The Magnificent Imperia of Constance


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).

Jan Hus

Jan Hus

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.

The Minoan Snake Goddess

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21 Responses to The Magnificent Imperia of Constance

  1. Maia T. says:

    I thought immediately of the Minoan goddess when I saw the preview of the photo. On a closer look, I thought, “But those aren’t snakes in her hands.” On reading the background of the statue, I’m thinking they are, of another sort.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Don says:

    The power and sexuality is overwhelming. The line and curves are quite striking, Monika. What an evocative statue. The more you look at it the more it kind of casts it spell. Beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful resonance between the ancient and the modern. Thanks, Monika!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maria F. says:

    This interesting anecdote on her is the article in Wiki:

    “Imperia Cognati (also called Imperia La Divina, meaning Imperia The Divine, or The Queen of Courtesans, 3 August 1486 – 15 August 1512), was a Roman courtesan. She is counted as the first famous courtesan in Europe. The term courtesan is said to have been created for her. She was the first celebrity of the class of courtesans, which was created in Rome in the late 15th century.”

    “She either chose the name of Imperia early on as her business name or only started offering her body after the birth of her daughter. Either way, soon after her entrance into the business, she was considered the archetype of a courtesan. Contemporary sources praised her charme and intelligence.”

    “As was the custom for courtesans, she spent her days by the window, where she displayed her appearance to passers by. She was known to be courted by the men of the Papal court, but her tactic was to remain exclusive and accept only few clients, while she still surrounded herself with courtiers from noble families. Those friends include Raffael, for whoms paintings Imperia acted as a model more than once. Several anecdotes survived showing her salacious wit: Above her doorstep was an inscription inviting only those who would bring esprit, wit and good mood and who would leave money or a considerable present when leaving. There was also the saying that Rome was blessed by the Gods twice: Mars gave them the Imperium Romanum while Venus gave them the Imperia.”- (Wiki), [and a prelude to the famous book by John Gray: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray]

    “She was a friend of Raphael and the model of several of his work: as a muse, as Galatea (Raphael) in Villa Farnesina, as Sappho in the Vatican Palace and as a Sibyl on Chigi’s designated tomb at Santa Maria della Pace.”-

    “Balzac’s figure of Imperia has been portrayed by the German painter Lovis Corinth in 1925.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maria F. says:

    Raphael’s Sybils in Santa Maria Della Pace in Rome Italy


  6. equinoxio21 says:

    Amazing. There are some similar works by a Mexican sculptor I shot the other day. Need to post the pictures. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. equinoxio21 says:

    Shot the works. Not the sculptor. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Seeking Justice: Part One | OilStories: Adventures In Living

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