The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Thorvaldsens Museum - From Rome to Copenhagen

  • Stig Miss,, 1998
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Stig Miss: ‘Thorvaldsens Museum – From Rome to Copenhagen’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1998, p. 16-24.

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


Thorvaldsens Museum
From Rome to Copenhagen

Rome, Munich and Stuttgart have all been mentioned as cities that could have provided homes for the Thorvaldsen Museum that was finally sited in Copenhagen. The Danish art historian, Niels Lauritz Høyen, and Thorvaldsen’s most important biographer, Just Mathias Thiele, both maintain in publications from 1837 and 1854 respectively that Thorvaldsen had intended to acquire a palace in Rome and have it fitted out as a museum for his own works and collections and to have it decorated with paintings based on drawings by Asmus Jacob Carstens. Thiele gives the precise information that the palace in question was the Palazzo Giraud in the Piazza Scossacavalli (now the Palaz-zo Torlonia in the via Conciliazione). Both Høyenand Thiele were in Rome in the 1820s and knew Thorvaldsen particularly well. However, they disagree to some extent on when Thorvaldsen was thinking of buying the Palazzo Giraud. Høyen believes that he had already given up the idea by 1825, while Thiele believes that it was in 1827 he was preoccupied with it. The palace was in fact sold in March 1820 by the Fabbrica di San Pietro to Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia, and there is nothing to suggest it was for sale again at the time when, according to Thiele, Thorvaldsen wanted to buy it. It is argued in this article that Thorvaldsen might well have intended to buy the palace, but at a date far earlier than Thiele assumes. At the time when Thiele believes he wanted to buy the palace, Thorvaldsen was, however, seriously considering the future home of his works and collections. But those thoughts were exclusively concerned with a home in Denmark, and as early as the spring of 1829 Thorvaldsen obtained a promise from the Danish king Frederik VI that the government would ensure a suitable place in which to keep Thorvaldsen’s collections and guarantee a pension for his daughter, if Thorvaldsen donated the collections to Denmark. In Thorvaldsen’s first will, where this is done, only the collections are mentioned, and not Thorvaldsen’s own works, but Thorvaldsen was sceptical as to whether the museum project in Denmark would in fact come to fruition, and he might well have decided to wait and see with regard to the promise of a home for his works until he was certain that the museum was in fact going to be established. In later wills, Thorvaldsen bequeathed all his works to Denmark, and the decision to site the museum in Copenhagen was in reality taken by the spring of 1829. However, Thorvaldsen might have suggested that he would give most of his original models to be put on display in Munich. This emerges from statements from the sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler, who was King Ludwig I of Bavaria’s agent in Rome. And during Thorvaldsen’s stay in Munich in February 1830, Ludwig is believed to have offered him the opportunity to settle in Munich, teach in the Academy, receive a minister’s salary and be given the title of Hofrat, all in order to tie him close to Munich and presumably not completely unconnected with the wish also to ensure the possession of a large part of Thorvaldsen’s original models for the city. But Thorvaldsen did not accept the offer and neither did he give his original models to Munich; he had in fact already made other arrangements for them. On the basis of a remark by Thorvaldsen, Stuttgart, too, apparently hoped to acquire a considerable representative selection of Thorvaldsen’s original models to exhibit in a museum dedicated exclusively to Thorvaldsen, but a rather disappointed city had to accept that what he sent to Stuttgart consisted mainly of casts of works done in marble. However, Stuttgart acquired the largest selection of Thorvaldsen’s works outside Copenhagen, even though they were almost exclusively in the form of casts. The collection disappeared during the Second World War. The article reaches the conclusion that there was never any real suggestion that Thorvaldsens Museum should be sited anywhere other than in Copenhagen.

Last updated 11.05.2017