Karl Alfred Lanz
Post and Railroad, Shipping, Telephony, Telegraphy, 1888
Collombey marble, 2.60 m each
Swiss Post Branch,
6000 Luzern 1, Hauptpost

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Karl Alfred Lanz, Post and Railroad, Shipping, Telephony, Telegraphy, 1888, Luzern
Karl Alfred Lanz, Post and Railroad, Shipping, Telephony, Telegraphy, 1888, Luzern

Four figures pose proudly on the four pillars fronting the central building of Lucerne’s main post office. The idealized sculptures symbolize the postal service and railroad; shipping; telephony; and telegraphy, glorifying the achievements of Switzerland’s postal, telephone, and telegraphy operations. The main post office, completed in 1888, was designed by Gustav Gull in collaboration with Conrad von Muralt in a neo-Renaissance style. It was one of the first public buildings by Gull, an influential Zurich architect whose designs included the Swiss National Museum in Zurich. The post office building in Lucerne is now a listed monument.

The sculptures were conceived by Karl Alfred Lanz (1847, La Chaux-de-Fonds–1907, Bern), a sculptor and engraver based in Biel and Paris. He used limestone from the Valais, which is somewhat misleadingly referred to as “Collombey marble”. Lanz was a successful sculptor of his time. Following his realization of an equestrian statue of General Dufour in Geneva in 1884, he received numerous public commissions for monuments and statues for buildings. His naturalistic style was rich in detail, and his works were skilfully executed, although they did not reflect more recent developments in art. In Lucerne, this can be seen in his traditional choice of material, the idealizing depictions evoking antiquity and the Renaissance, and references to Greek and Roman mythology.

The figures are characterized by their respective attributes: the postal service and railroad, an inseparable duo at the time, are symbolized by a letter envelope and a pair of winged wheels – the latter a reference to Mercury, the Roman god of commerce. Shipping is symbolized by an oar and a dolphin – symbols of locomotion in water. One of the statues holds her hand to her ear as if making a phone call. Telegraphy is represented by a globe bearing a winged figure throwing lightning bolts, representing humankind’s taming of electricity for telecommunications.