Bertel Thorvaldsen is the greatest Danish sculptor of all time and a passionate art collector
Bertel Thorvaldsen became famous all over the world for the creation of marble sculptures on religious and mythological themes, as well as bronze monumental monuments. The best masterpieces of his work can be seen today in different European countries, and the artist’s biography is full of interesting events.
Bertel Thorvaldsen is widely regarded as the greatest sculptor of the Golden Age in the history of Danish art. Despite the fact that the master has lived outside his homeland for more than 40 years, he was greatly respected by his compatriots. In the center of Copenhagen, on the island of Slotsholmen, during the artist’s lifetime, his personal museum was built, which contains about 20,000 exhibits original works of the sculptor and works of art from his personal collection.
Bertel Thorvaldsen was born on November 19, 1770 in Copenhagen in the family of a woodcarver. His father was an emigrant from Iceland who came to Denmark at a young age in search of a better life, and his mother was a simple Danish peasant woman. The family of the future sculptor lived very poorly, its head abused alcohol and absolutely did not care about raising his son. Bertel did not attend elementary school, he had to learn to read and write on his own, and the boy showed an early talent for art.
Fortunately, with the help of family friends, Thorvaldsen was able to enter the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 11, where he was mentored by Johannes Wiedewelt and Nicolai Abildgaard. During the day, he helped his father with the housework, and in the evenings he attended classes, comprehending the intricacies of drawing and sculpture.
In January 1787, 16-year-old Bertel Thorvaldsen received his first academic award a small silver medal for skillfully executed relief sculpture. But soon the young man had to leave his studies for a while and completely concentrate on hard physical work in order to financially support the family.
Only at the beginning of 1789 he again began to attend classes at the academy, and a few years later achieved brilliant academic success.
In August 1793, the young artist was awarded the Great Gold Medal and was entitled to a paid trip to Rome for further studies. For the next three years, Bertel Thorvaldsen lived in Copenhagen, earning a living by painting portraits and book illustrations, as well as making sculptural busts.
Finally, in the summer of 1796, all the formalities with his trip to Italy were settled, and the young sculptor set off on a long journey on a sailing ship. He arrived in Rome only on March 8 of the following year and passionately fell in love with the ancient city. Bertel even celebrated March 8 every year as his second birthday until his death.
The first few years of living in Rome, the master experienced serious financial difficulties. The situation changed dramatically in 1803, after he created the sculpture “Jason with the Golden Fleece”. This masterpiece brought the artist wide fame, and the great Antonio Canova enthusiastically praised the work of his young colleague.
From that moment on, Bertel Thorvaldsen no longer lacked generous customers until the end of his life.
He had many students, a spacious workshop in the center of the Italian capital and a great desire to create. The sculptor gained fame as the greatest sculptor of our time, and during his travels across Europe he was enthusiastically received by the public in Austria, Germany, Poland and other European countries.
Thorvaldsen never married, but throughout his life enjoyed success with women. From Anna Maria Uden he had two illegitimate children son Carlo and daughter Eliza, in addition, the sculptor had many mistresses, but he did not dare to combine himself by marriage.
Over the long years of his stay in Rome, the master has collected a grandiose collection of works of antique art and amassed a huge fortune. But in 1838 he decided to return to his homeland, where this news was greeted by his compatriots with great enthusiasm. The artist was literally idolized in Denmark; at the expense of the state, a personal museum was built for him in the center of Copenhagen, which still exists today.
And yet the life of the great master was quickly approaching a sad end. Six months before his death, doctors forbade him to work due to serious health problems, but this only temporarily delayed the inevitable outcome. On March 24, 1844, at the age of 73, Bertel Thorvaldsen died in his native Copenhagen. He donated his own art collection to his hometown and bequeathed to bury himself under a bed of roses in the courtyard of his museum. The modest grave of the artist, on which there is no monument, is located in this place today.
The most famous works
The great sculptor gave the world many magnificent masterpieces. Yet some of Betrel Thorvaldsen’s most famous works include:
- Jason with the Golden Fleece (1803) is a work that brought the young sculptor all-European fame. The artist sculpted the image of the ancient hero from clay, and 25 years later he made an exact copy from white marble, which is now kept in his personal museum.
- “Sculptures of Christ and the Twelve Apostles for Copenhagen Cathedral” (1817-1829) is a grandiose masterpiece that adorns the interior of the Church of Our Lady (Vor Frue Kirke) in the Danish capital. In recognition of the master’s merits, a bronze bust by Herman Wilhelm Bissen was installed in the temple.
- The Dying Lion (1818-1821) is a unique sculptural work carved into a rock near Lucerne. The allegorical figure of a dying lion is a symbol of the Swiss Guards who died during the French Revolution.
- Monument to Nicolaus Copernicus (1822) is a majestic monument in front of the building of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. The brilliant astronomer is depicted seated on a chair with astronomical instruments in his hands.
Bertel Thorvaldsen made an enormous contribution to 19th century European sculptural art.