The museum building

Thorvaldsens Museum is the first museum building in Denmark. Since opening in 1848, the museum has offered world-class experiences in art and architecture.

A contrast to the pulsating city life

Thorvaldsens Museum lies at the centre of Copenhagen and is one of the country’s most beautiful buildings. A visit to the museum is like stepping into another world. On the whole the museum looks as it did when it opened on 18 September 1848, and therefore stands as a great contrast to the pulsating city life of Copenhagen.

A walk through the museum offers a veritable orgy of colours – brightly coloured walls, richly decorated ceilings and mosaic floors, all of which have Bertel Thorvaldsen’s marble and plaster sculptures as the natural centre of attention.

The architecture of the museum

The museum was built specifically to house works by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). In 1796 Thorvaldsen travelled as a young artist to Rome, where he lived for most of his life, until he returned in 1838 to his native Copen­hagen as a world-famous artist. The architect of the museum, Michael Gottlieb Bindes­bøll (1800-1856), created a colourful setting for Thorvaldsen’s art, inspired by the patterns and the colours found in the excavations in the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy among other places. Bindesbøll had lived in Rome in the 1830s and had become a close friend of Thorvaldsen.

Bindesbøll was in Rome among other reasons to draw up proposals for a future Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen. He often visited Thorvaldsen and was inspired there by the high, diagonal fall of light into the sculptor’s workshops. He took this as his own, and along with the bright colours it became characteristic of the lighting in Thorvaldsens Museum. When the light floods in from the museum’s high, studio-like windows, it creates a variety of moods for the sculptures and the many colours of the architecture, depending on the time of day or the season when you visit the museum. This makes each visit to the museum something special.

Sit on the benches in the small rooms and enjoy the atmosphere, or take a rest in the courtyard of the museum, where nineteenth-century artists have created a peaceful framework around Thorvaldsen’s grave, with their decorations of the walls with plants and flowers from north and south. Here you can lean back between the painted palms and laurels and on a summer’s day you can dream your way to Italy, where Thorvaldsen lived for forty years.

Denmark’s first museum building

Thorvaldsens Museum was built in 1839-1848 and was Denmark’s first museum building. While Thorvaldsen became a famous artist in Rome, a wish grew up back in Denmark to build a museum for him. Thorvaldsen bequeathed all that he owned to the city of Copenhagen, and contributions to a country-wide collection from King Frederik VI and King Christian VII, and not least from the Copenhagen City Council, made it possible to build the museum. Thorvaldsen himself died in 1844 and thus lived to see large parts of the museum finished.

Sonne’s frieze – art experiences 24-7

If the weather permits, people often sit on the broad staircase towards the square Bertel Thorvaldsen Plads before or after a visit to the museum. And throughout the day the museum contributes to the enhancement of the city with its festive yellow architecture. All the way round the museum runs a frieze that tells the story of the people of Copenhagen’s enthusiastic reception of Thorvaldsen in 1838 after the many years in Italy and of the arrival of his sculptures in the museum. The frieze was created by Jørgen Sonne and is as old as the building.

The Goddess of Victory on the roof

On the roof of the museum the goddess Victoria rides in triumph with her team of four horses and gives expression to the fame that Thorvaldsen achieved. The sculp­ture group was modelled by Thorvaldsen’s pupil Herman Wilhelm Bissen after a sketch by Thorvaldsen and donated by King Christian VIII.

The Goddess of Victory on the roof.
The Goddess of Victory on the roof.