The Archives - a documentation

centre on Thorvaldsen

Homage poems, love letters and large art contracts – Thorvaldsen’s archives are a priceless source of knowledge about both daily life and art in the world famous sculptor’s life.

Thorvaldsens laksegl
Thorvaldsen’s wax seal.

Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen contains a huge collection of more than 8000 documents from, to and about the world-famous sculptor. In these documents, we meet Thorvaldsen’s family, Danish and foreign friends, outstanding European cultural figures, princes, aristocrats, artists, art-lovers and clients who were in touch with the best known Danish artist in the first half of the 19th Century.

The Main Source of Our Knowledge of Thorvaldsen

The Thorvaldsen Letter Archives are the primary source of our knowledge of Thorvaldsen’s life and work. Here, anyone interested in Thorvaldsen can read everything from his correspondence with his fiancée to his diary entries, aritcles, letters he exchanged with fellow artists, business letters and poems and speeches in honour of the great sculptor.

The documents not only extend our knowledge of Thorvaldsen’s works, but they also give an invaluable insight into the artistic, social, linguistic and political conditions of the time. For national and international Thorvaldsen scholars the archives will be a mine of materials which for many years to come will be able to generate materials for articles, books, exhibitions and much more.

The publication of the documents

The publication of Thorvaldsen’s documents will take place in two stages: On Bertel Thorvaldsen’s 238th birthday 19.11.2008, the digital version of The Archives opened at:

Until 2011, all the source material so far known has been made accessible on the Internet in the form of transcriptions, and all documents in Thorvaldsens Museum have been scanned and can now be seen in facsimile.

However, accessibility is not everything: In order to provide the full benefit of the documents, they will in the second stage of the project – from 2013 and four years onwards – be subjected to a critical scholarly examination and treatment. In other words: The documents will be placed in their context; we want to know what they are about, and for what they provide the sources.

The aim is to create a veritable Thorvaldsen encyclopaedia that can provide us with a better understanding of the artist and his work. This research project will primarily consist of to two main sections: thousands of explanatory comments covering the documents and numerous clarifying articles relating to various subjects spanning the material.

Only a small part of the material has so far been treated in this systematic manner.

Newly Developed, Internet-Based Work of Reference

The documents are published in their original languages, Danish, Italian, German, French etc. The explanatory commentaries, reference articles, pictures, biographies, chronological overviews, registers, search possibilities etc. combine to constitute a user-friendly work of reference in which it is easy to find what you are seeking, or where it is possible to roam around in the enormous masses of material.

The first stage of the project has been supported by The Velux Foundation, and the net-based Letter Archives have been developed in collaboration with the Oncotype design group.

The two foundations Augustinus Fonden and A.P. Møller og Hustru Chastine Mc-Kinney Møllers Fond til almene Formaal have generously decided to finance the second stage of the project and support a research centre in Thorvaldsens Museum, the aim of which is to study the written sources relating to Bertel Thorvaldsen’s work. The two foundations have together allocated DKK 7,627,646 for a four-year research project that will occupy four scientific members of staff and two students from 2013. This is an unusually large research grant to a Danish museum.

A Unique Virtual World

The Internet publication of the archival material are part of the Virtual Thorvaldsen Museum, which has made the museum into a front-runner in the digitalisation of the cultural heritage housed in Danish museums. This is an initiative that was awarded the Bikubenfonden prize for museums in the spring of 2008.

Click here to visit The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives.

C18v Brevarkiv Letter sketch from Thorvaldsen to his friend Herman Schubert, July 22, 1809.
Read the letter here.

C18v Brevarkiv Letter from Thorvaldsen to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, April 22, 1801.
Read the letter here.

C18v Brevarkiv
Thorvaldsen was in 1838 the first (and so far only) person to receive the freedom of the City of Copenhagen. Here you can see the entire diploma referring to the honour. Click on “See Original” at the top left hand corner of the document. m1 1797, nr. 7.
Click here to see and read the only known letter from Thorvaldsen’s mother to her son, received in Rome in 1797. Click on “See Original” at the top left hand corner of the document.

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