Monday, August 15, 2011

snugged in the arms of Thorvaldsen's Night

Rest therefore, free from all despite,
Snugged in the arms of comfortable night.
These concluding lines of Herman Melville's poem "Immolated" picture the poetic effusions of youth as metaphorical children, somehow sacrificed yet safe and secure in the embrace of maternal night.  Melville's vivid image is borrowed from the popular allegorical depiction of Night as a winged female figure, in flight with her twin children Sleep and Death.

Samuel Amsler, Night (1826), After Thorvaldsen's Relief
In Melville's time this image of Night was everywhere, reproduced frequently in sculpture, paintings, prints, plates, coins, and jewelry.  Nearly all popular versions of the image derive from the 1815 marble relief Night, with Her Children Sleep and Death by Danish-Icelandic artist Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).

Yes in those days Thorvaldsen's Night was all over the place, even Nathaniel Hawthorne's bed.  Sketched there on the headboard by his wife Sophia, according to Julia Ward Howe:

from The Critic (June 18, 1881)

See Night with her Children Sleep and Death at 7:09


  1. Whatever happened, I wonder, to the Hawthornes' painted furniture?

  2. The biographer Tharp saw some of the lampshades, as I recall.