"Bremer Roland" 1404
Limestone, sandstone from Oberkirchen
The Bremen Roland is a statue of Roland that is located on the market square between the town hall of Bremen and the Schütting (Bremen’s merchant headquarters). His gaze is directed at the cathedral. Together with the town hall, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in July 2004 and it is one of the town’s landmarks.
The first Bremen Roland was made of wood and was allegedly destroyed and burned by warriors of the archbishop Albert II in the night of the 28th to the 29th May 1366. The city received a new Roland made from stone in 1404. According to an accounting book found in the town hall in 1822, this Roland was created by the stonemasons Claws Zeelleyher and Jacob Olde for 170 Bremen Mark. In forged imperial documents, the citizens of Bremen formulated their right to equip the Roland with the imperial crest. Thus, the Roland received the bicephalic eagle and an inscription identifying him as the herald of imperial liberties for the city. Since then, the sculpture has become a symbol for the independence and liberty of the Hanse city of Bremen.
The Roland has a height of 5.47 m and is standing on a pedestal with a height of 60 cm. He is standing with his back facing a supporting pillar, which is topped by a ciborium, a gothic canopy. With the pedestal and ciborium, the Roland stands at a height of 10.21 m. The sculpture depicts a knight with girded armour, greaves and a long coat. His sword is raised and a shield is strapped to his shoulder. The shield bears the bicephalic imperial eagle and the inscription:
Vryheit do ick ju openbar
de Karl und mannich vorst vorwar
desser stede ghegeven hat
des danket gode ist min radt.
“Freedom I declare to you,
which Karl and some other sovereigns truly
gave to this city.
For this thank god, that is my council.)
The figure was created from limestone from Elm, the pillar from sandstone from Oberkirchen, and was coloured at first. It was painted grey in the 18th century, later the natural colour of the stone with light colouring was preferred. When Napoleon wanted to take the statue to the Louvre, the citizens of Bremen convinced him of the Roland’s low artistic value, so it stayed in its location. The Roland was restored several times, reconstructed in 1939 for security reasons and walled in to protect from shrapnel during World War II. A fence like the one present in 1939 was added in 1983. A new head, a copy of the original made from Elm limestone was installed in the 1990s. The original was moved to the Bremen museum for art and cultural history (the Focke museum).
The figure of the Bremen Roland, just as the Vasmer cross from 1430, belongs to the remaining free-standing sculptures from the middle ages that do not belong exclusively to a religious context. Except for architectural sculpture, the Bremen Roland is one of the very first free-standing sculptures that were created in the modern sense of art in public space. This is because before the Roland was erected, only the high aristocracy and the church were allowed to created works of art in public space.