Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard

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Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard (September 11, 1743 – June 4, 1809), Danish artist, was born in Copenhagen, the son of Søren Abildgaard, an antiquarian draughtsman of repute, and Anne Margrethe Bastholm.



Training as an artist

He trained under a painting master before coming to the new Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen, studying under Johan Edvard Mandelberg and Johannes Wiedewelt.

He won medallions at the Academy from 1764 to 1767. The large gold medallion from the Academy won in 1767 included a travel stipend, which he waited five years to receive.

He assisted Professor Mandelberg of the Academy as an apprentice ca. 1769, painting decorations for the royal palace at Fredensborg. These paintings are classical, influenced by French classical artists such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Mandelberg had studied in Paris under François Boucher.

Student travels

Although artists of that time typically traveled to Paris for further study, he chose to travel to Rome, where he stayed during the years 1772–1777. He took a side trip to Naples in 1776 with Jens Juel. His ambitions lay in the genre of history painting. While in Rome, he studied Annibale Carracci's frescoes at the Palazzo Farnese and the paintings of Rafael, Titian, and Michelangelo. In addition he studied various other artistic disciplines (sculpture, architecture, decoration, wall paintings) and developed his knowledge of mythology, antiquities, anatomy, and perspective.

In the company of Swedish sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel and painter Johann Heinrich Füssli, he began to move away from the classicism he had learned at the Academy. He developed an appreciation for the literature of Shakespeare, Homer, and Ossian, the legendary Gaelic poet. He worked with themes from Greek as well as Norse mythology, which placed him at the forefront of Nordic romanticism.

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