Swiss capital's Aare river brings home a piece of local history

The chance discovery of a sculpture in Berne's Aare river has set archaeologists' pulses racing. The work was quickly identified as a Swiss military commander, but the identity of the sculptor remains a mystery.

This content was published on March 3, 2000 - 19:28

The chance discovery of a sculpture in Berne's Aare river has set archaeologists' pulses racing. The work was quickly identified as a Swiss military commander, but the identity of the sculptor remains a mystery.

Volunteers were cleaning up the banks of the Aare after a heavy storm, when a member of the local fishing club came across a porcelain head buried in the sand.

He rushed off to the Berne cantonal archaeology department, where the sculpture was immediately identified as General Henri Dufour, commander of Swiss federal troops during the Sonderbund war in 1847.

But determining the identity of the sculptor is proving a much more difficult task. According to archaeologist Cynthia Dunning, the artist was "a master sculptor working in the federal parliament building, but who he was we don't yet know".

What they do know is that the head was a porcelain model for a metal sculpture. These were sometimes discarded after use, and the fact that this one was found in the Aare indicates that the sculptor's studio was near the river.

Archaeologists are now scrutinising a list of sculptors who have worked in the federal parliament building, and it is hoped that the original statue will still be there.

The porcelain sculpture is in remarkably good condition, despite having spent more than 100 years immersed in the river. It survived the worst ravages of time because it was buried in sand. It will eventually be exhibited in a museum of art or history.

By Richard Dawson

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