Portrait of Thorvaldsen, 1810
Oil on canvas. 61,9 x 49,0 cm
Inventory number: B428
With his curly hair Thorvaldsen might at first glance look like the sculptured head he is pulling back in the foreground of the painting. The duplication is by no means accidental. At the time when the painting was done, the up-and-coming artist had become a member of the Academy of Art in Florence, a professor at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen and a professor at the S. Luca Academy in Rome. His artistic triumphs in Rome were celebrated by the leading artists of the time and his work was sought after by prominent clients from all over Europe.
The head in his hands is from the statue of Greek mythology’s most beautiful and most desired young man, Adonis. The young artist had no lack of self-assurance. Not many people wanted to be compared with Adonis. The same year as the portrait was painted, Thorvaldsen had been awarded the Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog, and in the painting it is precisely his handling of the sculptured head that makes the order visible.
The German painter Rudolph Suhrlandt was in Rome 1808-1816. While there he painted the portraits of a number of artists belonging to the German artists’ colony, but also one of Thorvaldsen, who is here portrayed as a dynamic, self-assured figure. Nor had Thorvaldsen any reason to hide his light under a bushel. He had in 1805 been given the title of professor in the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at Copenhagen and in 1808 in the S. Luca Academy in Rome.
In contrast to the blind sculptured head impotently hidden in the corner of the painting, Thorvaldsen seems to be present, alert and energetic. He has his hand on the sculptured head, but seems almost to be holding it back and pushing it down as though to reveal the insignia of the Order of the Dannebrog that he had received the year before the picture was painted. Suhrlandt is in this way elegantly suggesting that sculpture – art – is Thorvaldsen’s starting point for ascending the social scale.
Thorvaldsen is holding in his hand the head of the Adonis statue, commissioned by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and finished in 1808.