Imperia of Constance
Landmark of the largest city on Lake Constance
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Popular photo motif and landmark of the city
The Imperia statue at the harbour entrance in Constance on Lake Constance is not only a popular photo motif and landmark of the city of Constance but also probably one of the most controversial works of art in public space.
A scantily dressed woman as a work of art for the public?
On a pedestal, which consists of the remains of a former jetty tower, rises a 9 m high, 18 tons heavy, concrete-cast figure of a woman dressed only sparsely in a fool cap on her head. She carries two naked male figures on her spread out arms. In one hand, with her legs crossed, sits a figure with the papal tiara, in the other hand, with her legs spread, a figure with an imperial crown holding an orb in her hand. The female figure stands on a round table that rotates once on its own axis in four minutes.
The base of the Imperia is the oldest gauging station, not only at Lake Constance but throughout Baden-Württemberg. It went into operation in 1816 in what was then the Molenturm and was preserved even after the demolition of this tower in 1890. The Imperia statue created by the artist Peter Lenk was erected on the remains of this tower on 24 April 1993.
The emperor's new clothes
The Imperia is a satirical allusion to the Council of Constance (1414-1418). The small figure with imperial crown and orb represents the secular power, the small figure with the papacy the ecclesiastical authorities. The Imperia itself was modelled on a figure from the novel "La belle Impéria" by Honoré de Balzac. Balzac's Imperia is a courtesan who is in Constance at the time of the Council and is the lover of secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries. The literary figure of the Imperia appeared before Balzac with several writers such as Matteo Bandello or Joachim du Bellay and is probably based on a historical person, "Lucrezia de Paris", a famous courtesan. She was a very educated Italian woman who went down in literature and historiography.
However, she lived about 100 years after the Council. However, the flourishing courtesans during the Council of Constance is a historical fact that was recorded by the Council chronicler Ullrich Richental. In addition to mistress rule, patriarchy is also taken for a ride: The most powerful men of their time are held in the hands of women as dwarf-like figures. Driven into this situation by their drives, they are at her mercy naked and helpless. One can also see in the work of art an allusion to the fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes". The Imperia with her fool's cap is the court fool who sees through the hustle and bustle. The powerful are robbed of their clothes, ridiculous joke figures.
From a point of contention to a landmark
The establishment of the Imperia is the result of an initiative by the Lake Constance shipping companies, the Tourist Association of Constance and the innkeepers at Lake Constance. The work of art was sponsored by the "Computergesellschaft Konstanz (CGK)", whose logo is still on the pedestal although the company today works under a different name.
The initiators were inspired by the Statue of Liberty to erect a female figure. The idea to design it as Imperia came from the artist Peter Lenk (born in Nuremberg) from Bodman-Ludwigshafen. He wants his work of art to be understood as an innuendo that is not meant to be serious, hence the fool's cap of the female figure. For him, the figures of naked men are fools who acquire secular or ecclesiastical power.
After the unveiling of the work of art in 1993, there were fierce protests on the part of the church and conservative city councils. They demanded the removal of the work of art because it not only denigrated the church but also set a monument to a prostitute. Since the figure was located on the private premises of the Deutsche Bahn, however, the city of Constance was not able to get the work of art removed. In the meantime, the Imperia has become a tourist attraction and the landmark of the city of Constance on Lake Constance.