Baroness Elisabeth Schubart, called Jacqueline, was the wife of Herman Schubart, a diplomat who was a member of the upper echelons of Danish society. In his role as a diplomat he worked abroad and went to Italy in 1801. It was during his time in Italy that he became acquainted with the Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, with whom he and his wife struck up a close friendship, with Thorvaldsen often attending social functions at the couple's country house outside Livorno. In 1814 Baroness Schubart died and her husband commissioned, from Thorvaldsen, a marble relief depicting the sorrowful Baron at his wife’s deathbed accompanied by a winged figure, representing death, extinguishing a torch against the ground. The marble relief, now in the Thorvaldsen museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a peaceful and emotive carved image which portrays a quiet lament at the arrival of death, evident in the Baron’s raised hand, and a tenderness between husband and wife, as the Baron lovingly holds his wife’s hand. For financial and personal reasons Herman Schubart was unable to pay for the work and it remained in Thorvaldsen’s possession.
Rapidly executed in pen and ink, within a drawn pen and ink border, the present study includes the three central figures seen in the marble relief, but also incorporates a small group of figures to the upper right that does not feature in the final sculpture. This drawing must be an early idea for the project and clearly predates the other known drawing for this commission, in the collection of the Thorvaldsen museum.2 The drawing in Denmark is rendered in pen and ink and black chalk and is squared for transfer, and its composition, more finished than our study, corresponds to that of the final work.
Bertel Thorvaldsen, born in Copenhagen, spent the majority of his working career in Italy and established himself as one of the leading sculptors in Rome, running a successful workshop in the Eternal City. Seen as the successor to the talented sculptor, Antonio Canova, Thorvaldsen's works demonstrate a strict adherence to classical forms.
1. Bertel Thorvaldsen, exhib.cat., Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, 1989-1990, p. 230, no. 95a
2. Ibid., p. 230, no. 95
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