The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Thorvaldsen’s Snake Ring - a Tease

  • Torben Melander,, 2008
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Torben Melander: ‘Thorvaldsen’s Snake Ring – a Tease’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 2008, p. 104-121.

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


Thorvaldsen’s Snake Ring – a tease

The article provides a history of the ring known as the snake ring, which Thorvaldsen wore for many years. The path taken by the ring is a long one – and as convoluted as the ring itself. Any idea that a comprehensive account could clear up the matter has, to put it mildly, turned out to be an illusion. Everything has had to be based on probability, apart from the fact that Thorvaldsen owned what was most likely an ancient ring and wore it until his death in 1844. It is not certain when he came into possession of the ring, but presumably this was at the latest in 1814/15, probably as a gift from Queen Caroline of the Two Sicilies 1808-1815. If we are to judge by the series of portraits of Thorvaldsen, he only started wearing the ring in 1819/20, perhaps to be protected on his journey to Denmark 1819/20, perhaps in order finally to put to rest an engagement that was broken off in 1819. Thorvaldsen originally wore the ring on the little finger of his left hand, perhaps inspired by ancient custom together with the desire that it should not be confused with the engagement ring he had worn immediately before this. Then, from some time in the second half of the 1820s, the ring was worn on the ring finger of the same hand. In 1842, Thorvaldsen presented a snake ring to Baroness Stampe, but it is uncertain whether this was the presumed ancient ring or a copy of it. The ring that Thorvaldsen himself was wearing when he died was until 1847 put in the hands of the executors of Thorvaldsen’s estate, who then passed it to Baroness Stampe. On a visit to Paris, the Baroness gave the ring to Horace Vernet, Thorvaldsen’s friend from his time in Rome, in the belief that she was giving him the copy. The assumed original ring was handed down in the Stampe family until it was donated to Thorvaldsens Museum in 1890. And it is still there. And that is quite certain.

Works referred to


Last updated 17.12.2018