It was not straight out of a fairy tale like the subject herself but do you know that The Little Mermaid Statue was modelled after two women? The statue in Copenhagen, Denmark was indeed modelled after two women. Really? How come?
Tourists seeing the sculpture for the first time would have mixed reactions. Some would be enthralled that they have laid their eyes upon Copenhagen’s most photographed icon. Others would seem unimpressed as if their expectations have been short-changed. “Is that all there is to it?” they would ask. Love her or not and regardless of people’s reactions or viewpoints, there is a moving and tragic story behind this forlorn looking mermaid.
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First of all, The Little Mermaid was a product of Hans Christian Andersen’s imagination, Denmark’s most prolific story-teller. The fairy tale was written in 1836 and was published in the following year. Since then, it has been adapted to a play, a movie as well as an anime.
The young mermaid lives under the sea with her grandmother, widowed father and five sisters. She was the youngest amongst her siblings. A mermaid is allowed to swim on the waters’ surface when she becomes fifteen. This enabled her to see, probably a fleeting glimpse of the world above them.
One at a time each year, the older sisters took turn visiting the “other” world and observe how humans live. The youngest mermaid eagerly awaits to hear the stories of her older sisters when they return to their kingdom.
Finally, the young mermaid’s turn came. It was her first incursion above waters and she was naturally excited. She saw a ship where a birthday celebration was in progress. The celebrant was a handsome prince with whom she fell in love.
The party’s going well when nature intervened. A storm struck, the ship sank but the mermaid rescued the prince from drowning and possible death. She brought the unconscious prince ashore until help arrived. Unfortunately, the prince never saw the mermaid and was not even aware who his saviour was.
Back in her own world, she was constantly longing for the prince. The love-struck mermaid visited the Sea Witch who sold her a potion. After drinking it, the mermaid will lose her beautiful voice in exchange for having legs, like human beings. In addition, she will have a human soul if the prince falls in love and tie the knot with her.
However, should the prince marry another woman, the mermaid will die the day after his marriage.
Throwing caution to the wind, the mermaid swam to the surface not far from the prince’s palace. She drank the potion, became mute but she had her legs. To cut the long story short, the prince found her and was captivated by her beauty. She was a graceful dancer and she found favour in the prince’s heart.
But not all fairy tales end with “and they lived happily ever after.” A cruel twist of fate and a tragedy were waiting to happen.
Ironically, the prince was forced to marry a princess from a different kingdom. The wedding took place on a ship.
It was a remarkably sad day for the young mermaid. Her sisters were very angry. They offer her a knife so she can kill the prince. After killing the prince, the mermaid can have his blood drip on her feet. She will become a mermaid again and return to her underwater kingdom.
She had the opportunity to stab her prince whilst asleep with his new bride. However, the young mermaid did not choose to do so.
Instead, she threw the knife and herself into the sea at dawn. The mermaid lost her life as her body dissolved into a foam. The poor mermaid chose martyrdom over revenge. She sacrificed her life – what a selfless and remarkable character!
Mr Carl Jacobsen, Carlsberg brewery’s head was so moved and enchanted after seeing the ballet version of The Little Mermaid at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. In 1909, he commissioned the sculptor Edvard Eriksen to make a statue of the mermaid.
Nothing beats this undertaking by having a top model for the sculpture, no less than the prima ballerina named Ellen Price who played the heroine. However, she refused to model in the nude but allowed her head to be part of the sculpture.
Eriksen was in a predicament. He cannot do justice to the mermaid’s statue in a head bust only. It has to be the face and the whole body or he doesn’t have a mermaid at all! Lady luck smiled at him as his lady and wife, Eline willingly obliged to model for the statue’s body.
The bronze statue was unveiled on 23 August 1913. It found a home on a rock by the waterfront in Langelinie harbour and since then has become a symbol for Copenhagen. A major tourist attraction, it draws more than a million visitors a year.
As with Andersen’s tragic tale, strings of unfortunate incidents continue to haunt Eriksen’s sculpture. Her head, as well as an arm, were sawn off, paint was poured over her and many acts of vandalism were committed up to this day.
So there you go, two women in one sculpture – Ellen and Eline. Amaze your friends on the statue’s behind the scene story and I am sure they would be impressed as much as I was.
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