Models & Measurements

From October 7, 2009 to February 7, 2010

Physical training, gymnastics and sculpture – the legendary Captain Jespersen drew full houses when he held gymnastics demonstrations at Thorvaldsen’s Museum in the 1930s. The performances took place in the Museum’s entrance hall at the feet of Thorvaldsen’s monumental sculpture of Jason.

The exhibition Models & Measurements focused on art, sport and physical culture from Antiquity to the 1930s through a large and many facetted material. Marble sculptures, Greek vases and model studies are accompanied by photographs, an anatomic album and a muscle man in plaster. One room is wholly devoted to Thorvaldsen’s own body. Here, among other things, one can see his life mask and his post mortem report.

The Olympic Games

The origins of the Olympic Games are lost in the mists of the past, but it is certain that the Greek city of Olympia was the place where the athletes, boxers chariot drivers of Antiquity competed every fourth year in the period 776-393 BC.

Captain Jespersen and Thorvaldsen’s sculptures

From Olympia the exhibition moves forward to the bathing and gymnastics culture of the early 19th century (Thorvaldsen himself was, as it happens, a keen swimmer) and to Captain Jespersen’s lectures at Thorvaldsens Museum on the importance of “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Thorvaldsen’s sculptures functioned as ideals of physical beauty in Jespersen’s lectures and books, and Thorvaldsen’s works were thereby made canonical.

Antiquity as canon

Canon ─ with the stress on the first syllable ─ is Greek and means measuring rod or guiding line. Kanon was the title of a bronze statue by Polykleitos (c. 450-410 BC) and of a text in which Polykleitos explained the principles underlying the proportions of the ideal body.

Thorvaldsen and the human body

As a neoclassical sculptor Thorvaldsen himself learnt from the antique ideals for the proportions of the human body. The extent to which he did so appears from comparative measurements of Thorvaldsen’s Jason and a couple of antique canonical works. The measurements were carried out by the Museum in collaboration with the School of Conservation at the Royal Danish Academy, and they define Thorvaldsen’s system of proportions.

The exhibition was arranged against the background of the Olympic Committee’s meeting in Copenhagen. The National Gallery of Denmark, the Frederiksborg Museum, the National Museum and the Copenhagen City Museum have contributed loans to Models and Measurements.


How much should the body achieve and what form should it take in order to live up to the demands and ideals of the age? The exhibition Bodyscapes in the foyer of DGI-Byen provided an obvious opportunity to gain a closer insight into the view of the body and physical training at various times from Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) to the 1930s. The exhibition was open during the opening hours of DGI-Byen during the period 17/9 to 26/11, 2009.

The exhibitions were arranged by curator Margrethe Floryan.

Kaptajn Jespesen presse Captain Jespersen’s gymnastics instruction, 1933. Photo: Jonals Co.

Kaptajn Jespesen presse Jason 1803. Photo: Ole Woldbye.

Kaptajn Jespesen presse Olympia, Greece.
Photo: Margrethe Floryan.

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