Bertel Thorvaldsen

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(Karl Albert) Bertel Thorvaldsen (ca. 1770 – 24 March 1844) was a Danish sculptor of international fame, who spent most of his life in Italy (from 1789–1838). Born in Copenhagen into a Danish/Icelandic family of humble means he was accepted to the Royal Academy of Arts when he was eleven years old. Working part time with his father who was a wood carver he won many honors and medals at the academy and was awarded a stipend to travel to Rome and continue his education. In Rome he quickly made a name for himself as a sculptor. Maintaining a large workshop in Rome, he worked in a heroic neo-classicist style and had patrons all over Europe.[1]

Upon his return to Denmark in 1838 he was received as a national hero and a museum, Thorvaldsens Museum, was erected to house his works next to Christiansborg Palace. Thorvaldsen himself is buried within the courtyard of the museum.

In his time he was seen as the successor of master sculptor Antonio Canova, but his strict adherence to classical norms has tended to estrange modern audiences. Among his famous works is a statute of Jason the Argonaut, a figure of Christ, and the tomb monument of Pope Pius VII, the only work by a non-Italian to be located in the St. Peter's Basilica, the statues of Nicolaus Copernicus and Jozef Poniatowski in Warsaw, and of Maximilian I in Munich.



Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen in 1770 (according to some accounts, in 1768), the son of Gottskálk Þorvaldsson, an Icelander who had settled in Denmark and there carried on the trade of a wood-carver at a ship yard. He made decorative carvings for large ships and was the early source of influence on Thorvaldsen's development as a sculptor and on his choice of career. Thorvaldsens mother was Karen Grønlund, a Jutlandic peasant girl. His birth certificate and baptismal records have never been found, and the only record is of his confirmation in 1887.[2] This account is disputed by some Icelanders, who claim Thorvaldsen was born in Iceland.  Thorvaldsen had claimed descent from Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first European born in America.[3]

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