2 + 1 Thorvaldsen's ancient

jewellery, lamps and masks

From October 11, 2006 to March 4, 2007

With this exhibition Thorvaldsens Museum placed the spotlight on three aspects of Thorvaldsen’s Collection of Antiquities – the jewellery, the lamps and the masks – which are often overlooked among the 10,000 items in the Collection of Antiquities. This was the first time the jewellery, lamps and masks were shown in a special exhibition.

Thorvaldsen’s Collection of Antiquities – In 1848 and today

The Collection of Antiquities is Thorvaldsen’s private collection of items from ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. Apart from minor changes, the collection is shown today exactly as it was when the museum opened in 1848 – an arrangement which is to be carefully maintained. However, it is at the same time important that the objects should also be allowed to be seen in new contexts. And here, a special exhibition is an obvious possibility.


Thorvaldsen’s collection of ancient gold jewellery contains splendid examples of the sophisticated filigree technique of ancient times, which the Etruscans mastered to perfection. The largest collection of signet stones in Scandinavia in cornelian, amethyst and garnet also forms part of the collection. As a signet stone leaves a personal stamp, the individual motif is always the object of careful consideration by the owner. As a result of this the signet stones bring visitors close to the figures of ancient times in quite a different way from that of so many other relics from classical antiquity.


The oil lamp already had a long history behind it when it was turned into a truly image-bearing medium during the imperial age of Rome. And from then on there was no limit to the desire to allow the lamps to tell stories of all kinds, ranging from the adventures of the gods to the most banal events of everyday life. It is precisely these everyday accounts of which Thorvaldsens Museum has such a great number.


Masks are the third element in the exhibition, and also function as a theme which binds the exhibition together. For masks of all kinds appear in antiquity, sometimes in the most surprising contexts, and so of course also as decorations on jewellery and lamps. Masks were used in ancient times both to avert evil and as part of a cult, especially the cult of the god of wine, Dionysus/Bacchus. From that a line can be drawn from the ancient theatre to that of our own day, where the symbol for the theatre itself is a group of juxtaposed comic and tragic masks.

Thorvaldsen the collector

Thorvaldsen’s Collection of Antiquities does not only tell stories about Antiquity. It also says something about the collector himself. The noticeably large number of erotic motifs in the collection are thus a clear expression of Thorvaldsen’s own passion – a passion that was not felt comme il faut in his day, and which Thorvaldsen did not allow to be seen in his art. The guardians of Thorvaldsen’s reputation subsequently hid that aspect of the artist away in the museum’s stores. And they are still kept there as a natural consequence of the desire to preserve Thorvaldsens Museum as a cultural expression of Copenhagen in the middle of the 19th century. But here, too, a special exhibition provides us with the possibility of telling a story that would not be a story if the objects were on everyday display.

The exhibition was arranged by curator Torben Melander.

Roman slave mask.

_Antique oil lamp. _

Roman earrings.

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