The Thorvaldsen Museum

Thorvaldsen museum - Main facade by night

The Thorvaldsen Museum is one building in Copenhagen that is strikingly unique for its architecture and decorations. After my last visit, I had to make this post about the building, although it’s not typical for Danish architecture.

At all! It’s not typical of anything, really…

Exotism

From a distance, approaching the museum from any direction, and by first glance, the building immediately appears very unusual. Oversized ‘portals’ dominates the exterior, slightly leaning and with ‘ears’ giving them an exotic, ‘Egyptian’ touch.

Return of a townsman

The Museum is dedicated to one of the greatest Danish artists of all times: Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 – 1844) and a large collection of his original sculptures and plaster models. Through most of his professional career, Thorvaldsen lived and worked in Rome. In his workshop, he refined the naturalism and plasticity of neoclassicism to perfection.

When he returned to his home country as a successful and widely celebrated artist, he donated his own collection to the city of Copenhagen, that in turn decided to build the museum to honour the man and his work.

A long frieze fresco stretching three facades depicts the spectacle of Thorvaldsens return by ship bringing his artworks.

Mosaic mania

The interior is even more exotic and unusual. Most rooms are painted in warm and saturated colors, but the floors are the biggest marvel of this building.

Galleries at Thorvaldsen museum by Bindesbøll

In this series of small galleries, as well as in the other galleries, each floor is laid out as a mosaic with its unique pattern, some simple, others very intricate and playful. There seems to be no other commonality than the designer run amok as a child absorbed in a game. And it’s astonishing and amusing to traverse this wonderland of stone carpets.

And there’s more…

When you finally escape the trance of this chain of floor mosaics and look up, you might find yourself entranced again. This time by the ceilings, that are almost as magic and playful.

Oh, btw…

Oh! And then there are the sculptures, of course. Greek and Roman gods and heroes, as well as more earthly figures and beasts. The sparsity of lighting adds to the drama.

Concluding

To sum up: the Thorvaldsen Museum is just one of those rare buildings that are so original and personal, that no category is well suitable. Architects of this time mostly drew details from various earlier periods to decorate their boxes according to the taste of the moment. We would call this eclectic style or revival architecture.

If that is also what Bindesbøll did in this case, he drew from a ‘catalogue’ of architecture that no one else paid attention to. And no matter from where he drew his inspiration, he spiced up this building generously with his own original creativity.

Christ!

Sculptures of Christ and deisciples at the Thorvaldsen museum by Bindesbøll
Thorvaldsen’s Christ, 12 disciples and a baptismal font in the shape of an angel holding a shell for the water.

Bertel Thorvaldsen and his assistants created this sculpture ‘set’ for the cathedral in Copenhagen. These, on the museum, are copies. Read my post on the church.

Relevant links

Map

Full map

3 thoughts on “The Thorvaldsen Museum

  1. Hi Asser, I am from New Zealand and have just recently been to Copenhagen. The main reason was to site my great grandfathers diary which is housed in the Black Diamond in the rare manuscript section. He left Copenhagen as a 19 year old in 1859 and traveled to Melbourne Australia with 60 other Danish stonemasons/builders. He eventually made it to New Zealand and finally settled there. His diary of the first three years 1859-1861 was found amongst his things on his death. It was written in Danish gothic script and my grandfather spent nearly 50 years trying to find someone to translate it. It eventually happened and as a family we all treasure our copy. The original now resides back in Copenhagen. That is another story!

    It is Thorvaldens Museum that I have questions about. My Great Grandfather (Emil) had a painting of the Museum on the wall of his home back in the late 1800’s. The story that has come from my Grandfather was that Emil’s Uncle designed the building! So it is all a bit intriguing and I suspect more to the truth is that he may have worked on the building at some point. I just wonder what information there may be about those who worked on the project with the architect. My Family name is Hall (could be Hahl in Denmark) other family names are Bendixen, Tilholm or Thelholm, Rasmussen. It seems the Hall family were stonemasons back as far as 1797 (from the Danish Census). If you have any information to add to this story it would be great. We loved our visit to the museum. The building inside was beautiful and the art spoke for itself. many thanks for taking time to read my story. Look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards Gabrielle

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