Bertel Thorvaldsen

Sender’s Location



Nicolai Abildgaard

Recipient’s Location


Information on recipient

Udskrift: Til / S:T:I / Hr Justidsraad N: Abildgaard

Dating based on

Dateringen fremgår af brevet.


Thorvaldsen apologizes for his long silence due to an illness which has left him incapable of working and writing. He asks Abildgaard to sell the busts he has sent to Denmark and give any profits to his father. He informs Abildgaard of the price of a bust and thanks him for having recommended him for commissions for Christiansborg Palace.


Rom d: 25 Febr. 1804.

Gode Hr Justidsraad!
De maa tilgive at jeg i saa lang Tiid ikke har skrevet Dem til, jeg har været næsten et helt Aar saa sygII at jeg ikke har kundet arbejde, og af den Aarsag saa melankolsk at jeg endnu mindre har kundet sat mig til at skrive. Dog er jeg nu noget bedre og har igjen begyndt at arbejde lidetIII.
BysterneIV vare alle gjorde paa SpekulasionV, de til Hr Justidsraaden undtagneVI og en anden af vores Menister Bucke i MadridVII. Jeg veed ikke om Hr Kapitain BergerVIII efter mit BrevIX til ham har udtaget denne af Kassen, hvis ikke, beder jeg at De ville være saa god, at besørge ham den tilsendt med en sikker Lejlighed. Hvad de øvrige angaaer overlader jeg ganske til Dem at gjøre dermed som De bedst synes. Jeg veed ikke hvor meget af Omkostningerne for Fragt og deslige der vil kom paa min Side, da jeg formoder at Academiet betalerX det, som jeg har bestemt til at forevises samme. Skulde De kunne giøre noget mere ud deraf saa ønsker jeg at De vilde anvende det paa min FaderXI. Da jeg ikke endnu har været istand til at kunde bidrage noget til mine Forældre[s] Bedste[,] jeg takker Justidsraaden forbindligst for den Godhed De har havt for dem – En Byste af den Størelse som de ieg har sendt vil omtrent koste 30-40 PiasterXII. Midlertid er De saa god at lade mig vide hvilken De ønsker da de vist skulde blive besørgede paa det oekonomiskeste[.] Hr Baron SchubartXIII har lovet at gjøre alt muligt for mig, naar De nu med Deres sedvanlige Godhed som jeg ogsaa erkjænder af Deres Anbefaling til Slottets ArbejdeXIV vil bidrage til mit Bedste saa troer jeg vist. jeg kunde udføre Arbejdet for mindre end i KjøbenhavnXV – Jeg anbefaler mig fremdeles Deres Godhed og henlever Deres forbundne B. Thorvaldsen

Oversættelse af dokument

Rome, February 25th 1804

Sir, Counsellor,
You must forgive me that I for so long have not written to you, I have been so ill for almost an entire year that I have not been able to work and because of that I have been so gloomy that I still less have been able to sit down to write. I am, however, somewhat better and have again begun to work a little.
The busts have all been made on speculation, excepting those for you, Sir, and another one of our ambassador, Mr Bourke, in Madrid. I do not know whether Captain Berger after my letter to him has removed the latter from the crate, if he has not, I ask you to be so good as to attend to its being sent to him at a safe opportunity. As for the others, I leave it entirely to you to do with them what you find best. I do not know how much of the expense on freight and the like lies with me, as I expect the Academy to pay that which I have decided to be shown the same. If you are able to make more of it, I wish it to be spent on my Father. As I still have not been able to contribute anything to the benefit of my parents, I am much obliged to the Counsellor for the kindness you have shown to them – A bust of the size like the ones I have sent will cost about 30-40 Piastres. In the meantime will you be as kind as to let me know which ones you want as they will be seen to in the most economical way. Baron Schubart has promised to do everything possible for me, when you now with you usual kindness, which I also realize from your recommendation to work on the palace, will contribute to my welfare I do think I shall be able to execute the work for less than in Copenhagen – I still commend myself to your kindness and pass time, yours faithfully, B. Thorvaldsen

[Translated by Karen Husum]

General Comment

This letter is an answer to Abildgaard’s letter of 17.1.1804, but Thorvaldsen does not even mention what must have made the strongest impression on him in Abildgaard’s letter, i.e. the news about his mother’s death.
It appears from a letter of 28.2.1804 from his good friend C.F.F. Stanley that Thorvaldsen had been informed of her death at this time.

There are three drafts of this letter, one, which represents an early stage in the writing process, and another later, which is more or less identical to the present finished version, plus a fragment of this.

Document Type

Færdigt egenhændigt dokument

Archival Reference

Håndskriftafdelingen, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, NKS 2337, 2º.


Gengivet hos Thiele I, p. 210-211.




A759 Agrippa, 1799-1800, inv.nr. A759
A760 Cicero, 1799-1800, inv.nr. A760
A761 Cicero, 1799-1800, inv.nr. A761
A752 Rafael, 1800, inv.nr. A752
A751 Homer, 1799, inv.nr. A751
A900 Edmund Bourke, 1800, inv.nr. A900


  1. Dvs. salvo titulo, der er latin for “med forbehold for titlen”. Udtrykket bruges i tilskrifter på breve, når man vil angive, at man ikke kender titlen, eller at denne formalitet ikke er nødvendig.

  2. About 1803-04, Thorvaldsen suffered from hemorrhoids, see the related article about Thorvaldsen’s Illness 1803-04.

  3. However, during the winter of 1803-04 Thorvaldsen had produced three or four portrait busts (see draft letter around 1.2.1804), and he had accepted Countess Vorontsova’s Commission for five statues, so he was not completely inactive.

  4. Thorvaldsen is here referring to the busts which Abildgaard mentioned in his letter of 17.1.1804, and which the sculptor had already shipped to Abildgaard in 1802, see letter of 20.3.1802. They were: A.P. Bernstorff (Brahetrolleborg), Homer, A751, Edmund Bourke, A900, Raphael, A752, two Cicero-busts, A760 and A761, and Agrippa, A759, see also the related article about Transportation of Crates.

  5. Dvs. i spekulationsøjemed, på beregning, jf. betydning 2) i Ordbog over det danske Sprog.

  6. The busts of Homer, A751 and Raphael, A752. The bust of Homer had apparently also been made “on speculation”, as Thorvaldsen made the bust on his own initiative, see letter of 12.10.1799 to the Academy of Fine Arts. However, when Abildgaard, in letter of 3.12.1799 expressed a wish for a marble copy of the bust of Homer, Thorvaldsen presented him with it in gratitude for his help, see letter of 28.7.1805.

  7. Thorvaldsen’s marble bust of the Danish diplomat Edmund Bourke, A900. In 1801 Bourke had been appointed ambassador to Madrid.

  8. The Danish naval officer Johan Hartvig Ernst von Berger.

  9. Thorvaldsen’s letter of 10.5.1802 to Berger. As appears below, Thorvaldsen had asked Berger to see to it that the bust of Edmund Bourke was sent to Madrid.
    The bust originally left Rome in a crate with other things that Thorvaldsen sent to Copenhagen in 1802, see ”Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen 1798 and 1802”:/articles/transportation-of-thorvaldsens-artworks-to-copenhagen-1798-and-1802.

  10. This expectation was not fulfilled. Only after a good deal of discussion did Abildgaard pay part of the freight charges in 1806. Thorvaldsen paid the rest, see the passage about this in Transportation of Thorvaldsen’s Artworks to Copenhagen 1798 and 1802.

  11. I.e. Gotskalk Thorvaldsen. As the busts were never sold, the father did not profit by them.
    The reason why Thorvaldsen does not mention his mother, Karen Thorvaldsen, is that, at the time of the completion of this letter 25.2.1804, he had received Abildgaard’s letter of 17.1.1804 with the news about the death of his mother. This appears from the fact that he answers the question about the price of a bust posed by Abildgaard in his letter. That he knew about his mother’s death when he wrote this letter also appears from the fact that Stanley, in his letter of 28.2.1804, writes that he was informed of the death the day before by Schubart, who like himself was in Naples. Schubart must have been told in a letter from Thorvaldsen in Rome. As it must be assumed that it will take a minimum of two days for a letter from Rome to reach Naples, see Mail Processing Time Naples, there is no doubt that Thorvaldsen must have known about his mother’s death when he wrote this letter 25.2.

    Thorvaldsen was only able to tell Abildgaard about the strong impression his mother’s death had made on him in a draft letter of 6.8.1804:
    “I formerly received the letter which Your Honour has honoured me with and whose contents were so much more painful to me as I at once and without taking measures in advance had to learn about the death of my beloved mother. You informed me about this sad piece of news in few words, and God knows how painful it was to me. I am, however, completely convinced that Your Honour did not mean to cast me down to such a degree by the few lines you wrote to me.”
    However, in the final letter of 6.8.1804 to Abildgaard the matter was not mentioned, so it has clearly been difficult for Thorvaldsen to tell Abildgaard about his grief.
    Thiele I, p. 209 thinks that Abildgaard’s news about the mother’s death was expressed in “a very ungentle and casual way”, which aroused a “feeling of bitterness” in Thorvaldsen. And Thiele continues, p. 210: “At the time Thorvaldsen concealed his resentment against Abildgaard over this letter [of 17.1.1804] as well as he could by not mentioning his mother’s death at all in the letter he wrote back to him…” Thorvaldsen, then, suppressed his reaction not only in his first letter of 25.2.1804, but also in the second six months later.

  12. A piastre was roughly the equivalent of a scudo, see the related article about the Monetray Units of the time. The quoted price of 30-40 piastres falls short of what Thorvaldsen usually charged for a bust, see e.g. Ropp’s Commisson, where similar copies of antique busts cost 40-60 scudi.
    In his letter of 17.1.1804, Abildgaard had in fact asked Thorvaldsen to quote the price without including his profit.

  13. The Danish diplomat and Thorvaldsen’s friend and patron, Herman Schubart, who at this time was trying to get commissions for Thorvaldsen from official sources in Denmark, as appears indirectly below. See also the related article Thorvaldsen’s Continuance in Rome 1803-1804.

  14. I.e. commissions for Christiansborg Palace. In his letter of 17.1.1804, Abildgaard had mentioned that he had recommended to the Danish Court that Thorvaldsen could execute works for Christiansborg in Rome

  15. Thorvaldsen here points to what in 1803-04 was one of the most important arguments for his continuance in Italy, i.e. that it was cheaper to make marble sculptures in Rome, where, unlike in Copenhagen, there were professional marble carvers who could assist the sculptor in his work.
    Thorvaldsen put forward the same argument to C.F. Hansen in his letter dated after 15.6.1807: It was not “the materials but the work of the artist that makes a work of art expensive … therefore here in Rome where there is no want of good workers [the] artist usually models the figure in its full size and as executed as possible so that the execution in marble mostly can be rather mechanical…”
    In other words: It was cheaper for Thorvaldsen to delegate “most” of the marble carving to others instead of doing it himself.
    Regarding the arguments for Thorvaldsen’s continuance in Rome at this time, see the “related article”:/artikler/thorvaldsens-forbliven-i-rom-1803-04.

Last updated 16.01.2018