The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Thorvaldsen’s Christ - Interpreted by Grundtvig and Known all over the World

  • Margrethe Floryan,, 2008
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Margrethe Floryan: ‘Thorvaldsen’s Christ – interpreted by Grundtvig and known all over the world ’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 2008, p. 61-69.

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


Thorvaldsen’s Christ – interpreted by Grundtvig and known all over the world

The subject for the 2007 exhibition in Thorvaldsens Museum was the Christian motifs in Thorvaldsen’s oeuvre, with the monumental statue of Christ as the obvious focal point. Starting out from the concept of Hvide Krist (White Christ), which was taken from N. F. S. Grundtvig’s poem “Albert Thorvaldsen” (1844) and provided the title for the exhibition, this article discusses the principal lines in Thorvaldsen’s Christian motifs from his years at the Academy until the very day on which he died, 24 March 1844. Special emphasis is on the themes of Baptism and Holy Communion. The second major theme in the article concerns the statue of Christ in the Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen. On the one hand an account is given of a few examples of the theological and liturgical approach to the work (Søren Kierke- gaard) and on the other a sketch for a phenomenologically based study of the statue. The conclusion reached in both analyses is that there is a duality in Thorvaldsen’s interpretation. Below the tabernacle – and most clearly when seen by communicants receiving the Sacrament – the white silhouette assumes a physical shape. The special gesture implicit in the outstretched arms encompasses the entire space. The number and complexity of the draped garments is quite overwhelming. The marks from the wounds become visible, white in the white marble. The gesture has its sources in early Christian art and in Raphael. The slightly lowered head is clearly directed. The face assembles and reflects important features from the traditions of the icon and the Mandylion. The fact that there is a statue above the altar is surprising, irrespective of whether one knows that there was originally to have been an altarpiece containing a painting here. Where the silhouette becomes most corporeal, it is not less an interpretation of the earthly figure of Christ as of the arisen Christ. The historical figure, the Jesus spoken of in Matthew 11, 28, also turns out to be the Saviour and Redeemer spoken of in the Gospels – and already expected in the Old Testament. This duality is not to be under- stood as a paradox or an aesthetic, stylistic exercise. It achieves its real meaning in the viewer’s temporal and spatial appropriation of the work. And it achieves its life in the liturgy.

Last updated 11.05.2017