This bronze, life-sized sculpture is a self-portrait of the esteemed Danish sculptor Albert Thorvaldsen (1770–1844), and was dedicated in Central Park in 1894. It is the only statue of an artist displayed in the parks of New York City, and honors a titan in his field who had broad influence in sustaining the classical tradition in art.
Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen on November 19, 1770, and was the son of Icelandic immigrants in Denmark. In his youth he learned woodcarving from his father, and at age eleven entered the Copenhagen School of Art, where he demonstrated early promise as an artist. In 1792, the young artist won a travelling scholarship, and in 1797 he went to study in Rome, Italy, where he lived for several decades.
In Rome he came under the influence of Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the leading proponent of neo-classical sculpture. Thorvaldsen sculpted numerous pieces inspired by classical mythology, and also created a series of colossal statues of Christ and the twelve apostles, which now adorn the Fruenkirke in Copenhagen. On March 24, 1844, he died while attending the theater in Copenhagen, and bequeathed much of his estate for the creation of a museum which now houses his art collection and sculptural models.
The original marble self-portrait, on which this posthumous bronze replica is based, was carved in 1839. The original can be seen in the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen. Though in his seventh decade of life when he created this work, Thorvaldsen represented himself as a younger, idealized man draped in a workman’s robe, with his hands holding the tools of his trade: mallet and chisel. His left arm rests on a small female figure, a copy of his figure of Hope, modeled in 1817. Set within the granite pedestal are copies of the sculptor’s best known works, bas-relief medallions of Night and Day. Also in New York City, a bronze replica of Thorvaldsen’s sculpture of the classical figure of Hebe, the water bearer, adorns the top of the Temperance Fountain in Tompkins Square Park.
Commissioned by Americans of Danish descent, this bronze casting was made in 1892 in Copenhagen, and dedicated on November 18, 1894, originally placed just north of 59th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Sometime later it was relocated to 97th Street near Fifth Avenue, and was repositioned again in 1940 on a newly landscaped triangular knoll when a road was built connecting the 97th Transverse to 96th Street. In 1996 the Central Park Conservancy restored the statue.
Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen Details
- Location: 5th Avenue at 96th Street
- Sculptor: Albert B Thorvaldsen
- Description: Portrait statue on pedestal with medallions
- Materials: Bronze, Danish granite
- Dimensions: H: 14'11" W: 5'3" D: 4'2"
- Dedicated: 1894
- Foundry: Lauritz Rasmussen, Kjobenhavn
- Donor: Danish residents
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