The “Lion of Lucerne” is one of the most famous tourist attractions of the Swiss city: a mortally wounded lion, carved in the rock, in a large former sandstone quarry, near the city. Carved directly into the wall, the titular lion statue sees the regal beast dying from a spear wound which is marked by a shield bearing the mark of the French monarchy. The remarkably large monument was etched from the stone in 1820 and measures a remarkable ten meters in length and six meters in height.
Above the lion there is an inscription, “HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI,” which is Latin for “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss,” and below the lion’s niche is a list of some of the deceased officers’ names.
The monument is dedicated to the memory of the Swiss Guards in the service of the King of France, who lost their lives during the French Revolution while defending the Tuileries Palace in Paris. The dying lion wants to be a symbol of the courage of the soldiers, willing to die rather than betray their oath of loyalty.
Over the past two centuries, millions of tourists have admired this monument, which Mark Twain described as “the saddest and most moving piece of stone in the world”. But few people realize, when they look at the monument, that there are not one but two different animals carved in the rock face!
The Swiss mercenary soldiers, since the 15th century, were much appreciated by European monarchs for their discipline and loyalty, especially by the sovereigns of France and Spain, who hired them as bodyguards, to defend the safety of royal families.
On 10 August 1792, an immense crowd of revolutionaries (Parisians and not, bourgeois and commoners, men and women) managed to enter the Tuileries Palace, and to overpower the 1,330 Swiss Guards, while King Louis XVI and his family fled the gardens. Over six hundred Swiss soldiers were killed during the riot, about two hundred died in prison for their injuries, and during the subsequent riots, in September.
One of the Swiss guards, second lieutenant Carl Pfyffer von Altishofen, happened to be on home leave in Lucerne when the dramatic events at the Tuileries took place. Pfyffer remained in service until 1801, when his regiment was disbanded, and he returned to Lucerne.
When he was discharged, he began to think of a memorial that would honor the memory of his fallen comrades in Paris.
In those years Switzerland, after the conquest of Napoleon, was subjected to the French, and a monument dedicated to the defenders of the monarchy was certainly not appreciated. When the country regained its independence, following the restoration of 1815 following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, Pfyffer decided that the time had come to realize his project. He commissioned the work to the Danish neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, (in the picture below) and began to raise funds to make it happen.
However, he failed to raise the funds necessary to pay the entire sum requested by the sculptor, very famous and committed, but decided to keep this aspect hidden from the artist, at least until he had delivered a model of the sculpture. The relations between the two became stormy, even for the too much time spent by the sculptor who, according to Pfyffer, showed “indifference towards the peoples who await his work”.
When Thorvaldsen learned that he would not be paid, if only minimally, he went ahead with the work, making some last-minute changes. The sculptor modeled a dying lion pierced by a spear, symbol of fallen soldiers. A paw of the animal is on the shield with the symbol of the French monarchy, while next to it is another shield with the emblem of Switzerland.
Thorvaldsen did not alter the sculpture, out of respect for the fallen soldiers in France, but changed the shape of the niche where the lion lies, giving it a contour that resembles a pig.
The sculpture was materially made, on Thorvaldsen’s models, by two artists: the Swiss Pankraz Eggenschwyler, who died during the work falling from a scaffolding, and the German Lucas Ahorn, who completed the work in 1821.
In the picture below, one of the first models made by Thorvaldsen, kept at the Historical Museum of Lucerne, where you can clearly notice the niche with a completely different form from the final one, anonymous and with no reference to the Pig:
Apparently, no one noticed the profile of the pig until the end of the work, but the subtle message with which the sculptor wanted to express his contempt towards those who commissioned the work is clearly visible to anyone with a keen eye!