When we hear ‘Statue of Liberty’ we think of the one in New York. However, there are many other versions of this sculpture and similar statues. Actually, one of them was the first contemporary representation of Libertas, the Roman goddess. Who would have thought that a statue of liberty would be born in Zaragoza before Bartholdi’s sculpture came to life? This treasure is hidden in the city of Madrid.
The Statue of Liberty in Madrid lies in the Panteón de Hombres Ilustres, a funerary building of Neo-Byzantine style, work of the architect Fernando Arbós y Tremanti. Here you will find the remains of popular Spanish politicians – Canalejas, Sagasta, Eduardo Dato, Ríos Rosas and Cánovas del Castillo are some of them.
The statue is settled on the top of a funerary monument by Federico Aparici, built in 1853 in honour of the famous Liberals Agustín Argüelles, José María Calatrava and Juan Álvarez Mendizábal. And it used to be kept somewhere else. At first, it was located in the old cemetery of San Nicolás, but was relocated to the Panteón de Hombres Ilustres in 1912.
The statue itself consists of a feminine figure sculpted on a block of marble of two metres of height. It’s the Roman goddess, Libertas. Her Phrygian hat exudes sun rays, illustrating perfection, and part of her chest is uncovered. She holds a sceptre in one of her hands and a broken yoke in the other, symbolising the end of oppression. A cat lies at her feet, reinforcing the idea of freedom. Three other feminine statues guard the funerary monument: Purity, Governance and Change.
This statue of liberty was sculpted by the famous Neo-Classical artist Ponciano Ponzano, who was born in Zaragoza and became personal sculptor to Queen Isabel II’s Chamber. He is responsible for the lions you will find in the Congreso de los Diputados. They are made out of bronze from the bullets that were used in the Hispano-Moroccan War. In fact, they were named Daoíz and Velarde by the citizens after the heroes of the 2nd of May.
The statue of liberty in Madrid was created in 1853 and was placed at the inner courtyard of the Panteón de Hombres Ilustres, which has now been turned into a museum. You can visit it at Julián Gayarre street, behind the Basílica Nuestra Señora de Atocha, and the entry is free of charge.
The statue of the liberty that lies in this pantheon is just one of the many you will encounter in Madrid. The first statue of liberty in the modern history was actually sculpted by Ponzano in 1848. It was placed on the frieze of the Congreso de los Diputados, portraying a hug between Spain and its Constitution. And now, if you look closely from the street you will see it.
The most famous statue of liberty, the one that can be found in New York, was made 38 years after this one and 33 after the one in Panteón de Hombres Ilustres. The American sculpture looks similar to the ones by the artist from Aragón. It surely leads us to think that the French Auguste Bartholdi could have been influenced by these pieces when sculpting the most famous monument in New York. The crown of sun rays is key to this idea.
The freedom and independence of USA are embodied by the Statue of Liberty in New York. And for that matter, it was a gift from France to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. Three French citizens worked on it – the sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. She is holding a torch in one hand and a tablet with the date of the Declaration of Independence, 4th of July of 1776, in the other. With a height of 93 metres, it is located in the south of Manhattan. It became a National Monument in the year 1924. The United States of America gifted France a reproduction of their statue to express their gratitude. It’s 11.5 metres high and lies on the banks of the Seine.
Although the one in Madrid was built more than three decades before, Auguste Bartholdi patented his Statue of Liberty in 1879 so he would receive every profit of its newer versions. And sadly, Ponciano Ponzano didn’t do the same. The Spanish artist lived his last days in extreme poverty.
Another statue of liberty is located in the Biblioteca Pública Arús of Barcelona. However, it is newer than the others. The Modernist sculptor Manel Fuxà made it in 1894.
It was placed in the library’s hall from the beginning and it is two metres high, just like Ponzano’s. But in this case, she’s holding a book. The words “Anima Libertas” can be read on it, which literally translates to “freedom of the soul.”
Plenty of statues of liberty can be found throughout the whole country. One of them is placed in Cadaqués – it was sculpted by Dalí, and the fact that both of its arms are raised make it a unique piece. In La Rioja, you will find the Cenicero statue, which was built in honour of those who fought in the First Carlist War. The Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence houses a similar work, which portrays the liberty of poetry.
Nevertheless, we will never be completely sure if the sculpture by Ponzano influenced Bartholdi to create the most famous statue in the whole world. Maybe it was a mere coincidence. But the one in Madrid will always hold the first place, as it came before the one in New York.
You can also read this article in Spanish here.
Is there anything better than getting your keys out of…
There aren’t many other places like Sabinar de la Dehesa,…
You can read part II of this list here.