The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

On the history of style and an alternative frieze

  • Kristian Hvidt,, 2011
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Kristian Hvidt: ‘Om stilhistorie og en alternativ frise’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 114-123. For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.


On the history of style and an alternative frieze

The nineteenth century created the concept of the history of style. Whereas artists and architects had for centuries cultivated the style of classical Graeco-Roman antiquity, from 1800 they developed an eye for stylistic genres to be found within Europe’s own past, thus establishing the discipline of art history based around the systematization and categorization of trends in tastes: Roman, Gothic, Renaissance etc., and ending with neoclassicism. For architects this was to become a splendid catalogue of stylistic catégories which
they could mimic according to the purpose of their building. It was the foundation for the great era of stylistic combination, a ‘mish-mash’ of styles, which art historians barely acknowledged as a style in its own right, finally (and without warmth) coining the term ‘historicism’ for it. Thorvaldsen’s Museum was designed by Bindesbøll in the 1830s, when this new style catalogue had still barely established itself, so he felt free to follow new paths. He described his museum building as being “antique”, but art historians kept to the term classicistic, even though it is neither Roman nor Greek, but instead obviously Assyrian/Babylonian, in marked contrast to the timeless Sonne frieze, bearing a reportage style, on the facades. The primary objective of my article is to establish the museum as the first and clearest expression of the century’s dominant style: historicism. By the time of its unveiling in 1848, the frieze could already be regarded as outdated. In 1888, Alfred Schmidt, a well-known satirical cartoonist, therefore created a new version of the whole frieze with the leading artistic, cultural and political figures of the time, but depicting precisely the same background scenes – namely, the floating cortège which brought a famous personality to land.

Last updated 11.05.2017