The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Why Jason?


Why Jason?

In my paper, I examine Thorvaldsen’s figure of Jason in relation to some of the predominant aesthetic trends and ideals of the revolutionary period such as Thorvaldsen encountered during his first years in Rome. Here, the young Thorvaldsen became closely associated with the Schleswig painter Asmus Jacob Carstens and his circle and was partly inspired by Carstens’ 24 pencil drawings illustrating selected episodes from the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. The literary models for these episodes are Pindar’s and Apollonius Rhodius’ poems, which in contrast to Euripides’ ambiguous account of him, portray Jason as an adventurer and a genuine, albeit rather weak hero. Without the help of Medea he would admittedly never have won the Golden Fleece, but in the two poets first mentioned there is not a word about the way in which Jason subsequently deserted both his wife and children.

For it is the capture of the Golden Fleece that makes Jason unique. By creating an overdimensioned male figure carrying this trophy, Thorvaldsen draws attention to the fact that the fascination with Jason precisely derives from the Fleece, the gold of which will always impart something of its magical beauty to its possessor even if he has perhaps not deserved it. The idea that the beautiful can appear without being linked to the good, as is the case in Plato, dates back to Kant and became widely known in Schiller’s writings on aesthetics. These are interesting in relation to the question of Thorvaldsen’s Jason, particularly because Schiller also makes a case for the ennobling effect that true beauty has on its surroundings. Carstens and the German artists in Rome were conversant with this aesthetic, which Thorvaldsen’s breakthrough work reflects in a form that is at once traditional and quite new.


  • Les Argonautes – selon Pindare, Orphée et Apollonios de Rhodes … par A.]. Carstens … gravées par J. A. Koch, Rom 1799.
  • Asmus Jacob Carstens’ og Joseph Anton Kochs værker i Thorvaldsens Museum, København 2000.
  • C. Elling, Thorvaldsen, København 1944.
  • J. B. Hartmann/K. Parlasca, Antike Motive bei Thorvaldsen, Tübingen 1979.
  • P. Johansen, Før Thorvaldsen. Rom-København, København 1910.
  • B. Jørnæs, Billedhuggeren Bertel Thorvaldsens liv og værk, København 1993.
  • I. Kant, Grundlæggelse af moralens metafysik, (1785) København 1991.
  • A. Lesky, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, 2. udg. Bern 1963.
  • Th. Oppermann, Thorvaldsen Bd. 1-2, København 1927.
  • F. Schiller, Werke in drei Bänden, bd. 2, (1793-94) München 1966.
  • Dansk Biografisk Leksikon 1979-1984.
  • Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon.

Last updated 11.05.2017