The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

On the Creation of Two Medallions and Their Symbolic Content

  • Anders Monrad Møller,, 2003
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Anders Monrad Møller: ‘Om tilblivelsen af to Thorvaldsenmedailler og deres symbolindhold’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 2003, p. 175-187.

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


When King Frederik 6. died on 3 December 1839 to be succeeded by King Christian 8., attention was primarily directed towards the political implications. Would the new king renounce absolutism and introduce a free constitution? He would not, and he signalled his intention of maintaining continuity, not least by ordering the medals traditional on the accession of a new king to be designed. The medal in memory of the late king caused no problems. Problems there were, on the other hand, when it came to the new king’s ideas for the medal commemorating his own accession. He imagined Denmark personified in the form of a woman kneeling in prayer for the king. This did not meet with the approval of members of the Academy when the proposal was laid before them. Nor did other advisers think it suitable, as it was considered to be humiliating that Denmark should be portrayed kneeling in this way, in addition to which there were no ancient examples of this motif.

The king made some irritated comments in his diary, but he gave in and sent a request to Thorvaldsen, asking him to produce a model including a standing figure in keeping with the specialists’ guidelines. However, Thorvaldsen closely observed to the king’s original idea without paying any heed at all to the objections raised. And not a single word of criticism was made, which says something of his quite exceptional status in his day.

Thorvaldsen modelled sketches for several medals. Most interesting is the reverse to the coronation medal, representing a crown and a crossed sword and sceptre. Part way through the process, the sculptor changed the sketch, creating a sharper angle between the sword and the scepter while at the same time representing the crown regalia as exact reproductions of those used on the solemn occasion.

The motif from the coronation medal was used again on several coins from the time of Christian 8. But there was more than that. The death of the king in 1848 was followed that same year by the transition to a constitutional monarchy. But the motif was not forgotten. We know very little about the background to the first Danish postage stamp in 1851, and there has been much speculation on the subject. Apparently no one has previously noticed that the stamp with a four Rigsbankskilling denomination quite simply had the same motif as coins of the same face value. So the motif from the coronation of the last absolute king remained in use on Danish stamps until as late as 1870. Perhaps this was a small, unnoticed provocation on the part of conservativeminded officials, but at all events it was an indication of continuity in the use of symbols spanning a fundamental change in constitution.

Last updated 19.12.2018