Photo by Matthew James Harrison
Copenhagen's Little Mermaid is one of the world's most famous statues, although visitors are often disappointed by how small it is. There is one other detail they seldom notice.
A long walk, or a boat cruise, takes millions of visitors to see The Little Mermaid every year. It’s a symbol of the city, which is perhaps a tribute to how low-key Copenhagen is. Surrounded by crowds of visitors, it’s distinctly underwhelming. It’s slightly better experience to catch it early in the day, or late at night, when you might have it to yourself.
The bronze statue was a gift from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen, famous for his Carlsberg beer, to the City of Copenhagen. He was inspired by watching a performance of a ballet based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, in which a mermaid gives up her immortality for love of a human prince who later forsakes her. The statue shows her waiting for a glimpse of her prince passing by on land.
Ballerina Ellen Price, famous for dancing the role, was asked to pose but refused because of the nudity, so sculptor Edvard Eriksen used his wife Eline instead. Photos of both women reveal no truth in the popular myth that Price was the model for the head of the bronze statue, first unveiled in 1913. The statue has been widely copied, with 14 replicas from Madrid to Calgary. She is 1.25 meters tall but her outdoor setting makes her appear even smaller – a true “Little Mermaid”.
And the detail most visitors miss? The mermaid has two legs that each end in a fin, rather than the single tail of the original fairy story which she gave up, with her tongue, to be able to walk on land.
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