A statue of a sex worker is a major attraction in this German town
Under the dark of night while the people of Konstanz, Germanyslept, a 29.5-foot-tall statue weighing 18 tons was brought to port and erected in mid-August 1993. The statue and its design were created by sculptor Peter Lenk and remained physically “under wraps” for five days until April 24 when it was unveiled.
People gathered in the harbor that day and gradually the dark wrap around the statue revealed a striking woman with a generous breast barely hidden by her dress. More outrageous however was that she held two tiny naked figures in her hands – Pope Martin V and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund.
One could only imagine what was going through the minds of the people of Constance as they watched the statue spin on its axis, completing a circle in four minutes. Perhaps upon learning that the statue was a sex worker called Imperia Did things start to make sense.
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Imperia lies at the edge of the port of Constance on Lake Constance, or what the Germans call Bodensee. It is one of the first things people see when arriving by boat and is much sought after by tourists coming overland. In 2018, the general manager of marketing and tourism of Konstanz says Südkurier that of the 6 million people who visited the city, 1.6 million visited Imperia.
“It is a work that arouses curiosity and does not go unnoticed. It spins on its axis, making it a moving target for the eyes,” Thea Mostyn from Konstanz Tourist Board told The Daily Beast. “The statue is truly magnificent and contains an exciting and informative story.”
In the 1990s, the Bodensee Ship company and the Konstanz tourist association commissioned Peter Lenk to create a statue. Lenk is a German sculptor best known for creating satirical sculpture and art, often relating to nudity or human genitalia. His work, as Friede sei mit Diran artwork that depicts the large genitals of a former newspaper editor on the side of a building in Berlin, and Ludwigs Erbwhich features naked German politicians like Angela Merkel, has sparked controversy and discussion across Germany.
“Peter Lenk had not divulged any details about what exactly [the statue] would be. He invoked artistic license and offered to take it down if it was not appreciated,” Mostyn said.
In 2018, Südkurier reported that the mayor of Konstanz in 1993, Horst Eickmeyer, who knew of Lenk’s reputation, told the artist: “Do what you want, but please don’t put naked women.” Lenk promised but worked on the statue in secret. At the big reveal, Imperia was clearly dressed, but it was what she represented that sparked controversy and intrigue in Constance.
To understand the meaning behind Imperia, we must look to the past. In 1409, the Roman Catholic Church found itself with three popes and thus in an era called the “Great Schism”. Following the papal election of 1378, the church split into two factions which each supported a different pope – Gregory XII in Rome or Benedict XIII in Avignon. The Roman Catholic Church attempted to right itself in 1409 with another election at the Council of Pisa, but that just resulted in a third pope, John XXII.
Unhappy with the schism, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund pressured Pope John XXIII to summon the Council of Constance in Konstanz, Germany. From 1414 to 1418, the council worked to choose a new pope and reform the church so that a schism would not happen again.
During the four years of the Council of Constance, Catholic priests and cardinals employed the services of around 700 sex workers, according to Ulrich of Richenthal who chronicled the council. (Some Sources say it was closer to 1,500 women.) Imperia is representative of those sex workers who were paid for their services by the holy men of the council.
Lenk chose the name, “Imperia”, after Honoré de Balzac, a 19th century French novelist who wrote La Bella Imperia (Where The Imperia Fair). The piece of satirical fiction tells how priests and cardinals from the Council of Constance visited brothels, highlighting one sex worker in particular, Imperia.
Balzac describes her thus: “Imperia was the most precious, the most fantastic girl in the world, even if she was considered the most dazzling and the most beautiful, and the one who best understood the art of bamboozling cardinals and soften the most hardened soldiers and oppressors. people.”
Imperia was a fictional character, but Lenk found an appropriate name for his statue. After all, she holds the naked Holy Roman Emperor in one hand and Pope Martin V (who was elected in 1417 at the end of the council) in the other, underscoring the irony of this moment in history when men saints have done things that the church considered “ungodly”.
At first, the city’s opinions on the creation of Lenk were divided. “The majority were open-minded and found the character appropriate and enjoyable. A not-so-small minority, particularly conservatives and devout Catholics, refused to accept it and called for ‘eye pollution’ to be eliminated,” Mostyn said.
Although there was a brief “letter-to-the-editor battle in the local press”, nearly 30 years later, Imperia is now an important and famous part of the Konstanz landscape. Her presence undoubtedly sparks conversations about sex work and how the profession has existed for centuries, even serving the highest levels of the Catholic Church from time to time. It’s no wonder it’s a favorite stop on city tours.
As Mostyn said, “Imperia has become an essential part of the city’s skyline. Most Konstanzers (even those who originally disapproved of it) wear Imperia in their hearts and almost all the guests are captivated by her.