THE EMPEROR, THE COURTESAN, THE POPE AND THE ARTIST

The prostitute Imperia, holding the emperor in one hand, the pope in the other.

Imperia, holding the emperor in one hand, the pope in the other.



Of course not everybody likes it. It’s disgusting, pornographic, offensive and historically inaccurate.

Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore the public art of sculptor Peter Lenk, when it’s given pride of place by the harbours of Konstanz, Meersburg and Uberlingen.

Konstanz Harbour. You can't miss the revolving lady.

Konstanz Harbour. You can’t miss the revolving lady.


His nine metre high Imperia was erected in 1993 (‘clandestinely’, according to Wikipedia – surely someone must have noticed something going on). Now the lady revolves slowly on her pedestal in Lake Constance, attracting every visitor with a camera.
Emperor Sigismund.

Emperor Sigismund, not shown in a flattering light.


Of course it tells a tall tale, though not a true one.

It’s based on a short satirical story by Balzac, in which the prostitute seduces both the Emperor Sigismund and Pope Martin V during the Council of Constance, 1414-1418, called to settle the awkward problem of having three competing popes.

The real Imperia was born in 1485 and never visited Konstanz.

There were inevitably calls for the sculpture’s removal, and it’s easy to see why. Statues normally idealise historical figures, perched nobly on their pedestals in city squares, with only the pigeons to bring them down a peg or two.

We’ve become so used to classical sculpture with its perfect bodies and rippling muscles that the subjects don’t look naked. There are few calls for Michelangelo’s David to pull on some knickers.

Lenk’s figures may be grotesque, his shots cheap and his humour undergraduate, but his work does spark interest in the subjects’ back stories.

Not everyone is shocked - the kids are more interested in the ducks.

Not everyone is shocked – the kids are more interested in the ducks.

You wouldn’t say Lenk’s work is beautiful; perhaps it’s little more than a series of cheeky cartoons. But many of us are grateful to the Lake Constance towns that have placed it, larger than life, in public spaces where everybody can get a smile from it, and a few snaps.

Peter Lenk fountain, Uberlingen.

Peter Lenk fountain, Uberlingen.

Peter Lenk's Magische Saule, Meersburg.

Peter Lenk’s Magische Saule, Meersburg.

Magische Saule.

Magische Saule.

The writer was the guest of Freedom Treks and was assisted by Bodensee Tourismus.

10 Comments

Filed under Art, Cycle touring, Germany

10 responses to “THE EMPEROR, THE COURTESAN, THE POPE AND THE ARTIST

  1. Hazel Jeannes

    Ah ha another great artist with a sense of humour. Reminds me of Hieronymous Bosch. Always good to have something to smile about! thanks for your blog.

  2. It is true! I also thought about Bosch….It is the first time I see his work, but I must say I like it very much…At least, it says something to the observer!!!:)

  3. Good to see an artist who inspires strong reactions, positive and negative. I like his work.

  4. I’ve enjoyed your ride even though I’m very lazy with any kind of exercise. Maybe one day… Lenk’s works sure are fascinating but I don’t think I’d like to live in a place where I’d have to see them every day. I’d rather take a few Boteros.

    • As it happens, we saw an excellent Botero in Vaduz, Liechtenstein this week too. I nearly included it in this post, but it had to wait when Peter Lenk took over.

      As for getting round, for non-cyclists the ferries on Lake Constance are an excellent alternative – better than driving, I think.

  5. I bet people complained about the Colossus of Rhodes when it was first put up!

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