Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844, Löwendenkmal, 1821. Photo: TES.

The Lion Monument of Lucerne

The Lion Monument (Löwendenkmal) was inaugurated on 10 August 1821, 29 years after the attack on the Tuileries in 1792. One of the few surviving Swiss guardsmen was Carl Pfyffer von Altishofen, an officer in the Swiss Guard Regiment of King Louis XVI (1754-1793).

On 10 August 1792, he was in Switzerland; otherwise, he would have shared the fate of the guardsmen. Most died that day;  the survivors were executed on 3 September.

Carl Pfyffer was the initiator of the monument. During the French occupation, the memorial was politically impossible. In 1815,  supported by the restoration’s conservative mood, he realised his plan to commemorate his colleagues.

Carl Pfyffer collected 20,000 Swiss Francs thanks to donations from home and abroad, including from members of the royal houses of Russia, Prussia and France.

The Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) obtained the commission. He was a well-known artist. The lion was carved directly from the stone wall in the old quarry, which Pfyffer had leased for this purpose since 1805.

The monument was to be a lion in the style of ancient models. The carving of the lion was not without drama. The Solothurn sculptor Urs Pankraz Eggenschwiler (1766-1821) carved the lion directly into the wall of the former sandstone quarry on the edge of Lucerne, but he did not survive the work.

After his fatal accident on the construction site, Lukas Ahorn (1789-1856) completed the monument. The accompanying text of the monument is Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti (on the loyalty and courage of the Swiss).

The dying lion is pierced with a broken spear. His leg rests on a shield with the Fleur-de-Lys of the French royal family. Another shield bears the coat-of-arms of Switzerland. The inscription under the lion contains the names of the officers and the number of victims and survivors.

The inauguration on 10 August 1821 was a festival of the Ancien Régime. The ambassadors or representatives of royal houses and aristocratic Europe were present. Today, the monument attracts tourists from all classes.

(Source: B. Schumacher, Kleine Geschichte der Stadt Luzern, Baden, 2015;