Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen in 1770 (according to some accounts, in 1768), the son of an Icelander who had settled in Denmark and there carried on the trade of a wood-carver. This account is disputed by some Icelanders, who claim Thorvaldsen was born in Iceland.
Young Thorvaldsen attended Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi), winning all the prizes including the large Gold Medal. As a consequence, he was granted a Royal stipend, enabling him to complete his studies in Rome, where he arrived on March 8, 1797. Since the date of his birth had never been recorded, he celebrated this day as his “Roman birthday” for the rest of his life.
Thorvaldsen’s first success was the model for a statue of Jason, which was highly praised by Antonio Canova, the most popular sculptor in the city. He had worked on this statue for 25 years. In 1803 he received the commission to execute it in marble from Thomas Hope, a wealthy English art-patron. From that time Thorvaldsen’s success was assured, and he did not leave Italy for sixteen years.
In 1819 he visited his native Denmark. Here he was commissioned to make the colossal series of statues of Christ and the twelve Apostles for the rebuilding of Vor Frue Kirke (from 1922 known as the Copenhagen Cathedral) between 1817 and 1829, after its having been destroyed in the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807. These were executed after his return to Rome, and were not completed till 1838, when Thorvaldsen returned to Denmark, being received as a hero.
He died suddenly in the Copenhagen Royal Theatre on March 24, 1844, and bequeathed a great part of his fortune for the building and endowment of a museum in Copenhagen, and also left to fill it all his collection of works of art and the models for all his sculptures very large collection, exhibited to the greatest possible advantage. Thorvaldsen is buried in the courtyard of this museum, under a bed of roses, by his own special wish.
The Thorvaldsen museum was started in 1839 and was designed by Danish architect H.G. Bindesbøll. Except for the regular collection, there are various exhibitions of new and young artists. Helping new talent was one of the last wishes of Thosvaldsen. Apart from Thorvaldsens work, there are also various paintings from his own collection, mostly from Danish and Norwegian painters whom he met in Rome.