The Story Behind the Lion Monument in Lucerne

A lion is carved into a sandstone rock above a pond. On this rock wall, the lion lies on a Bourbon shield as if he’s dying. You can see the spear sticking out of the side of the lion, causing it pain. The Swiss shield is in the corner. 

Image of the Lion Monument in Lucerne by TouringSwitzerland.com

One of the most famous monuments in Switzerland is the Lion Monument in Lucerne. Many tourists from around the world come here every day to see Bertel Thorvaldsen’s creation. 

The lion symbolizes bravery, power, and strength. The Swiss Guards are lauded for their loyalty and bravery in a Latin inscription (Helvetiorum fidei ac virtuti). Also written are the names of Pfyffer (Project Initiator), Thorvaldsen (Sculptor), and Ahorn (Stonemason).

The Lion monument is the oldest, best well-preserved, and most sentimental monument of the Swiss Confederation.

Lion Monument: Dedicated to the fallen Swiss Guards

Depiction of the Capture of the Tuileries Palace by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux courtesy of wikimedia

During the French Revolution, many people died, including Swiss Guards stationed at the palace of Louis XVI of France.

In the lion monument, they recognize all 26 officers and 710 soldiers who perished during the Insurrection of 10 August 1792. There was a war with the French monarchy and the armed revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris, France.

Under the lion are engraved the names of the officers and the number of soldiers who died and survived. 

Lion Monument and Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen

The idea came from Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, a politician and supporter of the arts. Besides the Lucerne Art Society (Luzerner Kunstgesellschaft), he was once the president of the Swiss Art Association (Schweizer Kunstverein). 

As a Swiss Guard, Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen survived the French Revolution unscathed with pure luck. He was on his way back home to France during the deadly riot on August 10th, 1792. 

Due to his loneliness and sense of loss for his fellow Swiss Guards, he came up with the idea of creating a monument. His vision will be fulfilled 29 years after the massacre when Lucerne erects the monument. 

Lion Monument: Money Issues and Local Opposition

Image of the Danish Sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen courtesy of wikimedia

Starting in March 1818, they collected money to finance the project. Unfortunately, only 28,102 Francs got collected. However, Karl Pfyffer would not be stopped.

The fact that some people weren’t into the Lion Monument project didn’t help. For those who were against it, the lion represented France. Rather than a Lion Monument, they would have wanted a chapel. Others were simply not fond of bronze. 

At that time, the best sculptor was Antonio Canova, but he was too expensive. Bertel Thorvaldsen would have had to be paid a lot, too, but he was convinced by Vinzenz Rüttimann. Thorvaldsen accepted the project with the idea that it would be built of iron instead of bronze. 

It was Heinrich Keller from Zurich who suggested building it directly on the wall, rather than using bronze and iron.

Lion Monument: Building and Inauguration

Bertel Thorvaldsen built two plaster models with Luigi Bienaimés and Pietro Teneranis. To build the model on the stone wall, Pfyffer picked Urs Pankraz Eggenschwyler. Unfortunately, Urs Pankraz Eggenschwyler fell a few weeks later and hurt himself so badly that he had to be replaced.

It was Lukas Ahorn, an unknown stonemason from Konstanz, who finished the Lion Monument on the 7th of August 1821.

Image of the Lion Monument by TouringSwitzerland.com

Besides the Lion Monument, there was a little chapel and park. This chapel was built in 1819 by Louis Pfyffer von Wyher.

29 years after the Revolt at the Tuileries Palace, the Lion Monument was unveiled. The Lion Monument was inaugurated on the 10th of August 1821. The English Garden around it was finished in 1824. 

Ever since then, the Lion Monument has been a big tourist attraction in Lucerne.

Resources

  • Hermann, Claudia. Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte. Das Löwendenkmal in Luzern. Kunst + Architektur in der Schweiz, Band 55 (2004), Heft 1.
  • Türler, Max, Zur Umgestaltung der Umgebung des Löwendenkmals in Luzern. Das Werk: Architektur und Kunst = L’ouvre: architecture et art, Band 29 (1942), Heft 9.

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