A rediscovered portrait bust

Thorvaldsen’s portrait bust of
Count Cristino Rasponi

From November 5, 2005 to January 8, 2006

How does an English Sir become an Italian Signor? From November 5, 2005 to January 8, 2006 the museum showed an exhibition about a portrait bust made by Bertel Thorvaldsen, that until a few years ago was assumed by the museum to represent an English baron but which is now known with certainty to represent an Italian count. It is a rare event to be able to put a new name to one of Thorvaldsen’s works, so this was something of an occasion.

From English Sir to Italian Signor

Thorvaldsen made a portrait bust of a middle-aged gentleman in Rome about 1818. The original plaster model of the bust is in Thorvaldsens Museum, and in her great work on Thorvaldsen’s portrait busts from 1963-65, the late professor of art history, Else Kai Sass, suggested, with great reservation, that the 1818 portrait bust might well represent the English baron, Sir Francis Basset of Dunstanville (1747-1821). According to the sources, Sir Francis had commissioned a portrait bust of himself in Rome in 1818. However, in autumn 2000, Thorvaldsens Museum suddenly received a letter from the museum of fine arts in Ravenna, the Museo d’Arte della Cittá di Ravenna, which was to turn out to be very interesting indeed. In Ravenna, they had just received a donation in the form of a marble bust bearing a carved inscription: Cristino Rasponi. And there was no denying that the bust looked very much like a work by Thorvaldsen. Of course, the letter was accompanied by a photograph, and it suddenly became clear to the museum that our Sir Basset in reality was and always had been Signor Rasponi. The portrait bust had always been in the possession of the Rasponi family.

So far, it has not been possible to find references to the Italian count and politician Cristino Rasponi (1776-1845) in Thorvaldsens Museum’s vast archives. Nor has it been possible in Ravenna to link the sculptor, model and portrait bust together on the basis of written sources. So it is unclear when and in what circumstances Thorvaldsen executed the bust of Rasponi. It also cannot be denied that the new identification of the portrait bust raises another question: What does the portrait bust of Francis Basset, which we know Thorvaldsen actually made, look like? This is another story entirely.

The original model and the marble bust of Cristino Rasponi was on show together in a small exhibition arranged in collaboration with the Amministrazione provinciale di Ravenna and the Soprintendenza al Patrimonio Storico, Artistico e Etnoantropologico di Bologna.

The exhibition was arranged by director Stig Miss.

Rasponi Thorvaldsens portrait bust of
Count Cristino Rasponi.

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