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The Pig of Lucerne

Below is a photograph of one of Lucerne’s most famous tourist attraction. You may recognize it as the “Lion of Lucerne”— a rock relief sculpture of a mortally wounded lion hewn into the rocky face of a large cliff in a former sandstone quarry near Lucerne, in central Switzerland. The monument was dedicated in memory of the Swiss Guards who lost their lives defending the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the 1792 French Revolution. The dying lion symbolizes the soldiers’ courage, strength, and willingness to die rather than to betray their oath of service.

In the last two centuries, hundreds of millions of tourists have seen this monument, which Mark Twain described as “the most mournful and 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.

Swiss mercenary soldiers had a long tradition of serving foreign governments. Long renowned for their valor, they were in particularly high demand in France and Spain throughout the Early Modern period of European history. The incident at Tuileries Palace took place on 10 August 1792, when a mob of working-class Parisians stormed into the palace, and overwhelmed and massacred the Swiss Guard as the royal family fled through the gardens. More than six hundred Swiss Guards defending the Tuileries perished during the fighting. Around two hundred more died in prison of their wounds or were killed during the September Massacres that followed.

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. Back home, Pfyffer began preparing plans for a monument that would honor and memorialize his comrades who had fallen in Paris.

Pfyffer had to keep his plans a secret because Switzerland was under French rule at that time, and a monument dedicated to the defenders of the monarchy was a political impossibility. After the times of revolution were over and the Swiss regained their independence in 1815, Pfyffer put his plans into action.

Pfyffer wanted to commission the famous classicist Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen to design the monument. He put out a public appeal for funds and many contributed, but not everybody. The liberals, in particular, disapproved of the monument. Eventually, Pfyffer was left with not enough to hire Bertel Thorvaldsen. The lack of funds didn’t discourage Pfyffer, who somehow managed to persuade Thorvaldsen for the job.

According to The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives, Pfyffer had deliberately hidden the fact from Thorvaldsen that he didn’t have enough money to pay the artist until he had secured delivery of the model of the sculpture. Relations between the two also fell out during the later stages of the sculpture’s contract when Thorvaldsens failed to deliver the work in a timely manner. Pfyffer became frustrated with the delays which he attributed to “Thorvaldsen’s infuriating sluggishness and indifference toward the people waiting for his work”, when Thorvaldsen was irritated at being commandeered and rushed.

When Thorvaldsen learned he wasn’t going to be paid in full, the indignant artist decided to get even and added some last minute changes to his sculpture. Thorvaldsen modeled a dying lion impaled by a spear, symbolizing the fallen Swiss guards. One of the lion’s paw covered a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy. Beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland.

Thorvaldsens didn’t alter the sculpture itself, out of respect of the fallen soldiers. Instead, he changed the shape of the alcove where the lion lay to resemble the outline of a pig. Look at the monument again. Do you see it now?

The Swiss sculptor Pankraz Eggenschwyler was assigned the actual task of carving the lion monument on the cliff face, following Thorvaldsen’s model. While working one day, Eggenschwyler fell from the scaffolding and died. A replacement mason from German named Lucas Ahorn was brought in to complete the task, which he did in 1821.

Apparently, nobody noticed the pig until after the sculpture was done. To this day, one can clearly see the shape of the pig—a subtle but clear message from Thorvaldsens expressing his disdain of the events of the commission’s history.

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