The Jealous Courtiers by Sara Cone Bryant
I wonder if you have ever heard the anecdote about the artist of
Dusseldorf and the jealous courtiers. This is it. It seems there was
once a very famous artist who lived in the little town of Dusseldorf.
He did such fine work that the Elector, Prince Johann Wilhelm, ordered
a portrait statue of himself, on horseback, to be done in bronze. The
artist was overjoyed at the commission, and worked early and late at
At last the work was done, and the artist had the great statue set up
in the public square of Dusseldorf, ready for the opening view. The
Elector came on the appointed day, and with him came his favorite
courtiers from the castle. Then the statue was unveiled. It was very
beautiful,— so beautiful that the prince exclaimed in surprise. He
could not look enough, and presently he turned to the artist and shook
hands with him, like an old friend. "Herr Grupello," he said, "you are
a great artist, and this statue will make your fame even greater than
it is; the portrait of me is perfect!"
When the courtiers heard this, and saw the friendly hand-grasp, their
jealousy of the artist was beyond bounds. Their one thought was, how
could they safely do something to humiliate him. They dared not pick
flaws in the portrait statue, for the prince had declared it perfect.
But at last one of them said, with an air of great frankness, "Indeed,
Herr Grupello, the portrait of his Royal Highness is perfect; but
permit me to say that the statue of the horse is not quite so
successful: the head is too large; it is out of proportion."
"No," said another, "the horse is really not so successful; the turn of
the neck, there, is awkward."
"If you would change the right hind-foot, Herr Grupello," said a third,
"it would be an improvement."
Still another found fault with the horse's tail.
The artist listened, quietly. When they had all finished, he turned to
the prince and said, "Your courtiers, Prince, find a good many flaws in
the statue of the horse; will you permit me to keep it a few days more,
to do what I can with it?"
The Elector assented, and the artist ordered a temporary screen built
around the statue, so that his assistants could work undisturbed. For
several days the sound of hammering came steadily from behind the
enclosure. The courtiers, who took care to pass that way, often, were
delighted. Each one said to himself, "I must have been right, really;
the artist himself sees that something was wrong; now I shall have
credit for saving the prince's portrait by my artistic taste!"
Once more the artist summoned the prince and his courtiers, and once
more the statue was unveiled. Again the Elector exclaimed at its
beauty, and then he turned to his courtiers, one after another, to see
what they had to say.
"Perfect!" said the first. "Now that the horse's head is in
proportion, there is not a flaw."
"The change in the neck was just what was needed," said the second; "it
is very graceful now."
"The rear right foot is as it should be, now," said a third, "and it
adds so much to the beauty of the whole!"
The fourth said that he considered the tail greatly improved.
"My courtiers are much pleased now," said the prince to Herr Grupello;
"they think the statue much improved by the changes you have made."
Herr Grupello smiled a little. "I am glad they are pleased," he said,
"but the fact is, I have changed nothing!"
"What do you mean?" said the prince in surprise. "Have we not heard
the sound of hammering every day? What were you hammering at then?"
"I was hammering at the reputation of your courtiers, who found fault
simply because they were jealous," said the artist. "And I rather think
that their reputation is pretty well hammered to pieces!"
It was, indeed. The Elector laughed heartily, but the courtiers slunk
away, one after another, without a word.