The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Night & Day – and the Poets

  • Peter Brask,, 2011
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Peter Brask: ‘Night & Day – and the poets.’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 75-101.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.


Night & Day – and the poets.

This essay describes the reception of Thorvaldsen via Danish poetry and criticism during the 1800s, illustrated by a range of texts about the reliefs Night and Day, which Thorvaldsen created one summer day in 1815 in his Rome studio. As the absolute monarchy’s cultural policy included sending promising poets to Italy for a couple of years, poetic descriptions of Thorvaldsen’s works existed as early as 1810, establishing a tradition which was to grow after the portrait sculptor’s homecoming in September 1838 and which continued following his death in March 1844. The period from 1800-1850 coincided precisely with the Golden Age of Danish poetry. During the following 20 years ‘Thorvaldsen’ was the concept of classical art in the eyes of Danes. The two most well-known of his works were the two reliefs, which were now mass-produced in différent sizes from small biscuit-reliefs to full-size copies. Therefore the icon Night became a critical target for a new generation, which by 1872 had turned its critical attentions to the aesthetics and politics of the bourgeoisie. The debate about the reliefs continued right up to 1900. In order to illustrate the literary response to Thorvaldsen’s work, this essay sketches the mythological-iconographic background for the motifs night and day in Antiquity and the Renaissance, also accounting for Francesco Albani’s version of them in his ceiling fresco (1612?) in the Palazzo Verospi, which Thorvaldsen had seen.

Last updated 11.05.2017