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Marble sculpture “Hebe goddess of Youth” after model by Bertel Thorvaldsen

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Italian marble sculpture “Hebe goddess of Youth” after model by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)

A marvellous large marble sculpture of Hebe, goddess of youth after Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). Today the original marble model is in the Thorvaldsen Museum, acquired in 1936 from the Californian collector William Randolph Hearst. This sculpture shows exquisite detail and a very lifelike portrayal of Hebe, who was said to have the gift of eternal youth. We see her dressed in classical draped chiton with cup in one hand and pitcher in the other and her hair of chignon style secured with a ribbon. Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth was the daughter of Zeus and Hera and she was a cup bearer for the gods of Mount Olympus serving them with drinks of immortality.

Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, like many artists of his generation, left for Rome in 1787, where he established himself as a very successful sculptor. Inspired by Canova’s Hebe, executed between 1796 and 1799, he created his own representation of the Goddess of Youth in 1806. Actually, Bertel Thorvaldsen created two versions of the original life-size sculpture:  the first in 1806 (our sculpture is based on this one) and the second in 1816 where Hebe’s chest is completely covered by the dress.

This very refined sculpture is in excellent condition with wonderful quality of sculpting.

Details of this sculpture “Hebe goddess of Youth” after Thorvaldsen

Italy, circa 1850.
Dimensions: 73 cm high, 23 cm wide and 27 cm deep. Diameter of the base: 20 cm.
Weight: 17.1 kg.

Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)

Son of an Icelandic woodcarver, Thorvaldsen grew up in Copenhagen, where he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1781 to train as a sculptor, at the age of only 11 years. The young artist left for Rome in 1787, where he gravitated around the community of his fellow Danish emigrants. Among them were the antiquarian and scholar Jörgen Zoëga (1755-1809) and the painter and critic Asmus Jacob Carstens (1754-1798). Both had a considerable influence on Thorvaldsen’s development as an artist, particularly with regard to his study of classical sculpture and the theories of the famous archaeologist Johan Joachim Winkelmann.

On the death of Antonio Canova in 1822, Thorvaldsen became the oldest and most respected sculptor in Rome, as confirmed by commissions such as the funerary monument to Pope Pius VII in St. Peter’s Basilica (1823-31), and appointments such as the presidency of the prestigious Accademia di San Luca (1828), a position previously held by Canova.

Thorvaldsen was inspired by Canova’s Hebe, executed between 1796 and 1799, to create his own representation of the Goddess of Youth in 1806, forming the counterpart to the Ganymede of 1804. He chose to capture her almost static, in a moment of contemplation of her cup evoking the myth of the goddess. Indeed, both Ganymede and Hebe had been chosen to serve the nectar of immortality to the Gods of Olympus.

Concerning the goddess’s costume, Thorvaldsen made a polemical choice: she wears a mixture between the antique peplum originally fixed on both shoulders, and the short chiton which reveals a breast, in the manner of the Amazons. This choice of clothing was shocking, Zoëga is said to have pointed out that: “No honest woman was dressed like this in Antiquity, let alone a goddess! “. Thorvaldsen finally made a second version of this model in 1816, in which Hebe’s chest is completely covered.

Literature

  • Collection of the Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen (inv. no. A 875).
  • Sotheby’s, Paris December 2020 and Coutau-Bégarie, Paris October 2022, where versions of this sculpture appeared in auction.

See more Sculptures in our gallery.


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