The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Comment on Jason and the Hope Commission

Brun’s January 1803 diary entry may be thought to suggest that, already at that point, the “clay form” at issue was a clay mold to be used during the casting of the clay model: so wie der ganzen Thon form noch die letzte Hand fehlt (original emphasis).
Read literally, this phrasing implies that Thorvaldsen had already begun the process of casting the clay model at the end of January 1803, even though it apparently was still not a complete model (Beine—Hande—u[nd] Füsse sind noch nicht fertig).
All the same, it still possible that this reference to an incomplete body refers not to the clay model, but to its plaster cast, whose legs, hands, and feet were still not completed. This could mean that the parts had not yet been reassembled, checked for plaster “burrs,” etc.
Nevertheless, in her 1812/1815 publication of the revised diary entry, Brun wrote unambiguously that the legs, hands, and feet were still not fully “modeled.” The latter expression can only refer to Thorvaldsen’s work on the clay model.
It cannot be determined with certainty whether these events came to merge in Brun’s memory over time, or whether her reference to a “Thon form” in January 1803 truly did refer to the clay model/figure and not to a concrete form/mold for use during the process of plaster casting. It is nonetheless most likely, however, that Thorvaldsen did not begin the casting process until the entire clay model was complete. Brun, then, seems to have used the term “form” in an unusual manner. Indeed: she would hardly have been able to describe the rest of the figure with such precision had the model been packed in a hard clay shell.

In 1812, Brun wrote of Jason that at the time when Hope saw the statue, it still only existed in a plaster mold (cf. Athene IV 1815, p. 17, first printed 1812 in Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände); and Hope himself lends this account in his letter dated 1819 til Thorvaldsen.

It thus ought to be a simple matter to establish that Brun had sponsored the plaster casting at some point prior to Hope’s visit to Thorvaldsen’s workshop. Matters have been clouded, however, by Thiele’s aforementioned remarks. Thiele’s doubt seems to have arisen on the basis of a letter sent to him from Rome by the architect Frederik Ferdinand Friis, who had read Thiele’s biography manuscript aloud to Thorvaldsen in 1831-1832 and recorded the sculptor’s reactions to the text. Here Thorvaldsen is cited as having said: “Mrs. B[run]’s anecdote is not consistent with the truth.” Thiele, and others after him, interpreted this denial as focused on the claim that Brun had sponsored the plaster casting; but this is not necessarily the case, particularly given that Thorvaldsen himself later reported to Christine Stampe that Brun had in fact paid for it—on which cf. above.
Brun herself never claimed in writing that she had sponsored the plaster casting; and this suggests that the “anecdote” that Thorvaldsen disavowed must have been a different one. One candidate is a particular anecdote by Brun that is reproduced by Thiele, and which may very well have chafed at Thorvaldsen’s sense of honor. In Thiele 1831, note 68, p. 158, the biographer relates that at a dinner party for thirty to forty artists, presumably in the late winter of 1803, Thorvaldsen is supposed to have been asked whether he knew the young Dane who had created the renowned Jason. No doubt the purpose of this anecdote was to demonstrate Thorvaldsen’s great humility; but one may well suspect that Thorvaldsen thought that it would simply diminish his fame.

Last updated 21.12.2014