen’s expenses to compensate his assistants during this period amounted to approximately 470 scudi, in addition to the costs he had already incurred to Finelli and Keller during the period 1803-1807. Thorvaldsen’s final profit on the work, therefore, must have been insignificant, if indeed there was any at all.

Jason is shipped—after 25 years

On his many visits to Rome, the Norwegian Jørgen Knudtzon, a friend of Thorvaldsen’s, had plainly attempted to persuade Thorvaldsen to complete his statue of Jason. It was thus with relief that Knudtzon wrote to Thorvaldsen on 4.10.1828, after having received word from Chiaveri, mentioned earlier, that Jason was now completed and sent off: “You have no idea what a triumph this is for me; now I no longer need to hear remarks being made about you that are hardly advantageous.”

Thorvaldsen himself informed the architect Frederik Ferdinand Friis that Jason had been sent off in August 1828. This also accords reasonably well with Knudtzon’s letter. Thorvaldsen’s accompanying letter to Hope is not extant in the sculptor’s original hand, but two drafts by his amanuensis Melchiorre Missirini have been preserved, in Italian and French respectively. It emerges from Hope’s letter of reply, dated 3.8.1829, that Jason reached Hope during the winter of 1828-1829.

That Hope replied to Thorvaldsen at so late a date is apparently due to the fact that he had only then opened the package containing Jason. Until that point it had stood unseen among the busts and reliefs that Thorvaldsen had sent along with it—some commissioned, but others free and intended as compensation of sorts for the long delay. Hope had evidently first wanted to arrange the perfect space for presentation of the statue; but now, as he laconically put it, he was finished waiting.

Jason med det gyldne skind Jason med det gyldne skind

On September 17, 1917, Hope’s collections and possessions were put up for auction, and Mario Krohn, then director of the Museum, succeeded in purchasing not only Thorvaldsen’s renowned Jason with the Golden Fleece, A822, for the museum, but also the busts of Hope’s family members (Thomas Hope, A823, Louisa Hope, A824, Henry Thomas Hope, A825 and Adrian John Hope, A826) along with the two reliefs A Genio Lumen (The Genius of Art and Light), A828, and Cupid Received by Anacreon, Winter, A827. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the works were sent to Denmark and displayed in the Museum.

Hope declared himself deeply satisfied with the result, as well as with the fact that his dream of coming into possession of the work before his death had now come true. Hope must surely have doubted at times—and for good reason—that this dream would ever be realized. In any event, Hope died on February 2, 1831—so he ended up with only about eighteen months’ daily enjoyment of the unpacked Jason.

Summary of possible reasons for Thorvaldsen’s delay

There were likely several concurrent reasons for Thorvaldsen’s long delay in completing the March 1803 commission of Jason. The following section discusses some possible main causes; but there may of course have been others in addition.

Keller’s withdrawal from the project

Starting with Thorvaldsen’s third payment to Finelli and Keller, on March 8, 1805, it was only Finelli who acknowledged receipt. This is presumably due to the fact that, in the same year, Keller withdrew from all work on sculpture projects for health reasons. As early as in August 1803, meanwhile, Keller had accidentally fallen and broken his leg, and so could not work for a long time. This accident should probably be taken into consideration in assessing the delays that beset Jason from the very beginning, even though Finelli or Thorvaldsen could certainly have arranged for a replacement.

Thorvaldsen’s illness

Thiele writes that Thorvaldsen’s work on Jason was delayed until the fall of 1804 at first because of illness, romantic troubles, and melancholy, and later because of other commissions. Thiele based this on the contract with Finelli and Keller, which he assumed stemmed from August 1804, and so proved that the marble block for Jason was not purchased until that point. As explained previously, this cannot possibly have been correct—at least not with respect to the marble block. On the other hand, it may have been accurate as far as Thorvaldsen’s own work on the statue was concerned; on this see also the letter to the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen dated 6.8.1804, in which Thorvaldsen related that he hoped, after his visit to Montenero, “to be in Rome in September, in order to work there with renewed strength on my Jason…” In other words, because of his longstanding illness, Thorvaldsen had not had the strength to work on Jason or any other projects, as he describes explicitly elsewhere in the same letter.

Thorvaldsen was indeed quite ill for about a year, from May 1803 until well into 1804, as is supported by multiple sources; this obviously put a stop to his workshop activity.

The Napoleonic Wars

Political circumstances probably also played a role in the delays surrounding Jason. When Patrick Moir, in 1806, asked Thorvaldsen to send the statue off, he was to do so via Denmark under the guise of being a shipment to a friend residing in Copenhagen. Because of the mutually pugnacious French-English blockade, direct shipment to England from the French-dominated continent and its ports was impossible. According to a decree issued by Napoleon on November 21, 1806, all things English were to be confiscated:

“The British Isles are pronounced in a state of blockade. All intercourse or correspondence with the British Isles is forbidden. Letters or packages addressed to England or an Englishman, written in the English language, will not be dispatched with the mails but stopped. All English subjects residing in countries occupied by France or its allies will be regarded as prisoners of war. All English properties are forfeit. All trade of English goods must cease, and every ship that has traveled to or even come into contact with England is hereby banned from French harbors.”

This decree only certified what must already have been the case, judging from Moir’s letter, as early as in April 1806.

A decree of September 17, 1807, stated further: “‘Inasmuch as England, by its latest promulgation, has emerged as the enemy of all civilized nations’ … every vessel that permits itself to be searched by English ships, or that agrees to sail to England or to make concessions to the English government … is to be seized and confiscated.”

One therefore cannot easily dismiss Thiele’s interpretation, according to which Thorvaldsen set Jason aside out of concern for the political situation—though Thiele was wrong about the timing, and his representation of the events themselves was inaccurate. For example, Thiele presents Moir’s letter in such a manner that one obtains the impression that Hope was prepared to accept a delay in sending Jason; but that is not what emerges from Moir’s letter. At the same time, Thiele may well have been right that Thorvaldsen saw the letter and the political circumstances as offering him an opportunity for delay. It is certainly quite understandable that he would have wanted to avoid, at all costs, the possibility of the statue being lost in transport.

Only after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and Hope’s visit to Rome in 1816-17, do signs of renewed work on Jason emerge—though even then there was still no indication that the statue had reached the point where Thorvaldsen could take over the work himself, and undertake the crucial finishing touches to bring it to completion.

New commissions

Jason was undoubtedly also delayed on account of new commissions by other customers. Thiele mentions this as a reason for delay as early as 1806. There is little doubt that economic considerations, and perhaps a tendency to take on more tasks than his workshop was immediately capable of handling, played a crucial role here—affecting not only Jason but also numerous other projects. This difficulty with allocating his time among several works at once was thus likely a more general problem for Thorvaldsen.

Flaws in the marble

Thiele states that the reason for Thorvaldsen’s reluctance to work on Jason was “flaws” in the marble. In fact, Thorvaldsen nowhere mentions such flaws in the extant sources. Others clearly noticed them, however, and found them disfiguring, such as the poet Christian Molbech (1783-1857) and A. Andersen Feldborg.

In the Danish press, too, an 1820 article described the marble’s “bad spots”: “And because, in addition, some bad spots were discovered in the stone during the production of the statue, our countryman decided, with the delicate feeling that is the highest adornment of genius, to order another block that would be more worthy of the statue, which became the foundation of his worldly happiness. ...”

Nevertheless, as mentioned previously, this talk of a replacement block must have been untrue.

The marble version of Jason with the Golden Fleece, A822, is indeed deeply stained by black veins, and it is certainly conceivable that, despite Thorvaldsen’s failure to mention the problem, irritation with this unexpected flaw did indeed help make the work of completing the statue less satisfying to the sculptor. In 1807, for example, Thorvaldsen complains in a letter to Herman Schubart that the relief The Dance of the Muses on Helicon, presumably A705, had not become as beautiful as desired because the marble had turned out to be mottled with spots.

Dissatisfication with his youthful work

In his delivery letter, Thorvaldsen states that the statue did not turn out as perfect in his eyes as he had wished, and that he had tried in vain, while working on it, to correct what he regarded as its flaws. At first glance, one could read this as a reference to the mottled marble that had emerged in the sculpting process; but other sources suggest that this is not the case. Instead, in Thorvaldsen’s eyes the flaws in Jason were compositional.

Consider the following report by Thiele of his visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop in May 1824:

“In the month of May 1824 [I] encountered [Thorvaldsen], who was about to complete the head, while one of his best students worked on completing the ram’s skin. Upon seeing the artist with the chisel on the hero’s brow, [I stated] that it must have been a labor of love to complete a statue that held such striking significance for his artistic career. ‘No,’ he responded, letting his arm sink down, ‘now it is a bit of a sour thing! When I first made this statue,’ he continued, ‘I found it good; and it is still good now; but now I can in fact do something even better.’”

J. B. Dalhoff, too, writing about his father, the bronze caster Jørgen Dalhoff, retold a similar account, which allegedly had been related directly by Thorvaldsen to the bronze caster:

”[Thorvaldsen:] ‘Do you know why Jason was never finished, though I had received the money for him? ... Well, I hated the statue, because he was made of tobacco … I wanted to prove myself before I left Rome. Each day I ran to the Vatican and swallowed what I could of the ancients, and did not turn around on the way back. Then I ground away at it, sniffing [tobacco] all day long to tickle my nerves. Not even the tiniest of my own thoughts made it onto that statue, and because it needed to be great, I strove far beyond my abilities, and fell ill…’”

Another indication that Thorvaldsen was not simply referring to the mottled marble, but in fact to the statue as a whole, is his reworking of the plaster model, A52, in the 1830s, during which (among other things) the head was sawn off and turned, and new plaster was added, particularly to the breast and knees. One account of the reason for this is provided in a letter written by Gottlieb Bindesbøll to his brother Severin Bindesbøll on 28.7.1836. Here Gottlieb Bindesbøll refers to the reworking of Jason as follows:

“He has changed his Jason quite a bit, cut off the head and turned it straighter[,] covered the body with plaster and reworked it entirely, there are many who doubt that it has become better [than] before, and when you ask him why he is doing it, he says[:] Because it looks like armor, not like flesh.”

In the 1830s, Thorvaldsen reworked the original model of Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52. While he did not produce a new marble version of the statue himself, in 1862 the Norwegian sculptor Brynjulf Larsen Bergslien, under the supervision of master sculptor H. W. Bissen, did complete the slightly altered version of Jason with the Golden Fleece. The statue was installed at the Museum, in accordance with its policy at the time of producing new marble versions of the works of Thorvaldsen that it “only” owned in plaster, or did not own at all. In 1938, the statue was donated by the Museum to the City of Copenhagen on the occasion of the centennial of its bestowal of honorary city citizenship on Thorvaldsen. This Jason stands today at Copenhagen’s City Hall. The photographs display the statue first during the process of wrapping it at the Museum before its transferral to City Hall, and then after its erection at City Hall. Before the transfer, Thorvaldsens Museum had given the statue the inventory number A51.

Tactical presentation: Jason as a showcase piece?

Another potential theory is that the acclaimed statue of Jason, standing on display in the sculptor’s workshop, may have served as a showcase piece for Thorvaldsen’s work as a whole. Visitors were thereby reminded that it was none other than Thorvaldsen who had created this statue, which art connoisseurs claimed had best rediscovered the connection to antiquity, and which had inaugurated the new grand neoclassical style. A nearly-complete Jason may, in short, have functioned as an advertising column to attract new customers. On the other hand, the statue’s continued presence in Thorvaldsen’s workshop certainly also attested to the long delays to which this sculptor was at times susceptible. For a sympathetic viewer, this could no doubt be interpreted as a sign of quality: if one managed to acquire a sculpture by Thorvaldsen, despite the long lead time he might require, then one would be in possession of a truly exclusive work of art that bore witness to the artist’s sense of perfection. That is to say: Thorvaldsen did not deliver a work of art until he himself was satisfied with it.

Such an interpretation is reinforced by Thorvaldsen’s letter to Torlonia on the relation of time to the genesis of a work of art: ... nelle arti di Genio il tempo non puolsi esattamente circoscrivere.

A. Andersen Feldborgs letter to Thorvaldsen, dated 9.8.1825, also arguably supports this interpretation, inasmuch as Feldborg was of the view that the longer Jason was withheld from England, the better reception it would obtain when the statue finally arrived.


The clay model of Jason was cast in plaster at some point after January 28, 1803, on which date the model was not yet fully completed, and well in advance of March 19 of the same year, when Friederike Brun held a festive gathering to celebrate its casting.

By comparing the mentions of Jason in the archive with newly discovered sources, Thomas Hope’s legendary commission of Thorvaldsen’s acclaimed work can be dated to a narrower range than previously. The commission cannot have taken place before March 21, as was previously assumed, but to a range of two to three days, namely, the period from March 19 to March 21; and it can possibly be dated to a single day, namely, none other than March 21, 1803, the day when Georg Zoëga heard the news directly from Thorvaldsen.

The date of Thorvaldsen’s contract with his first assistant sculptors, Finelli and Keller, can also be adjusted by at least a year with respect to Thiele’s dating, while the earlier dating by Stig Miss here finds further support [cf. Miss, op. cit., p. 14, and Thiele I, p. 244]. It is now evident that the contract can have been concluded no later than in the summer of 1803. This proves that Thorvaldsen did not in fact wait six months or a year to initiate work on the statue, but quickly ordered the marble and contracted for the roughest of the carving work.

Though Danish newspapers claimed otherwise, Hope did not in fact urge Thorvaldsen to take his time completing Jason when he visited the sculptor in 1816-17. On the contrary: Thorvaldsen received regular reminders from Hope, and later from the Torlonia banking house, demanding in increasingly strident tones that he finish the work promptly. Thorvaldsen excused himself by insisting that in the world of art, strict deadlines have no place: things take as long as they take. Meanwhile, the claim that Thorvaldsen had offered to sculpt the statue afresh in a new marble block also seems unfounded in reality.

There were presumably numerous concurring causes for the fact that it took so long for Thorvaldsen to complete his breakthrough work. It seems likely that some of these causes were the following:

  • Thorvaldsen’s illness
  • The assistant sculptor Keller’s early withdrawal from the project, as a result of his fall and poor health
  • The state of hostilities in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, which made shipment to England difficult
  • New commissions, which Thorvaldsen prioritized above Hope’s for economic or other reasons
  • The sculptor’s dissatisfaction with the statue’s composition
  • The sculptor’s dissatisfaction with the quality of the marble (the black veins in the stone)
  • It was presumably attractive for Thorvaldsen to have the nearly complete Jason standing in his workshop, so that visitors would realize that he was the originator of the renowned statue.

Chronological survey of significant references to Jason with the Golden Fleece:

Source Contents
Letter dated 4.4.1800 from Thorvaldsen to Nicolai Abildgaard …og saa snart denne er færdig agter ieg at lægge Haand paa en Marmorstatue i levende Størrelse, dersom ikke Bekostninger i disse Tiider da ogsaa Marmoren er overmaade Dyr skulde hindre mig deri. [...and as soon as this is finished [the bust of Raphael, A752], I intend to try my hand at a marble statue in life size, provided I am not hindered in this by the present costs, as marble too is exceedingly expensive.]
Letter dated 24.10.1800 to the Academy of Fine Arts Hvad for nærværende fornemmeligen beskæftiger mig er en nøgen Figur i naturlig Størrelse, som forrestiller Iason i Begreb at vende tilbage til Skibet efter han har borttaget det gyldne Fliis, som han bærer paa den venstre Arm holdende i den høire Haand et Spyd… [What concerns me now, first and foremost, is a nude figure in natural size representing Jason in the act of returning to the ship after having seized the Golden Fleece, which he wears on his left arm, while holding a spear in his right hand…]
Letter dated 22.4.1801 to the Academy of Fine Arts Jeg har modellert en staaende Figur over naturlig Størrelse forestillende Jason med det gyldne Fliis, som har havt den Lykke at finde Konst[n]ernes Bifald. Jeg agtede at lade den forme, men fand Bekostninger derved afskrækkende, saasom man derfor forlandte 36 scudi, hvilke i disse overmaade Dyre Tider meget vilde have inkommoderet mig, og ieg om saa meget mindre troede at kunde anvende derpaa, da ingen Udsigter er til at afsende noget til Kiøbenhavn. [I have modeled a standing figure in [Dan. ‘over’] natural size depicting Jason with the Golden Fleece, which has had the good fortune to meet with the artists’ approval. I intended to let it be cast [in plaster], but found the expense disheartening. It would have cost 36 scudi, which, in these exceedingly expensive times, would have greatly inconvenienced me; and I was even less hopeful of being able to make use of such a thing, as there are no prospects of sending something off to Copenhagen.]
Protocols of the The Academy of Fine Arts for June 30, 1801 Siden seneste Forsamling var indløben Skrivelse fra Pensionairen Thorvaldsen dateret Rom d. 22 April, hvori han tilmelder Academiet at han har forfærdiget en Figur i naturlig Størrelse forestillende en Jason; men som han af Mangel paa Formue ikke har kunnet lade forme. [Following the most recent collection, a message had arrived from Thorvaldsen, the stipendiary, dated April 22 in Rome, in which he reported to the Academy that he had completed a life-size figure representing a Jason, but was unable to let it be cast [in plaster] due to lack of funds.]
Excerpt from the diary of Friederike Brun dated 27.11.1802 Thorwaldsen unser Landsmann – entschiedenes Genie zu Heroen gestalten – Sein Jason wovon Er das Modell 11/2 Lebensgröβe vollendet hatte u[nd] weil es zu Groβ zum ausbrennen war u[nd] Er kein Geld zum abformen einmal hatte zerschmeiβen muβte – jetzt in 5 4 Tagen wieder aufgerichtet – voll Geist Kraft u[nd] Bewegung – schöner Kopf Haar u[nd] Ohren steht fest auf Seinen Beinen (welches Canovas Helden nie u[nd] selten die neüen thun)
Complete diary entry by Friederike Brun dated 28.1.1803 Thorwaldsens Jason – es ist die Letztfertig gewordne Antike! der Heros Schreitet Leicht – fest – u[nd] Kräftig wandelnd – mit dem Sieges Preis an dir vorüber – das gewendete sp edel rein grandios, u[nd] groβ empfunden Haupt auf dem noch Zornschwellendem Halse – blickt auf den erlegten Drachen zurück – der Hohn um die Lippe die Flamme des Blicks ist gottlich – der Helm schlieβt Knapp – an die stolz gewölbte Stirn – u[nd] das haar ist frei zurück gestrichen – Leib – Schultern – Brust u[nd] Rücken u[nd] Schenkel – schwellen von Jungen Kraft u[nd] Stärke – ohne über die Schönheit hinaus zu schwellen – man vergleicht mit Achill – Mars – Theseus – Er ist er selbst – u[nd] dem Apoll verwandt allein nicht ähnlicher als Geschwister zu sein pflegen. Beine – Hande – u[nd] Füβe sind noch nicht fertig – so wie der ganzen Thon form noch die letzte Hand fehlt – davor stand der junge Künstler der gottbegnadigte Thränen im Aug’ erröthend – denn dieses übergroβe Genie kann sich nicht genung thun – u[nd] wahrend wir stauend ihn lobpreisten – Schaut Er an das Gotter bild Seines Busens – u[nd] blikt Melancholisch in eine trübe Zukunft – das arme Dänemark kann dies Genie nicht belohnen – u[nd] im Norden erstirbt dem Künstler überhaupt u[nd] dem Bildhauer inbesondre Geist u[nd] Herz!
Subsequently (1812/1815) revised diary entry by Friederike Brun dated 28.1.1803 …Jeg kommer tilbage fra Thorvaldsens Jason! Det er den sidst færdigblevne antike Statue! Helten skrider med let og kraftig Gang forbi dig; det dreiede Hoved, med den høie og rene Form, paa den endnu af Vrede svulmende Hals, seer tilbage paa den fældede Drage; Haan, der svæver om Læberne, Blikkets Flamme, ere fortræffeligen udtrykte. Hielmen slutter tæt til den stolt hvælvede Pande. Kroppen Skuldrene, Brystet, Ryggen svulme af Fylde og Ungdomskraft, uden at opsvulme over Skønhedens Jævnmaal. Arme, Been, Hænder og Fødder ere endnu ikke ganske udmodellerede, men allerede i Tegningen ere de fuldkomne. Man sammenligner uvilkaarligen med Achilles, Mars, Theseus. – Men Jason er ganske han selv; kun beslægtet med Apollo, og dog heller ikke mere end ved Slægtliighed. – For Heltebilledet stod den unge, gudbenaanede Konstner, med Taarer i Øinene, og med Undseelsens ædle Rødme paa Kinderne – thi dette overordentlige genie vil vanskeligen tilfredsstille sig selv; og meddens vi først tause tabte os i Beskuelsee, og derpaa høit beundrede, beskuede han det endnu uopnaaede Gudbillede i hans Siæl! [I have returned from Thorvaldsen’s Jason!—the classical statue finished most recently! The hero strides past you with a light and powerful gait; the turned head, with its tall, clean form on a neck still swollen with rage, looks back at the slain dragon; the scorn floating about his lips, the flame of his gaze, are excellently articulated. The helm closes tight on his proudly arched brow. The body—shoulders, chest, back—is swollen with fullness and the power of youth, though without exceeding the moderate standard of beauty. The arms, legs, hands, and feet are not yet fully modeled, but are already complete in the drawing. One comes automatically to compare him to Achilles, Mars, Theseus. —But Jason is entirely himself; he is related to Apollo, though not by more than kin-resemblance. —Before the hero-image stood the young, divinely graced artist, with tears in his eyes, and with the noble blush of bashfulness on his cheek; and while we at first silently lost ourselves in gazing, and then admired it loudly, he gazed at the still-unrealized divine image in his soul!]
Letter dated 28.1.1803 from Wilhelm von Humboldt to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe …Weniger bekannt und besucht als alle diese Bildhauerwerkstätten ist die eines Dänen, Thorwaldsen, der eben jetzt einen Jason gemacht hat. Der Held scheint eben von der Erbeutung des goldenen Vlieses herzukommen. Er ist im Schreiten begriffen, trägt in der Rechten, auf die Schulter angelehnt, seinen Spieß, und über dem linken Arme hängt das Fell des Widders. Er ist nackt bis auf den Helm, das Schwert, das er am Wehrgehenk trägt. Das Ganze is eine überaus kräftige und harmonische Gestalt und die ideale Behandlung des Heros ist, ganz im antiken Sinn, sehr glücklich zwischen der gewöhnlichen Natur und der eigentlichen Göttergestalt in der Mitte gehalten. Es wäre in der Tat äußerst schade, wenn dies wirklich sehr ausgezeichnete Kunstwerk gleich in Gips untergehen sollte. Doch ist es noch ungewiß, ob der Künstler Gelegenheit finden wird, es in Marmor auszuarbeiten.
Diary entry by Friederike Brun dated 19.3.1803 Jason-Fest – Ida Grazie! Der gute Prinz! Reine u[nd] Fröliche Seelen! Thorwaldsens bange Freüde – der Lorbeerkranz: “den Tÿnger paa min Isse!” [Danish: “It weighs on my brow!”] Er hat nie Tasso gelesen.
Subsequently (1833) revised diary entry by Friederike Brun dated 19.3.1803 …Unsers Thorwaldsen’s Jason, seine erste Statue und die jüngste der Antiken, war nun aus der Form, ja, war schon in Marmor durch den reichen Holländer, oder, wie mir andre gesagt, Schottländer Hope bestellt, und also ihre Unsterblichkeit im Reiche der Erscheinungen gesichert. Unser Aller Freude hierüber war so groß, daß ich beschloß, sie in einem kleinen Feste auszulassen…
The contract between Thorvaldsen and Hope dated no earlier than 19.3.1803, and no later than 23.3.1803 Moi soussigné Je m’engage d’éxécuter pour Mr. Thomas Hope de Londres, en Marbre Statuaire de Carraze, de la plus parfaite qualité, sélon un modele actuellement éxistant dans mon Étude près de la place Barberini, une Statue haute de Onze palmes Romains, réprésentant Jason débout, portant d’une main Sa Lance, de l’autre le toison d’or… [See the complete contract here.]
Receipt for Hope’s first installment payment dated March 23, 1803; cf. no earlier than 19.3.1803, and no later than 23.3.1803 Reçu la Somme de Trois Cents trente Écus Romains en payement du prémier terme de l’engagement énoncé ci-dessus.
Letter dated 29.3.1803 from C. F. F. Stanley to Thorvaldsen …Gud velsigne hin Engelænder som haver Forlængret dit Ophold i Rom… [God bless that Englishman who has prolonged your stay in Rome]
Contract between Thorvaldsen and Finelli & Keller dated no earlier than 23.3.1803, and no later than summer 1803 Sottoscritto Alberto Torvaldsen Scultore Danese e Pietro Finelli e Enrigo Keller Scultori si obbligamo vicendevolmente, di procurare al detto A. Torvaldsen un marmo statuario dell’ ottima qualitá senza macchie nottabile per quanto si può vedere prima di lavorarlo, si obbligamo inoltre di tirare a ñre spese il detto Pezzo allo studio suo situato in Piazza Barberini al vicolo della catena di metterlo in opera e di ridurre al punto della gradina la statua del Giasone fatta ed inventata dallo scultore Torvaldsen al punto che sia ben ritrovata in tutte le parti sue […] [See the complete contract here]
Finelli and Keller’s receipt for the first installment payment from Thorvaldsen dated no earlier than 23.3.1803, and no later than summer 1803 Sottoscritti abbiamo ricevuto a Conto trecento Scudi
Letter from Patrick Moir to Thorvaldsen, dated no earlier than March 1803, and presumably no later than 1805 [Moir requests Thorvaldsen’s presence at a meeting to settle matters regarding Jason.]
Letter dated 20.4.1803 from Caroline von Humboldt to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Ich kann nicht endigen, obgleich mich eigenlich die Zeit drängt, ohne Ihnen noch von einem Dänen Thorwaldsen zu sprechen, der seit sechs oder sieben Jahren hier ist. Mein Mann hat, glaube ich, schon von seiner Figur geschrieben. Sie ist seitdem geformt und er fängt sie bereits in Marmor an. Ich lege Ihnen eine flüchtige Zeichnung davon bei, damit Sie eine deutlicher Idee haben mögen. Ich möchte sie vor Ihre Augen hinzaubern können, denn sie ist das Schönste, was neuerlich ist gemacht worden. Die Figur ist etwas über groβe Lebensgröβe, ich denke etwa sieben Fuβ, wie sie einem Heldencharakter zukommt, der Kopf ist vortrefflich, ernst, jugendlich, still und voll Ausdruck und Würde. Die ganze Gestalt ist durchaus eins, leicht und bewegt, stark, in der höchsten Kraft und ganz, ganz entfernt von jeder Spur von Roheit. Wenn, wie ich hoffen will, eine schöne bearbeitung des Marmors nun noch zu allen Vorzügen, die sie hat, zu dem reinen Verhältnis aller Teile hinzukommt, so wird sie eine vollendete Statue werden. Ein Engländer Hope hat sie bestellt und gibt dem Künstler, der in seiner Beschiedenheit kaum das Notwendigste forderte, 200 Zechinen mehr als er verlangte. Den Marmor mit eingerechnet gibt Hope 800 Zechinen.
Carl Ludwig Fernow, 1.7.1803 […] Von diesen verschiedenen Arbeiten werde ich Ihnen in Kurzem einem ausführlicheren Bericht geben, so wie von der Figur des Jason, die neulich en junger dänischer Künstler, Namens Thorwaldsen, verfertigt hat, und die derselbe jetz für den in England wohnenden reichen Holländer Hope in Marmor ausführt. Hope’s Benchmen gegen den jungen Künstler bey dieser Gelegenheit ist so edelmüthig gewesen, daβ ich mir das Vergnügen nich versagen kann, es Ihnen mitzutheilen. Der Künstler hatte sechs Jahre lang als Pensionair der Copenhagener Akademie in Rom gelebt, und war im Begriff in sein Vaterland zurückreisen, mit der trüben Aussicht, vielleicht nie ein groβes Kunstwerk, woran er sein Talent zeigen könnte, in Marmor auszuführen. Er wünschte also vor seiner Abreise wenigstens in einer modellierten Figur über Lebensgröβe zu zeigen, was er als Kunstler zu leisten vermöchte. Seine Figur, welche einem Jason, der mit dem goldenen Flies siegreich zurückkehrt, vorstellte, fand den allgemeinsten Beyfall, und verdiente ihn. Man hatte in neuerern Zeiten kein Werk in so reinem und groβem Stile gesehen. Indessen brachte dieser ungetheilte Beyfall dem Künstler nur Ehre und weiter nichts zu wege; und er war im Begriffe sein Thonmodel, wie er schon mit einigen früheren gethan hatte, wieder zusammen zu werfen, und sich zur Abreise zu rüsten, als glücklicherweise seine reiche Landsmannin, die edelgesinnte Friederike Brun, der das Schicksal des Künstlers und seines Werks gleich nahe ging, ihm den Antrag that, das Modell auf ihre Kosten in Gyps zu formen, und so wenigstens das Werk vor der gänzlichen Zerstörung zu bewahren, bis vielleicht in seinem Vaterlande ein vermogender Kunstliebhaber sich entschlösse, die Statue in Marmor ausführen zu lassen! aber die deshalb gemachten Versuche schlugen fehl; als zufällig Hope, der sich gerade in Rom befand, kurz vor seiner Abreise von der Statue des Künstlers hörte und sich in das Studium desselben führen lieβ. In seiner Erwartung übertroffen, machte er aus der Stelle dem Künstler die Bestellung des Jason in Marmor, und als dieser, der nichts mehr wünschte, als die Gelegenheit, seine Statue in Marmor auszuführen, und während der Arbeit leben zu können, den äuβerst geringen Preiβ von 600 Zecchinen forderte, erwiederte Hope, er sehe ein, daβ dies kein Preiβ für ein solches Werk sey, und erbot sich dem Künstler noch 200 Zecchinen über seine Forderung zu geben. So geht nun auch dies Werk, daβ der neueren Kunst Ehre macht, zu so vielen andern Kunstschäzen nach England; aber der Künstler, der in seinem Vaterlande unerkannt genöthigt gewesen wäre; durch Arbeiten unter seiner Späre kümmerlich seinen Unterhalt zu erwerben, hat nun doch wenigstens die Aussicht, länger und vielleicht für immer in Rom zu bleiben, und unter begünstigenden Umständen vielleicht dereinst Glück und Ruhm mit dem vergötterten Canova zu theilen. Ueberhaupt hat seit einiger Zeit die Bildneren einen neuen Schwung bekommen, der vortheilhafte Folgen für sie haben muβ, wenn nicht der unselige Krieg aufs Neue ihre Tätigkeit stört. ...
August von Kotzebue, Der Freymüthige 1803 Unter die Arbeiten, die jetzt in Rom Aussehen erregen, zählt man insbesondere die Statue eines Jason, sechs Fuβ hoch, von einem Bildhauer aus Kopenhagen. Ein Engländer, T. Hoppe, läβt diese Figur in Marmor ausführen, und zahlt dafür achthundert Dukaten; der Bildhauer heiβt Torwalβen. Das Werk hat seine Verdienste, und trägt das Gespräge eines Künstlers, der vorzüglich beslissen gewesen ist, sich den Styl der Kolossen von Monte-Cavallo anzueignen. Einige machen ein so groβes Aufheben davon, daβ sie sogar Canova zu verstehen geben wollen, er solle darnach studieren. Doch das find nur solche Kritiker, die da behaupten, alles Schöne und Gute müsse durchaus im groβen Styl der Kolossen gearbeytet seyn. Nun soll dieser Jason gerade wie ein Abguβ derselben aussehen; welches allerdings ein Verdienst ist. Man vergesse hierbei nicht, daβ die erste Arbeit Canova’s, welche ihm sogleich in Rom einenn groβen Ruf brachte, die Gruppe des Theseus und des Minotaur war, die nach Aller Urtheil, in demselben Styl (der dahin auch gehörte) vortrefflich gearbeitet war. Selbst aus dem Kupferstiche dieser Gruppe, von Morghen, kann man sich hiervon überzeugen. Dessen ungeachtet werden wir, und wahrscheinlich im Merkur, eine bittere Abhandlung über Canova bekommen, worin dieser Montecavallosche Jason ihm zum Vorwurf gemacht wird. – Nun wohl! je bittere, je willkommner! So stimmt es in die Schadenfreude der Menschen, und leider auch in den Geist der Zeit.
Knud Lyne Rahbek, Minerva 1803 I det berlinske Ugeblad der Freymuthige (af Kotzebue), No. 87, 1801, S. 346 findes følgende Efterretning om én af vore reisende danske Konstnere:
‘Blandt de Arbeider, der nu giøre Opsigt i Rom, regner man især en Jasons Billedstøtte, sex Fod høi, af en Billedhugger fra Kiøbenhavn. En engelskmand, T. Hope, lader denne Figur udføre i Marmor, og betaler derfor 800 Dukater. Billedhuggeren hedder Thorwalzen (Thorvaldsen). Værket har fine Fortienester, og bærer Præg af en Konstner, der fornemmelig har lagt Biud paa at giøre sig Colossernes Stiil fra Montecavallo egen. Nogle giøre saa meget Væsen deraf, at de endog ville give Canova at forstaae, at han skulde studere derefter. Dog er det kun saadanne Konstdommere, som paastaae, alt skiønt og godt nødvendig maa være arbeidet i Colossernes store Stiil. Nu skal denne Jason netop see ud som en Afstøbning af disse, hvilket unægtelig er en Fortieneste. Man glemme derhos ikke, at Canovas første Arbeid, der strax i Rom bragte ham i et stort Rye, var Gruppen Theseus og Minotaurus, der efter alles Dom var fortreffelig udarbeidet i samme Stiil, som også hørte derhen. Selv af denne Gruppes Kobberstik ved Morghem kan man overtyde sig herom. Desuagtet vil vi, og rimeligvis i tydske Merkur, faae en saa bitter Afhandling over Canova, hvori denne Montecavalliske Jason kastes ham i Næsen. Nu vel! Jo bittrere, jo kierkomnere! Saaledes stemmer den med Menneskenes Skadeglæde, og desværre ogsaa med Tidens Aand.’
Man seer lettelig – siger den Ven, der først har giort Undertegnede opmærksom paa ovenstaaende – at vor Thorvaldsens Jason maa have opvakt Skinsyge hos Canovas blinde og eksklusive Forgudere – og hvilken stor Mand har ikke dem? Imidlertid er unægtelig just dette os Borgen for, at vor Landsmand maa besidde mere end almindelig Kunstnerværd! o, at han maatte opfylde, hvad Kunstens Venner fra hans tidlige Aar spaaede sig af ham; at han engang, men under en lykkeligere Stierne, maatte erstatte os sin store Lærer, Winckelmanns Ven, Danmarks Phidias, Wiedewelt!
[In the Berlin weekly Der Freymuthige (by Kotzebue) [i.e., Der Freimüthige oder Berlinische Zeitung für gebildete, a Berlin weekly edited by August von Kotzebue and Garlieb Merkel from 1803-1807], no. 87, 1801, p. 346, the following account is given of one of our traveling Danish artists:
“Special among the works that is now attracting attention in Rome is a free-standing six-foot statue of Jason by a sculptor from Copenhagen. An Englishman, T. Hope, has commissioned this work in marble for 800 ducats. The sculptor is named Thorwalzen (Thorvaldsen). The work has fine attributes, and bears the mark of an artist who has undertaken, first and foremost, to make the style of the Colossi of Monte Cavallo [i.e., the Horse Tamers of the Quirinal Hill] his own. Some make so much of this that they would urge Canova to follow suit; but these are the same critics who claim that everything beautiful and good must necessarily be produced in the Colossi’s massive style. Now this Jason should appear precisely to be a cast of these, which is indubitably an asset. Here one should not forget that Canova’s first work, which instantly gave him a great reputation in Rome, was the series Theseus and the Minotaur, which was judged by all to be executed splendidly in the same style that also befit them. The same can be said of the copper engraving of this series by Morghem. Nevertheless, we—and likely the German Mercury as well—can expect to receive a bitter treatise on Canova, reproaching him on account of this Monte Cavallo-style Jason. Well then! The more bitter, the more welcome! So it goes with human beings’ Schadenfreude; and so too, unfortunately, with the spirit of the age.” One can readily see—so said the friend who first drew my attention to the above—that our Thorvaldsen’s Jason must have awakened jealousy among those who blindly and exclusively deify Canova. But what great man lacks such admirers? Yet this is precisely, and undeniably, proof that our countryman bears artistic worth beyond the ordinary! O, that he might fulfill what the friends of art prophesied of him in his early years: that one day, but under a happier star, we would gain in him a substitute for his great teacher, Winckelmann’s friend, Denmark’s Phidias, Wiedewelt!]
Report on the state of art in Rome by August Wilhelm von Schlegel to J.W. v. Goethe, summer 1805, cf. Schlegel, op. cit. Ich freue mich, einen jungen Künstler zu können, der, mit den herrlichen Anlagen begabt, diese Laufbahn betritt; und den wir uns gewissermaβen zueignen dürfen, da er, wiewohl eine Däne von Geburt, wie ein Deutscher unsere Sprache redet, und ganz deutsche Bildung besitz. Es ist Thorwaldsen. Vor einigen Jahren war er schon im Begriff, Rom zu verlassen, ohne seine eignen Kräfte kennen gelernt zu haben, und ohne Andern bekannt geworden zu sein, als das Modell eines Jasons über Lebensgröβe, das er unternahm, die Aufmerksamkeit aller Künstler und Kenner in der vortheilhastesten Art auf ihn richtete. ...
Thorwaldsens Jason ist in der That des Bildes würdig, das uns Pindar von ihm entwirst, wie er, der schönste der Menschen, zu seinem sast erblindeten Vater hineintritt, und ihn mit Freude überschüttet. Er hat über dem linken Arm das Vlieβ hängen, in der Rechten den Speer, den Helm auf dem Haupte, übrigens ist er nackt. Durch die edle Gestalt ist ruhige gleichgewogene Kraft ohne Anstrengung hingegoβen; in der Stellung ist eine, ich möchte sagen, gymnastiche Grazie; und in dem Ausdruck der ganzen Figur liegt jene stolze Unbekümmertheit, jenes dem heroischen Zeitalter einige Unbewuβtsein der Gröβe und Vortrefflichkeit.
Letter dated 25.8.1803 from Karl Victor von Bonstetten to Friederike Brun Hast du einen ehrenvollen Artikel über Thorwaldsen’s “Jason” in den französischen Zeitungen gelesen?
Friederike Brun, “Thorwaldsens Jason,” in Der neue Teutsche Merkur 1803 Two brief epigrams on the work and its direct connection to antiquity, Die Fremde and Die Antike, gathered under the title Thorwaldsens Jason.
Antonio Canova on first setting eyes on Jason with the Golden Fleece, A52, 1803 Quest’ opera di quel giovane danese è fatto in uno stilo nuovo e grandioso!
Receipt for Hope’s second installment payment dated August 27, 1804, cf. no earlier than 19.3.1803, and no later than 23.3.1803 E di più ho ric[evu]to p[er] ordine del Sig.re Patrizio Moir coprd. Il Sig. Marino Torlonia Scudi Tre Cento trenta mta fina per la Seconda Rata.
Finelli and Keller’s receipt for wages paid by Thorvaldsen on 28.8.1803 or 28.8.1804, cf. no earlier than 23.3.1803, no later than summer 1803 e più a di 28 Agosto [h]o ricevuto Piastre Cento cinquanta ed in fede dico piastre 150
Letter dated 21.1.1804 from Herman Schubart to Thorvaldsen …men sig mig hvor vidt Der[es] Jason er kommet? [but tell me: how far along is you[r] Jason?]
Letter dated approximately 1.2.1804 from Thorvaldsen to Herman Schubart, in reply to the previous letter …My Jason is so far along that it is waiting for me; but I do not yet dare to work in my workshop on account of the humidity…
Fragment from a letter dated 10.1.1804, possibly from Jacqueline Schubart to Charlotte Schimmelmann Déjà le Jason de Thorvaldsen annonce plus de génie que le Persée de Canova, on en convient à Rome…
Letter dated February-March 1804 from Herman Schubart to C. F. Hansen Hvad mig angaaer saa er i Sandhed jeg stolt af at have ham til Landsmand, naar jeg beundrer hans ypperlige Jason, og de mange geniefulde Arbeyder som udmærke hans Kunstværksted. [As far as I am concerned, I am truly proud to have him as a countryman, when I admire his magnificent Jason, and the man ingenious works that distinguish his studio.]
Diary entry dated 5.4.1804 by Pauline Dorothea Frisch, op. cit., p. 363 …Thorwaldsends Werkstätte war etwas von dem ersten was wir besahen. ... Sein Jason eilt seiner Vollendung in Marmor entgegen.
[For Frisch’s complete description of her visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop, see here]
Letter dated 6.8.1804 from Thorvaldsen to the Academy of Fine Arts Jeg tænker om faae Dage at giøre en Rejse til Carara for at indkiøbe Marmor, og haaber jeg at være i Rom i September for der med fornyede Kræfter at arbeyde paa min Jason om hvilken jeg havde den Ære at melde Academiet i min seeneste Skrivelse. [I am thinking of traveling to Carrara in a few days in order to buy marble, and I hope to be in Rome in September, in order to work there with renewed strength on my Jason, about which I had the honor of informing the Academy in my latest message.]
Receipt for Hope’s third installment payment dated February 27, 1805, cf. no earlier than 19.3.1803, and no later than 23.3.1803 E di più ho ric[evu]to p[er] ordine del Sig. Patrizio Moir coprd: Il Sig. Marino Torlonia Scudi Tre Cento trenta mta fina per la terza Rata.
Finelli’s receipt dated March 8, 1805 for wages paid by Thorvaldsen; cf. no earlier than 23.3.1803, and no later than summer 1803 e più a di 8 Marzo 1805, ho ricevuto piastre cento ed in fede dico Pie – 100 -
August von Kotzebue: Erinnerungen von einer Riese …, Berlin 1805, op. cit. …der Däne Towoalson läβt sie [i.e., the French sculptors in Rome] weit hinter sich. Er hat, in kolossaler Gröβe, einen herrlichen Jason mit dem Widderfelle vollendet, den er in diesem Augenblicke für den reichen Banquier Hope in Marmorausführt. Schade daβ das Künstler bei der Wahl des Marmorblocks nicht günstig gewesen, er hat viele böse Flecken. ...
Nyeste Skilderie af Kjøbenhavn [Latest Portrait of Copenhagen], no. 71, 17.6.1805, p. 1132 I Kotzebues Erinnerungen von einer Reise aus Liefland nach Rom und Neapel, T. 2, P. 410-11 siges: ‘Thorvaldsen, en Dansk, overgaar langt de i Rom værende franske Billedhuggere. Han har fuldendt en herlig Jason med Vædderskindet i colossalsk Størrelse, som han i dette Øieblik udfører i Marmor for den rige Banquier Hope. Skade at Lykken ikke har været Konstneren gunstig ved Valget af Marmorblokken; den har mange slemme Pletter. ... Thorvaldsen gjør sit Fædreneland Ære; i Kraft overgaaer han endog Canova’. [In Kotzebue’s Erinnerungen von einer Reise aus Liefland nach Rom und Neapel, tome 2, pp. 410-411, it states: “Thorvaldsen, a Dane, is greatly outdoing the French sculptors now in Rome. He has completed a glorious [statue of] Jason with the ram’s fleece in colossal scale, which he is presently rendering in marble for the rich banker Hope. Unfortunately, luck has not favored the sculptor in his choice of a marble block; it has many bad spots … Thorvaldsen does honor to his fatherland; in power, he outdoes even Canova.”]
Letter dated 8.4.1806 from Patrick Moir to Thorvaldsen Il Sig. Hope credendo che la vostra bella Opera per Lui, sarà ora ben vicino al suo termine, spedisce con questo Ordinario un ordine al Sig. Marchese Torlonia relativo all’ultimo rato dell Pagamento, cioè di Zecchini 150, che compisce li Zecchini 600 Prezzo accordato. – Vi è un altra Somma che Il Sig. Hope rammenta bene di aver promesso, ma questa, deve essere trasmessavi, doppo che l’Opera è stato sottoporto all esame del Sig. Hope … [See the complete letter here.]
Finelli’s receipt dated May 2, 1806 for wages paid by Thorvaldsen; cf. no earlier than 23.3.1803, and no later than 1803 e più a d 2 Magio 1806 ho ricevuto piastre venticinque ed in fed[e] d P. – 25 -
Finelli’s receipt dated June 26, 1806 for wages paid by Thorvaldsen; cf. no earlier than 23.3.1803, presumably no later than fall 1803 e più a di 26 Giugno 1806 ho ricevuto Piastre venticinque, ed in fede dico P. 25
Weekly receipts from the period 13.9.1806-3.1.1807 concerning Thorvaldsen’s payments to Finelli …Avereta La Bontà di pagare al latore della presente Sig:r Luigi Grandi, Paoli … a conto del denaro che resto ancora da aver da Voi …
Carl Gotthard Grass, “Nachrichten …,” 1810, op. cit. … Diese Statue ist nun ihrer Vollendung nahe, und wir den Ruhm des Künstlers eben so gewiß befestigen, als ihn die für Hrn. Hope jetzt ebefalls fast fertige Statue des Jason begründete. ...
Letter dated 6.4.1819 from Thomas Hope to Thorvalden Hope impatiently duns Thorvaldsen for the statue; see the letter here.
Letter dated 10.4.1819 from Rud Bay to Gottlieb Schønheyder Her saae jeg da den herlige colossale Jason med det gyldne Skind paa Armen, som skaffede Thorvaldsen: et saa stort Navn, og som jeg saa ofte hjemme i Fædrelandet hørte omtale med saamegen Respect. Det er rigtignok en sand Helteskikkelse. [Here I saw the glorious colossal Jason with the golden sleeve on his arm, which created Thorvaldsen: so great a name, and one which I have heard used so frequently, at home in our fatherland, with so much respect. It is indeed a true heroic figure.]
Letter dated 9.7.1819 from Luigi Chiaveri to Thorvaldsen Chiaveri asks Thorvaldsen to inform G. R. Torlonia as soon as possible of when Jason will be ready for shipment; see the letter here.
A, “Thorvaldsen,” in S. Soldin, Nyeste Skilderie af Kjøbenhavn [Latest Portrait of Copenhagen], dated February 29, 1820 For omtrent 15 Aar siden kom den ædle Britte Thomas Hope til Rom. Han blev bekjendt med vor Torvaldsen og saa indtaget af de Talenter og Genie, denne havde lagt for Dagen i Modellen til en colossalsk Statue af Jason, at han bestilte den i marmor. Den lange for Videnskaber, Konster og alle Menneskets herligste Frembringelser saa saare ugunstige Periode, der paafulgte, forhindrede Thorvaldsen i at udføre og Hr. Hope i at modtage dette Værk, der er ophøjet over al Roes. Men arma togis cesserunt og Hr. Hope nød den Lykke i Aaret 1816 at see den nyere Billedhuggerkonstes Mesterstykke. Bestillinger indløbe imidlertid i saadan Mængde hos den store Konstner, at Hr. Hope, med en Delicatesse, der harmonerer saa skjønt med hans Sands for det Ædle, bad Thorvaldsen, ei at skynde sig med Jason. Og da desuden nogle slemme Pletter blev opdagede i Stenen ved Statuens Udarbeidelse, besluttede vor Landsmand, med den fine Følelse, der er Geniets ypperste Pryd, at bestille en anden Blok, der kunde være den Statue værdiere, som blev Grundvolden til hans verdslige Lykke. [About fifteen years ago, the noble Briton Thomas Hope came to Rome. He became acquainted with our Thorvaldsen, and was so struck by the talents and genius [that Thorvaldsen] had demonstrated to the age in the model for a colossal statue of Jason that he commissioned it in marble. But the period that followed—so unfavorable for the sciences, arts, and all of humanity’s noblest productions—prevented Thorvaldsen from completing, and Mr. Hope from receiving, this work that is elevated beyond all praise. But arma togis cesserunt, and Mr. Hope took advantage of the good fortune [of peace] in the year 1816 to see the new masterpiece of sculpture. The great artist, meanwhile, was inundated with commissions to such a degree that Mr. Hope, with the delicacy that so beautifully befit his sense of nobility, asked Thorvaldsen not to hurry with Jason. And because, in addition, some bad spots were discovered in the stone during the production of the statue, our countryman decided, with the delicate feeling that is the highest adornment of genius, to order another block that would be more worthy of the statue, which became the foundation of his worldly happiness.]
Christian Molbech, op. cit., p. 226 [summer 1820] …Jason; i Gips, og næsten ganske fuldført i Marmor. Stenen er ikke fejlfri, og dette siges at være Aarsagen til at Konstneren endnu ikke har lagt sidste Haand på denne, for henimod tyve Aar siden af Englænderen Hr. Hope bestilte Statue, Thorvaldsens første berømte Værk i Rom og et af hans ypperste. [Jason; in plaster, and almost entirely completed in marble. The stone is not flawless, and this is said to be the reason why the artist has not yet put the finishing touches on this statue—Thorvaldsen’s first famous work in Rome, and one of his greatest—which was commissioned nearly twenty years ago by the Englishman Mr. Hope.]
Thorvaldsen’s workshop accounts for 1820-1821 G. B. Raggi was paid for his work on Jason from December 23, 1820 to May 25, 1821, while Ercole Bogazzi was paid for his work from September 7 to 15, 1821; this amounts to 24 more or less weekly payments in all.
Letter dated May 1821 from G. R. Torlonia to Thorvaldsen Torlonia is disappointed that Thorvaldsen has broken his promise to have Jason ready for shipment by this point, and accordingly sends Thorvaldsen a transcript of the original kontrakt to remind him of his obligation to Hope. See the letter here.
Letter dated 20.8.1821 from G. R. Torlonia to Thorvaldsen Torlonia duns Thorvaldsen on Hope’s behalf for the delivery of the statue; see the letter here.
Letter dated 21.8.1821 from Thorvaldsen to Torlonia Thorvaldsen assures Torlonia that he certainly intends to meet the delivery deadline, though he will need still another month. See the letter here.
Letter dated 15.4.1823 from Thorvaldsen to Torlonia Torlonia duns Thorvaldsen on Hope’s behalf for the delivery of the statue; see the letter here.
Thorvaldsen’s workshop accounts for 1824 On June 26, 1824, Amadeo was paid for one day’s work on Jason; from July 3 to October 16, 1824, Amadeo received regular payments for 90 days’ work; and from October 30 to December 4, Domenico Fusero was paid for 28 days’ work.
Thorvaldsen’s workshop accounts for 1825 On February 26, 1825, Carlesi was paid for four days’ work on Jason, and from March 3 to 12, 1825 for 11.5 days’ work; on March 12 and 19, 1825, a stonecutter was paid for 2.5 days’ work; and on March 26, 1825, Ercole Dante was paid for a single day’s work on Jason.
Letter dated 9.8.1825 from A. Andersen Feldborg to Thorvaldsen Britannien længes efter Jason. Professor Brøndsted har imidlertid meddeelt mig Deres Anskuelser over bemeldte Statue, som foranledige mig til at troe, at jo længere Jason bliver borte fra England, des meere velkommen vil han blive. [Britain longs for Jason. Professor Brøndsted, however, has passed on to me your views about the aforementioned statue, and these prompt me to believe that the longer Jason is withheld from England, the more welcome he will be.]
Letter dated 12.6.1826 from G. R. Torlonia to Thorvaldsen Torlonia duns Thorvaldsen on Hope’s behalf for the delivery of the statue; see the letter here.
Thorvaldsen’s workshop accounts for 1827 On February 3 and 10, 1827, a stonecutter was compensated for a total of eight days of work; from March 3 to 24, 1827, Bardi was paid for a total of 19.5 days’ work on Jason.
Letter dated 13.6.1827 from G. R. Torlonia to Thorvaldsen Torlonia duns Thorvaldsen on Hope’s behalf for the delivery of the statue; see the letter here.
Draft letter from Thorvaldsen to Hope, presumably from August 1828, along with an additional draft letter. Letter accompanying the shipment of Jason; see the draft letters in French and Italian, respectively.
Letter dated 4.10.1828 from Jørgen Knudtzon to Thorvaldsen Jeg udsætter ikke et Øieblik for at meddele Dem den store Fornøielse, ieg har havt i at erholde et Brev fra Chiaveri, hvori han meddeler mig at have modtaget af Dem Deres Jason, den unge Hope’s Buste og Basreliefet, som De har bestemt for Herr Hope. De giør Dem intet Begreb om, hvilken Triumph dette er for mig; ieg skal nu ei mere nødes at høre, at man giør Anmerkninger om Dem, som ei vare fordelagtige. [I will not delay another moment in telling you of my great pleasure in receiving a letter from Chiaveri, in which he reports having received from you your Jason, the bust of the young Hope, and the bas-relief that you intended for Mr. Hope. You have no idea what a triumph this is for me; now I no longer need to hear remarks being made about you that are hardly advantageous.]
Letter dated 8.1.1829 from F. F. Friis to Thiele, containing reactions by Thorvaldsen to Thiele’s first biography of him 18. Thomas Hope henvendte sig umiddelbar til Thorwaldsen angaaende Jason. / 19. Forf[atteren, dvs. Thiele]: “Jason udførtes i samme Størrelse som den belvederiske Apollo.” – berigtiges til: Jason udførtes i noget over naturlig heroisk Størrelse. / 20. “Imedens Jason-Statuen blev drevet ud af Puncterne, arbeidede Thorwaldsen i et andet Studium”, neml[ig]: paa Achilles & Brisis. / ...22. Jason-Statuen er i August 1828 afsendt til sin Eier. [18. Thomas Hope approached Thorvaldsen about Jason directly. / 19. The auth[or, i.e., Thiele]: “Jason was produced in the same scale as the Belvedere Apollo.”—corrected to: Jason was produced on a scale somewhat larger than heroic size. / 20. “While the Jason statue was carved by its points, Thorvaldsen worked on a different study,” nam[ely], on Achilles and Briseis / ... 22. In August 1828, the Jason statue was sent to its owner.]
Letter dated 3.8.1829 from Hope to Thorvaldsen Letter of thanks from Hope to Thorvaldsen, sent upon receipt of the statue; see the letter here.
Count Hawks le Grice, op. cit., vol. II, 1841, pp. 81-82. Our countryman Mr. Hope, who had taken advantage of the temporary calm to visit Rome, was introduced into his almost deserted studio; and struck with the lofty beauty of the Jason (the second model of which was in the artist’s work-room, he having broken the first, in a fit of anguish and despair) gave an order for its execution in marble, at the price of 800 sequins (the sculptor having asked [for] 600), and supplied him, at once, with the means of prosecuting his work. The hopes of the sculptor revived; from that auspicious day, his sun never waned, commissions flowed in upon him, and he made himself a name which disputed the palm with Canova, during that great artist’s life, and has no continental rival since his death.
Thiele I, p. 172, published in 1851 Leermodellen til Statuen Jason blev endnu holdt fugtig [foråret 1802], for ikke at falde sammen … Da nu ogsaa de sidste Arbeider i Marmor vare afsendte, og han af sin Faders sidste Brev havde erfaret, at Akademiet havde anviist ham hans Reisepenge, det sidste Aars Stipendium, slog han Modellen til Jason sammen, beredte sig, saa vidt han kunde, til Reisen… [The clay model of the Jason statue was still kept moist [in the spring of 1802], so as not to fall apart … Now that the last works in marble had been shipped, and he had learned from his father’s last letter that the Academy of Fine Arts had sent him his travel money, his final year’s stipend, he destroyed the model of Jason and prepared himself for the journey as best he could…]
Wilhelm von Schadow, op. cit., 1854, p. 70 Als sein Reisestipendium abgelaufen war, und es ihm in den Sinn kam, bei seiner Rückkehr nach Kopenhagen der Akademie doch etwas vorzeigen zu müssen, nahm er endlich ein Atelier und begann das Modell seines weltberühtmten Jason. Zu geizig, um einen Schlossser, welcher das Gerippe von Eisen und Draht zu solchem Modell zu machen pflegt, anzunehmen, glaubte er, es selbst anfertigen zu könne was aber den Zusammensturz des fast vollendeten Thonmodells zur Folge hatte.
Aimé Steinlen, op. cit., 1858, p. 463, on Karl Victor von Bonstetten’s 1802-1803 visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop C’est ainsi qu’il [i.e. Bonstetten] eut la bonne fortune d’encourager les débuts laborieux du plus beau génie que l’Art se soit choisi pour interète dans les contrees scandinaves, de celui qui devait tenir le sceptre de la sculpture après Canova, Thorwaldsen. Il l’avait déjà vu, je crois, à Copenhague; il le retrouva dans un coin obscur du palais Barberini, pauvre encore et tout à fait ignoré. Il le farça, comme il avait fait pour Muller, de croire à son avenir et de compter sur la justice des contemporains. Le premier ouvrage de quelque importance qu’eût achevé le ciseau de Thorwaldsen, le ‘Jason’, fut si bien vanté et préconisé par Bonstetten, qu’il ne resta pas longtemps dans l’atelier. L’artiste, qui devait son premier succès à cet affectueux patron, aima toujours à le lui rapporter; et à des amis de Bonstetten qui le visitaient trente ans après, il disait en les conduisant avec émotion à un endroit de son atelier, alors tout peuplé de marbres glorieux : ‘Voilà la place où était le Jason!’


  • For sources from the letters of Thorvaldsen and his contemporaries, see the above table of references.
  • A.: ‘Thorvaldsen’, in: S. Soldin: Nyeste Skilderie af Kjøbenhavn, vol. 17, no. 18 (February 29), Copenhagen 1820, p. 173-176..
  • David Bindman: ‘Thomas Hope’s Modern Sculptures: “a zealous and liberal patronage of its comtemporary professors”’, in: David Watkin and Philip Hewat-Jaboor (eds.): Thomas Hope as Regency Designer, New Haven and London 2008, p. 135-141.
  • Louis Bobé: Frederikke Brun, født Münter, og hendes Kreds hjemme og ude, Copenhagen 1910, p. 184.
  • Karl Victor von Bonstetten: Reise in die klassischen Gegenden Roms zur Schilderung ihres ehemaligen und gegenwärtigen Zustandes, Leipzig 1805.
  • Karl Victor von Bonstetten, Friederike Brun (ed.), Friedrich v. Matthisson (ed.): Briefe von Karl Viktor von Bonstetten an Friederike Brun, 2 vols., Frankfurt a. M. 1829.
  • Friederike Brun, née Münter: ‘Noget om den danske Billedhugger i Rom: Albert Thorvaldsen’, in: Athene IV, 1815, p. 15; also published in German in 1812 in: Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände, no. 191-193 and 197-198.
  • Friederike Brun, née Münter: Römisches Leben, Leipzig 1833, vol. I-II.
  • Friederike Brun: ‘Thorwaldsens Jason’, in: Der neue Teutsche Merkur 1803, vol. 3, p. 485-486; also published in: Iris. Ein Taschenbuch für 1804, Zürich 1804, p. 287-288.
  • R.E. Bruun: ‘Noget fra Rom og om Thorvaldsen. (Af et Brev fra en dansk Reisende til Udgiveren. Jul.1817)’, in: Athene IX, Copenhagen 1817.
  • J. B. Dalhoff: Et Liv i Arbejde, Copenhagen 1915-16.
  • A. Andersen Feldborg: Danmark delineated; or, Sketches of the Present State of that Country. Illustrated with Portraits, Views, and other Engravings from Drawings by Eminent Danish artists, Edinburgh 1823, vol. I, Introduction, p. xvii-xx.
  • A. Andersen Feldborg: Denmark delineated; or sketches of the present state of that country, Parts 1-3; illustrated with engravings from the designs of eminent Danish artists, Edinburgh 1824, vol. I, Introduction, p. 18-21.
  • Carl Ludwig Fernow: ‘Kunstnachrichten und neueste Literatur von Rom.’, in: Der Neue Teutsche Merkur, vol. II, no. 8, August 1803, p. 314-15. For the complete article, see here.
  • Margrethe Floryan: ‘Jasons skæbne. Om Thomas Hope, hans buste og hobbies’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen 2003, p. 43-73.
  • Dagbogsindførsel fra Pauline Dorothea Frisch, geb. Tutein, in: Reise durch Deutschland, Holland, Frankreich, die Schweitz und Italien in den Jahren 1797, 1803 und 1804, Altona 1816, p. 363.
  • Ludwig Geiger (ed.): Goethes Briefwechsel mit Wilhelm und Alexander v. Humboldt, Berlin 1909.
  • Carl Gotthard Grass: ‘Nachrichten von den neusten Arbeiten nahmhafter Künstler aus Rom’, in: Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände, 1810, no. 176-177, p. 701-702.
  • Count Hawks le Grice: Walks through the Studii of the Sculptors at Rome with a brief Historical and Critical Sketch of Sculpture, Rom 1841, vol. 2, p. 81-82. The book is found in Thorvaldsen’s own library, M279.
  • August von Kotzebue (ed.): [title unknown], in: Der Freymuthige, No. 87, 1803, p. 346.
  • August von Kotzebue: Erinnerungen von einer Riese aus Liefland nach Rom und Neapel, vol. 2, Berlin 1805, p. 410-411.
  • Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen 2003 [an informative special issue published in the wake of a March 2003 seminar at the Museum on Jason with the Golden Fleece, containing 10 articles, a bibliography, and Jason. Tekstværk for to forfattere og kor by Naja Marie Aidt and Lars Frost].
  • Stig Miss: ‘Tilblivelsen af Jason med det gyldne skind – de samtidige kilder’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum 2003, Copenhagen 2004, p. 11-17.
  • Christian Molbech: Reise giennem en Deel af Tydskland, Frankrige, England og Italien i Aarene 1819 og 1820, vol. 3, Copenhagen 1822, p. 226.
  • Nyeste Skilderie af Kjøbenhavn, no. 71, 17.6.1805, p. 1132.
  • Knud Lyne Rahbek: ‘Bidrag til Litteraturartiklen’, in: Minerva, 1803, p. 337-338.
  • Wilhelm von Schadow: Der moderne Vasari. Erinnerungen aus dem Künstlerleben, Berlin 1854.
  • August Wilhelm von Schlegels kunstberetning til Goethe sommeren 1805, published in: Eduard Böcking: August Wilhelm von Schlegel’s sammtliche Werke, vol. 9, Leipzig 1846, chap. 5, p. 239-240: ‘Schreiben an Goethe über einige Arbeiten in Rom lebender Künstler. Im Sommer 1805’, photostat in the small prints archive of Thorvaldsens Museum, filed under 1805.
  • Harald Tesan: Thorvaldsen und seine Bildhauerschule in Rom, Cologne, Weimar & Wien 1998.
  • The Literary Journal, a Review of Literature, Science, Manners, and Politics. For the Year 1804, vol. 3, January-June, London 1804, no. VII, under the date April 16, 1804.
  • Thiele 1831, p. 46-47.
  • Thiele I-III.
  • J. Versel (ed.): Nyeste Skilderie af Kjøbenhavn, no. 54, June 4, Copenhagen 1804, p. 858.
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Works referred to

A52 A822 C708 E2250

Last updated 18.04.2017