The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Jason with the Golden Fleece as the Dissolution of Antiquity

  • Henrik Holm,, 2003
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Henrik Holm: ‘Jason with the Golden Fleece as the Dissolution of Antiquity’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 2003, p. 105-115.

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


Jason with the Golden Fleece as the Dissolution of Antiquity

Thorvaldsen’s sculpture must transcend all classical and contemporary models. It incorporates and transforms its models in a cannibalistic manner. Past and present are dissolved, even to the extent that later sculptors will stand in the shadow of Thorvaldsen for centuries. Jason is the apotheosis of past, present and future. And that is the end of the story.

It ought to be obvious why a piece of sculpture from the 19th century is not ancient, but the problem is so great that we must ask ourselves why it is not ancient. This article attempts to provide an account of the “spectral archive” unfolding around the sculpture of Jason. The thesis is that the figure creates a formalised archive of knowledge around it, which despite the unity of the figure is divided up into individual segments, each of which can give voice to distinct aspects of the figure’s meaning-generating potential. For the philologist looking back to seek a classical source, the sculpture must be transcendent and translatable into an interpretation that accords with the spirit of the figure. For the archaeologist, the sculpture is material form that must be compared with accessible ancient models. Art history moves more or less without reflection between spirit and form and looks at the significance of the figure today. For everyone, there is something ancient and something modern at play in the figure. The one seems to contradict the other. But the figure is capable of more than the interpretation and is a constant source of fascination and a threat to the attempts to understand it. When everything has been said, there is something left, that is to say the quality that provokes the interpretations, the impression from the encounter with the figure as stone and then its spirit, which pursues the interpretations because the figure refuses to be fitted in and explained entirely in a single perspective. What is not said, but is suggested in the title to this project, is that Jason is an attempt to liberate or dissolve the figure’s link with antiquity. With Hegel’s concept of Aufhebung in a Derridaesque distillation, the intention with the sculpture is seen as being an attempt to materialize highly contradictory aspects that can be contained in a reference to the concept of Aufhebung. There is an attempt to raise the sculpture to a higher, spiritual level that negates the sculpture itself viewed as a piece of stone. In addition, the figure is intended to intoxicate in a perfectly earthly manner and so it also points down towards the erotic, the physical and the harsh. The spirit of the figure, however, creates an unfathomable unease in the abyss between spirit and physis, antiquity and modernity, text and figure. In neo-classicism, the relationship to antiquity is to be celebrated at the same time as an iconoclastic distance to it is to be established. In order to be recognised in relation to the burden of tradition, we must raise ourselves above it and free ourselves from it in a double gesture of preservation and negation. Ultimately, the new sculpture must replace all other sculpture in the same way as one soldier replaces another. The sculpture then takes the place of all other sculpture, ancient or modern. From this elevated position, the sculpture can create unease in all attempts at interpretation with its spiritual potential and its massive form, with which it can threaten both analyses and other sculptures with a cold and immediate death, or dissolution.

Last updated 11.05.2017