Bertel Thorvaldsen : biography
In Rome he lived at Via Sistina in front of the Spanish Steps and had his workshop in the stables of the Palazzo Barberini. He was taken under the wing of Georg Zoëga a Danish Archeologist and numismatist living in Rome. Zoëga took an interest in seeing to it that the young Thorvaldsen acquired an appreciation of the antique arts. As a frequent guest at Zoëga’s house he met Anna Maria von Uhden, born Magnani. She had worked in Zoëga’s house as a maid and had married a German archeologist. She became Thorvaldsen’s mistress and left her husband in 1803. In 1813 she gave birth to a daughter, Elisa Thorvaldsen.
Thorvaldsen also studied with another Dane, Asmus Jacob Carstens whose handling of classic themes became a source of inspiration. Thorvaldsen’s first success was the model for a statue of Jason; finished in 1801 it was highly praised by Antonio Canova, the most popular sculptor in the city. But the work was slow in selling and his stipend having run out, he planned his return to Denmark. In 1803, as he was set to leave Rome, he received the commission to execute the Jason in marble from Thomas Hope, a wealthy English art-patron. From that time Thorvaldsen’s success was assured, and he did not leave Italy for sixteen years.
The marble Jason was not finished until 25 years later, as Thorvaldsen quickly became a busy man. Also in 1803, he started work on Achilles and Briseïs his first classically themed relief. I 1804 he finished Dance of the Muses at Helicon and a group statue of Amor and Psyche and other important early works such as Apollo, Bacchus og Ganymedes. During 1805 he had to expand his workshop and enlist the help of several assistants. These assistants undertook most of the marble cutting, and the master limited himself to doing the sketches and finishing touches. Commissioned by Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1808 and finished in 1832 a statue of Adonis is one of the few works in marble carved solely by Thorvaldsen’s own hand, and at the same time it is one of the works that is closest to the antique Greek ideals.
In the spring of 1818 Thorvaldsen fell ill, and during his convalescence he was nursed by the Scottish lady Miss Frances Mackenzie. Thorvaldsen proposed to her on March 29, 1819, but the engagement was cancelled after a month. Thorvaldsen had fallen in love with another woman: Fanny Caspers. Torn between Mackenzie and Anna Maria Von Uhden the mother of his daughter, Thorvaldsen never succeeded in making Miss Caspers his wife.
Contemporary painting by [[Fritz Westphal of Thorvaldsen’s reception as a national hero on his return to Denmark in 1838.]] In 1819 he visited his native Denmark. Here he was commissioned to make the colossal series of statues of Christ and the twelve Apostles for the rebuilding of Vor Frue Kirke (from 1922 known as the Copenhagen Cathedral) between 1817 and 1829, after its having been destroyed in the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807. These were executed after his return to Rome, and were not completed until 1838, when Thorvaldsen returned with his works to Denmark, being received as a hero.
Towards the end of 1843 he was prohibited from working for medical reasons, but he began to work again in January 1844. His last composition from 24 March was a sketch for a statue of the genie in chalk on a blackboard. At night he had dinner with his friends Adam Oehlenschläger and H. C. Andersen, and he is said to have referred to the finished museum saying: "Now I can die whenever it is time, because Bindesbøll has finished my tomb."
A [[Daguerrotype of Bertel Thorvaldsen (1840), one of the first photos taken in Denmark]] After the meal he went to the Copenhagen Royal Theatre where he died suddenly from an aneurysm. He had bequeathed a great part of his fortune for the building and endowment of a museum in Copenhagen, and left instructions to fill it with all his collection of works of art and the models for all his sculptures, a very large collection, exhibited to the greatest possible advantage. Thorvaldsen is buried in the courtyard of this museum, under a bed of roses, by his own wish.