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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Thorvaldsen met Count von Moltke


[Sidenote: Oscar I. of Sweden]

Bernadotte's son, Oscar I., was forty-five years old when he ascended the throne. Like his father, he was a patron of the fine arts. Upon his accession several important reforms were at once enacted by the new Riksdag. It was decided that this assembly should meet every third instead of every fifth year; the liberty of the press was extended, and equal rights were accorded to women in certain matters of inheritance and of marriage. This last reform aroused so much criticism that a powerful opposition was organized in the Riksdag, under the leadership of Hartmansdorff and Bishop Wingan.

[Sidenote: Death of Thorvaldsen]

[Sidenote: The great sculptor's career]

Albert Bertal Thorvaldsen, the great Danish sculptor, died suddenly on March 25, at Copenhagen. Thorvaldsen was the son of an Icelandic sailor, who incidentally earned a living by carving wooden figure-heads for ships. The boy was born at sea, in 1770, while his mother was making a voyage to Copenhagen. At the age of twenty-four, young Thorvaldsen, who had attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at Copenhagen, won the grand prize, which enabled him to pursue his studies at Rome. His first work was the model of a colossal statue of Jason, a marble execution of which was ordered by Thomas Hope, the English banker. For this work Thorvaldsen asked six hundred sequins. Hope offered him eight hundred. Yet Thorvaldsen did not fulfil his contract with Hope until fourteen years had passed. At the house of Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, in Rome, Thorvaldsen met Count von Moltke, who commissioned him to execute two statues of Bacchus and Ariadne. About the same time he made his famous "Cupid and Psyche" for the Countess von Ronzov. The fame of these statues and others was such that the Academy of Copenhagen bestowed upon the young sculptor another prize of four hundred crowns.

[Sidenote: Famous works]

[Sidenote: A Napoleonic order]

[Sidenote: "Morning and Night"]

In the spring of 1805 Thorvaldsen made his first important bass-relief, "The Abduction of Briseis," which still remains one of the most celebrated of the sculptor's works. Orders now began to come in from all over the world. Marquis Torlogna commissioned Thorvaldsen to make companion pieces to Canova's famous group "Hercules and Lycas" in the Palazzo Brazzino, while a government representative of the United States offered to pay five thousand crowns apiece for colossal statues of a Liberty and a Victory to be erected in the city of Washington. These and other works Thorvaldsen was prevented from executing by his unfortunate entanglement with Signora d'Uhden, whose fits of jealousy imbittered his life. About this time the sculptor formed life-long friendships with his German fellow-sculptor, Rauch, and with Prince Louis of Bavaria, who commissioned him to execute an Adonis for the Munich Museum, and to restore the AEgean marbles lately acquired by that prince. Napoleon's visit to Rome in 1811 resulted in a characteristic order. The Emperor left to Thorvaldsen the choice of the subject, but gave him only three months' time wherein to finish his models. The sculptor accordingly executed his colossal frieze presenting the "Entry of Alexander the Great into Babylon." It remains one of the largest and most ambitious of Thorvaldsen's works. It was intended for the Temple of Glory, now the Church of the Madeleine in Paris, and the price stipulated by Napoleon was 320,000 francs. Before Thorvaldsen could execute the frieze in marble, Napoleon suffered his reverses and was exiled to Elba. The Bourbon Government in France refused to take the monument. A replica in marble now adorns the Palace of Christianborg in Denmark. No less abortive was Thorvaldsen's undertaking of a great monument intended to commemorate the re-establishment of Poland. The monument was ordered in 1812, after Napoleon's entry into Warsaw. By the time the work was finished Poland was no more. To the year 1815 belong Thorvaldsen's famous bass-reliefs "The Workshop of Vulcan," "Achilles and Priam," and the two well-known medallions, "Morning" and "Night," which were reproduced a thousand-fold throughout Europe. They were conceived, it is said, during a sleepless night, and were modelled in one day.


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