Thorvaldsen & the Royal Court

Exhibition from April 17 to November 29, 2015

Royal busts from the exhibition.
Royal busts from the exhibition.

Thorvaldsens Museum’s new exhibition is about the many connections between the Danish Royal Family and Thorvaldsen. The occasion for the exhibition is H.M. Queen Margrethe II’s 75th birthday.

Art has perhaps never meant more for the Danish Royal Family than today, when both the Queen herself and the Prince Consort are practising artists. On the other hand the Royal Family are not as importan to art and the artists today as they were in Thorvaldsen’s time – the final century of Absolutism. The Absolute Monarchy, for example, created the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and had it not been for the royal interest shown to Thorvaldsen at an early stage, his career might not have been so splendid.

Thorvaldsen & the Royal Family

Even as a young, talented academy student Thorvaldsen had relations with the Royal Family through his mentor, the academy professor Nikolaj Abildgaard, who had been given the task of decorating the Mansion of the Heir Presumptive in the Amalienborg Palace complex. And it was the Royal Family of Christian VII (1749-1808) who approved Thorvaldsen’s journey to Rome in 1797 with a grant from the Royal Academy that set his career in motion. Later Thorvaldsen, as a successful artist of European format living in Rome, was commissioned to create a series of central works for Amalienborg, Christiansborg Palace and Roskilde Cathedral – the burial church of the Danish kings.

Thorvaldsen's Christian IV-monument at Roskilde Cathedral.
Thorvaldsen's Christian IV-monument at Roskilde Cathedral.

Both King Frederik VI (1768-1839) and King Christian VIII (1786-1848) and their families were portrayed by Thorvaldsen, and the many royal busts can be seen in an impressive display in the exhibition. The kings played an active role in the early history of Thorvaldsens Museum, and it was royal frigates that brought Thorvaldsen’s works home from Rome to the museum. Frederik VI donated the site on which Thorvaldsens Museum was built. And what a royal gift it was that the site was in the middle of the island of Slotsholmen, so close to Christiansborg Palace in the royal city of Copenhagen! Not everyone, however, was equally thrilled with the location close to the royal palace, for Thorvaldsens Museum was also meant to be a powerful symbol of the new democratic currents in the country.

The monarchy of our own time has loaned works to the exhibition, including a relatively unknown portrait of Thorvaldsen painted by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the Morse Code. Morse was originally a painter and portrayed Thorvaldsen in Rome in 1831.

Thorvaldsen & Denmark

It is mainly the Copenhagen-related part of Thorvaldsen’s wider European oeuvre that the exhibition thematizes through the many works from Christiansborg Palace. But the exhibition is not only about the capital. It is about Thorvaldsen and Denmark – about the Danish works that are also to be found in other places than at Thorvaldsens Museum. The Christian IV monument in Roskilde Cathedral, the Frederik VI monument on Skanderborg Castle Hill, and the Royal Grove in Thisted.

The exhibition room built up as the studio at Nysø.
The exhibition room built up as the studio at Nysø.

The manor of Nysø & Thorvaldsen’s studio

After Thorvaldsen’s return to Denmark in 1838, Christian VIII arranged for the Stampe family at the manor of Nysø near Præstø to take Thorvaldsen under their wing. The flourishing cultural life at Nysø was to play an important role in the last six years of his life – culturally, socially and not least artistically, as Thorvaldsen created some of his last works there. At the exhibition one of the rooms is built up as the studio at Nysø to visualize the quite special atmosphere there. At Nysø since 1926 there has been a small museum dedicated to Thorvaldsen (the Thorvaldsen Collection at Nysø), with works from his stays in southern Zealand.

The exhibition is arranged by curator Margrethe Floryan.

The Golden Tableau – Christian VIII and Thorvaldsen at Amalienborg

If you have more of an appetite for Thorvaldsen and the Royal Family, the Amalienborg Museum is showing the exhibition “The Golden Tableau – Thorvaldsen’s royal commision at Amalienborg Palace” from 16 April until 30 August on the Bel-Etage. The Golden Tableau is a spectacular table decoration from the 1820s for the Royal Gala Banquets at Amalienborg. The table decoration was commissioned by Crown Prince Christian Frederik and consists of gilded miniature versions of ten of Thorvaldsens most famous sculptures. Find out more here.