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Sculptures in The Lapidarium of Kings. Photo: Thorkild Jensen

Strong men

Hercules and the horse that subsided under the king

One of the strongest men in the Lapidarium of Kings is Hercules. He is half-god, half-human. On the marble figure, his facial expression is grim. He plays with his muscles and grits his teeth, and his eyes flash with anger. With his large and powerful hands, he is about to pry open the jaws of a fearsome lion. It is not any old lion. It is the Nemean lion, one of the most feared creatures in antiquity.

Frederick IV bought the marble figure on his trip to Italy in 1709. It is not inconceivable that the sculpture imbued Frederick with strength, because he needed Herculean strength to fight off the hereditary enemy in Sweden during the Great Nordic War from 1709 to 1720. 

The horse that subsided under the king 

On Kongens Nytorv (The King’s New Square) in Copenhagen stands the equestrian statue of Christian V dressed as a Roman emperor. The king on horseback is mercilessly trampling a naked man lying on the ground. The man’s limbs are flailing about under the weight of the horse and the king.

The symbolism of the naked man is disputed. The man might symbolise the nobility which was cast aside when Christian V’s father, Frederick III, introduced absolute monarchy in 1660. He might also be the hereditary enemy Sweden which bowed to Danish military might.

The king’s monument was cast in the lead, which led to the king and his horse subsiding together - despite the fact that the poor man was supporting them with his left knee. The statue’s fine gold leaf was also washed away by rain and drizzle. Eventually, the statue had to be removed and was replaced with a new one cast in bronze. The plaster figure for the new cast is in the Lapidarium of Kings.

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The Lapidarium of Kings