She is splendid, imposing, imperial. 9 metres high, she slowly revolves round her axis, revealing all the facets of her provocative ensemble. In her left palm sits a naked minuscule pope, in her right – a minuscule naked emperor; both look ludicrous in their Hats of Power. This landmark statue, towering magnificently over the harbor of the German city of Constance, was installed clandestinely at night in 1993. Its controversy did not sit well with the city council, who, however, had no jurisdiction over the harbor, controlled by the German Railways, who welcomed the statue of Imperia with open hands. The woman portrayed by the statue is called Imperia. She is the work of Peter Lenk Bildhauer, who, inspired by a short story by Balzac, wanted to commemorate the notorious Council of Constance (1414-1418).
Before the Council was convoked, as many as three popes had been claiming the right to the papal throne. The church was corrupt and in disarray. The general public was kept in the dark about it. “Sancta Simplicitas” (Oh, Holy Naiveté), Jan Hus was supposed to have exclaimed when he saw an elderly pious woman eagerly adding brushwood to his burning stake. This enlightened church reformer, an intellectual, a Czech precursor of Protestantism, who made a grave mistake of condemning the dubious moral conduct of the clergy, was sentenced to death by the Council of Constance. The integrity of the Council was questionable for yet another reason: with the arrival of holier-than-thou men of the cloth, the city of Constance observed a steep rise in prostitution (1500 prostitutes alone arrived as permanent members of churchmen’s retinues). In Balzac’s story, which inspired the German sculptor, the magnificent courtesan Imperia holds sway over numerous pious members of the council. They are not able to withstand her seductiveness and one by one let themselves get swept off their feet.
The name of the city – Constance – seems to point to what is truly constant, unchanging: the eternal power of the feminine. To me, by her gesture, Imperia evokes the Minoan Snake Goddess (ca 1600 BC). Her snake invested power is immortal, and she has the magnificence of Lilith in her stature.