Gloria Victis Returns to Grace the Winter Garden
When, in 1906, Carl Jacobsen inaugurated the Winter Garden and Hack Kampmann’s building, which was to house the collection of antiquities, one special sculpture was at centre stage: the three-metre high Gloria Victis had been given the place of honour above the little fountain on the steps between the Winter Garden and the Kampmann Building. Since then various other sculptures have occupied the space, but now Gloria Victis is back in its original setting in the museum.
The Story of Gloria Victis
In 1874 the artist Antonin Mercié (1845-1916) created his masterpiece Gloria Victis. The sculpture is a monument to the fallen soldiers on the French side in the Franco-Prussian War which ended in a French defeat in 1871. Like a Valkyrie, the winged female figure lifts a dying soldier from the battlefield. With the broken sword in hand and the title Gloria Victis (Honour the Vanquished) the fallen soldiers were turned into heroic figures, and the crushing defeat became a narrative which could bolster French national feeling.
Accordingly the sculpture was soon purchased by the City of Paris and subsequently cast in bronze. It was first exhibited in the Salon in 1875 and again at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878. Today it can be seen at the Petit Palais in Paris.
The sculpture was reproduced in smaller editions and set up in various French towns, and today it is also to be found in various museums in France and in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Glyptoteket’s version differs from these, however, in its height. Exceptionally, Carl Jacobsen was permitted to have an exact cast made of the original sculpture in Paris, on condition that the base was made 2 cm lower and bore the inscription “Original tilhører Paris By” (The original belongs to the City of Paris).
Immortality and Fame
Gloria Victis rapidly became a much-loved sculpture in France. The reason for this is possibly to be found in the highly accessible symbolism. Quite how far the winged woman is the Roman goddess Victoria (victory), Fama (fame), also a Roman goddess, an angel or a Valkyrie is unknown. It is, however, obvious that she is intended to represent (“symbolise” is wrong here) one – or even all of them – in a single figure. The laurel wreath, one of the purposes of which was to symbolise victory and immortality, lies at her feet. Next to this wreath is an owl, which was associated in antiquity with the goddess Athene, and thus with war and art. In the 19th century, when the sculpture was made, the owl was also linked with night, sleep and death. Gloria Victis is thus the narrative of a dead hero who did not triumph in the war, but who nevertheless is borne aloft to eternal victory, immortality and fame.