Monument - Thorvaldsen in Europe

From 28 June, 2016 until 15 January, 2017

The monument of the Lion in Lucerne.
The monument of the Lion in Lucerne.

Monument: Thorvaldsen in Europe

Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was one of Europe’s most important and influential sculptors, a status underlined by the fact that his most monumental works are to be found in such locations as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome; on city squares and plazas in Stuttgart, Warsaw, Munich and Mainz; and beside a lake in Lucerne, Switzerland.

This exhibition takes a closer look at seven monumental sculptures found in locations spread across much of Europe. These are works that put Thorvaldsen’s global side on display - works that garnered him great prestige, and bore significance for the politics of the day. Beyond recounting these works’ history, this exhibition also presents original sketches, preliminary models, and reproductions shedding light on the monuments’ genesis, contemporary reception, and legacy. Most of these works can also be experienced via Thorvaldsen’s own original 1:1 models, which stand in the Museum’s Grand Hall.

All of the monuments take part in an active, living cityscape and in a current artistic consciousness - an ongoing story-in-motion. This is especially evident from the Instagram images on display in the exhibition’s final room.

An artist of his own time

In the minds of many, Thorvaldsen is specifically associated with the ideals of classical antiquity - at least as those were cultivated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But Thorvaldsen was above all an artist of his own time, who not only had an influence on contemporary aesthetic movements, but also took part boldly in politically-motivated projects of the day. His art is especially interesting when regarded as a tool in the service of both art and power.

The word “monument” derives from a Latin word meaning “to remind” or “to warn,” functions emphasized by the central placement of these works. They portray, moreover, famous citizens (such as Gutenberg and Schiller), rulers (from a pope to a German prince), and historical personages whose monuments were erected mainly in order to assert national pride in times of upheaval (Copernicus). Thorvaldsen’s age was the period when Europe’s nation-states were born, and when ideals of freedom were up for discussion both philosophically and politically.

As was the case with his spectacular Dying Lion, carved into a Swiss cliff face in memory of the Swiss Guardsmen who fell during the French Revolution, Thorvaldsen has often contributed to molding a nation’s historical consciousness in a special - indeed, controversial- direction.

Approaching Thorvaldsen

The tale usually told about Thorvaldsen is that of his activity both in Copenhagen and in Rome, his second hometown, where he spent nearly forty years of his artistic career. But there is much more to Thorvaldsen’s story. He was a cosmopolitan artist in correspondence with powerful men and women throughout Europe: patrons, politicians, and kings.

Every presentation involves an interpretation, and Thorvaldsen was conscious of the importance of details. Should the subject be portrayed in clothing from his or her own period, or in contemporary attire? What appearance, and what posture, best suits the present purpose? Which historical moment should the sculpture freeze in time?

The Museum’s Archives have revealed a great deal about the considerations that went into Thorvaldsen’s monuments. The patrons behind the commissions also had their own views; and the works were often transformed significantly, but creatively, while underway.

The exhibition is curated by curator Birgitte Vase Agersnap. Social media project manager Louise Foged.