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Bertel Thorvaldsen
Danish Sculptor (1770-1844)

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Denmark 1938. Neo Classical Sculpting. Bertel Thorvaldsen, engraved after a painting by the Danish painter C.V . Eckersberg.

Denmark 1970. Neo Classical Sculpting. Bertel Thorvaldsen. 200th birth anniversary.

Bertel Thorvaldsen -- his birth name being Albert -- was a Danish sculptor, born in Copenhagen, as the son of an Icelandic woodcarver. He was educated at the Copenhagen Academy of Fine Arts and in 1797 went to Italy to study classical sculpture.  He lived in Rome until 1838, becoming a leading figure in the Neo-Classical movement there.  

  • Denmark 1938.  Bertel Thorvaldsen, engraved after a painting by the Danish painter C.V. Eckersberg. 

  • Denmark 1970.  Bertel Thorvaldsen, commemorating his 200th birth anniversary, engraved by Czeslaw Slania after a composition by Connie Linck.  

Thorvaldsen remained unmarried, but had two children by the Italian lady Anna Maria Magnani; a son Carlo Alberti (1806-1811), and a daughter Elisa (1813-1846).  

While living in Italy he adapted the Italian form of his first name, Alberto, as shown on the vignette to the right, clearly inspired by the German Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer. 

He became professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen 1805, and Director of the Academy 1833-1844.  Further he was professor at the St. Luca Academy in Rome 1812, Vice-President 1826, and President 1827-1828.  

  • Thorvaldsen's signature, clearly inspired by Albrecht Durer, on a vignette from a Danish sheetlet, issued 2003 (see the stamp below on this page). 

Bertel Thorvaldsen. The sculptor's signature on a vignette from a Danish sheetlet, issued 2003.

Bertel Thorvaldsen. Painting by the Russian painter Orest Kuprenski.

Bertel Thorvaldsen's fame was so great that he was often portrayed by foreign painters. An example (left) of this is the Russian painter Orest Kiprensky's portrait of Thorvaldsen, painted 1833. The painting belongs to The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. 

To the right a painting of Thorvaldsen by the Danish neo-classical painter C.V. Eckersberg, who also did the painting on which the stamp top left is based. 

In Rome Thorvaldsen enjoyed considerable patronage; so great was the demand for his work that, by 1820, he was employing 40 assistants to help fulfill commissions.  Temporarily returning to Copenhagen the same year, he began work on planning the decorative scheme of marble statues and reliefs for the new church of Our Lady, now the Cathedral of Copenhagen. 

Bertel Thorvaldsen. Painting by the Danish painter C.V. Eckersberg.

Only the figure of Christ and of St Paul were carved by Thorvaldsen, the others being made by assistants after models by the master. He had his artistic breakthrough with his famous statue "Janus", sculpted 1803, and belonging to the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen.

Denmark 1938. Neo Classical Sculpting. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Janus with the Golden Fleece. Denmark 1938. War Cover (censored mail) from the Faeroe Islands, franked with Janus with The Golden Fleece. Denmark 2003. Neo Classical Sculpting. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Europa Stamp. Janus with the Golden Fleece.

Besides these pieces, his most famous works are allegorical reliefs and statues of classical subjects, such as Cupid and Psyche (1807, Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen).  He also sculpted the Tomb of Pope Pius VII (1824-1831, St Peter's Basilica, Rome).   

One of his most well-known sculptures is "The Lion of Lucerne". The figure is created on the wall of an earlier lime stone mine, and commemorates allegorically the destruction of the Swiss Guard at the storm of the Tuileries in Paris 1792, depicted in The Dying Lion. The Latin inscription commemorates the military persons, officers and soldiers, who fell in the battle.

Switzerland 1926. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Pro Juventute. The Lion of Lucerne.

Bertel Thorvaldsen. The celebrated outdoor Lion of Lucerne, Switzerland.

Nicaragua 1947. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Lion of Ruben Dario's Tomb. Copy of the Lion of Lucerne.

A large number of his works are found throughout the world, both original and copies. Here are a few examples, as depicted on postage stamps. 

Iceland 1975. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Christmas Label commemorating the 100th anniversary of  the Icelandic Thorvaldsen Society. Iceland 1975. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Germany 1947. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. The Gutenberg Memorail in Mainz, Germany. Italy 1959. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Lord Byron, sculpted by Thorvaldsen.

The Polish capital, Warsaw, has two works by Thorvaldsen; the astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, and the Poniatowski-statue. The latter was destroyed in 1944 because of the bombings of Warsaw. The original statue has been replaced by a bronze copy, paid partly by the Danish state and partly by the municipality of Copenhagen.  

Poland 1956. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. The Poniatowski-statue in Warsaw.

Poland 1945. Neo Classical Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Imperforate stamp showing the military headquarters with the Poniatowski-statue.

Poland 1955. Neo Classicaul Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. The statue of the astronomer Nicholas Copernicus in Warsaw.

The Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, built (1839-1848) in neo-classical style, contains a collection of sculptures by the artist, among others "The Three Graces" and "Venus", both of which have inspired many painters and sculptors for their version of these antique figures. In 1951 Denmark issued a banknote of 5,00 kroner, depicting a portrait of Thorvaldsen on the left, and "The Three Graces" on the right of the obverse side. This banknote is no longer legal tender. 

Bertel Thorvaldsen. Neo Classical Sculpture. "The Three Graces". Denmark 1951-61. Neo Classical  Sculpture. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Front of Danish 5-kr. bank note.

Thorvaldsen and his works were much appreciated by the Russian Czar Court, and he was assigned to make a number of sculptures for the princely collections. Three of them are today housed by The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (Russia).   

Bertel Thorvaldsen. Neo Classical Sculpture. Countess Elizabeth Ostermann-Tolstaya. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Neo Classical Sculpture. Czar Alexander I. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Neo Classical Sculpture. The Shepherd.
After Canova's death, Bertel Thorvaldsen inherited his position as Europe's leading sculptor. His many international commissions sustained strict neoclassicism as the dominant mode in sculpture until the mid-19th century. Thorvaldsen's legacy is universal, carried to the United States by one of his friends, Horatio Greenough, and was continued by Hiram Powers, an American long resident in Italy.  

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