Thorvaldsen’s Weeds


Thorvaldsen’s Weeds
oak beams recovered from a 19th-century building, reclaimed soil, geotextile membrane, draining system, irrigation hoses, seeds from 45 species of Mediterranean hay meadow plants

In Weeds, botanical historian Richard Mabey writes of the historical legend in which a number of species of Mediterranean weeds were supposedly introduced to Denmark in the nineteenth century by the neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Carefully packed in their hay-filled crates, Thorvaldsen’s returning sculptures were host to the hitchhiking seeds, which germinated and bloomed outside his newly-constructed museum in Copenhagen the following summer.

Through painstaking research and detective work, Crystal Bennes restored the status of this legend to fact. Traveling between Copenhagen and Rome, through archives and botanical gardens, Bennes and her botanical collaborator, Olof Ryding, identified some 60 species of Italian plants which were first introduced to Denmark in the 1840s, carried in the hay protecting Thorvaldsen’s sculptures.

Today, few traces of living examples of Thorvaldsen’s weeds are to be found in Copenhagen although a number of preserved specimens remain housed in the city’s great Herbarium.

For Flora Italica, an exhibition based on Bennes’s research which opened at the Thorvaldsen’s Museum in June 2023, the artist created a vast, 260 square foot hay meadow in the museum’s secret inner courtyard. The meadow included 45 of the 60 species which were identified from analysis of an original sample of 1840’s hay which, during the initial research, was discovered in Thorvaldsen’s plaster copy of the Apollo Belvedere torso. The species include many grasses, clovers and meadow flowers. For a few brief months, a nineteenth-century Roman hay meadow surrounded Thorvaldsen’s final resting place.

Initial research first published in Migrant Journal #5: Micro Odysseys.

Thorvaldsens Weeds commissioned by the Thorvaldsen Museum and exhibited as part of Flora Italica.

Installation photos: Mads Holm

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