In Black and White – Thorvaldsen’s Collection of Graphics

October 2, 2013 - February 16, 2014


Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778):View of Ponte Molle, 1762. Etching. 438 × 675 mm. During the period 1745-1778, Piranesi published 135 views of Rome under the title of Vedute di Roma. The sheets were sold separately.

2000 graphics by artists such as Piranesi, Dürer and Altdorfer along with a large number of 19th-century artists are at the heart of the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s huge collection of graphics. Their presentations of ancient ruins, Roman gods and the picturesque scenes of everyday life were a source of great pleasure to the eager collector Thorvaldsen and were also used as inspiration for his own art. The best pieces in this collection are now being exhibited in the museum for the first time.

Graphics – The Photography of a Past Age

The exhibition provides a new perspective on Thorvaldsen’s manner of working. For at a time when photography had still not been invented, graphics served as visual memory. The black and white art that especially emerged in the form of etchings or copper plate engravings culminated in the 18th century in an array of reproductions of works by other artists, but they had also constituted an independent form of art over the centuries. And in the service of inspiration and enlightenment, graphics became an effective visual medium in making it possible to print a large number of copies of the same work from a single plate.

Life, Chaos and Love

A few art museums in Denmark possess large collections of graphics, but the special feature about Thorvaldsen’s collection is that it served as his personal picture universe and reflects his taste and interests and that is was a visual necessity for his artistic imagination.

Thorvaldsen collected a large number of works expressive of powerful feelings and themes such as love, passion and drama. In this exhibition you will yourself be able to go hunting in Jacques Callot’s (1592-1635) detailed graphic based on Dante’s great poem The Divine Comedy – you will search long before finding the likes of the chaos and terror in the pictures illustrating Hell as it is described in the poem. Or take a look at the exhibition’s gallery with all those images of the different faces of love: passion, jealousy and longing. Cupid, the god of love, appears in over 10% of Thorvaldsen’s own works.

Roman Architecture and Street Life

Graphics by the great Venetian architect and connoisseur of antiquity Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) were very popular in Thorvaldsen’s day. The dramatic and expressive portrayals of both ancient and contemporary buildings in Rome have never been bettered. For the many visitors to Roma, Bartolomeo Pinelli’s (1781-1835) picturesque portrayals of contemporary Roman street life were quite indispensable and a great source of inspiration to Denmark’s own Golden Age painter Wilhelm Marstrand.

Master of Graphics

Albrecht Dürer (1427-1502) was one of the absolute masters of graphic art. And he is naturally represented in Thorvaldsen’s collection. The exhibition shows examples of Dürer’s version of the Christ’s Passion in the suite of graphics entitled The Small Passion, which was famed throughout Europe.

The exhibition is curated by M.A. Laila Skjøthaug.

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