The Gradiva, The woman who walks, has become a modern 20th century mythological figure, from the novella Gradiva by the German writer Wilhelm Jensen,[1] as she has sprung out of the imagination of a fictional character she may be considered unreal twice over.

The Gradiva, she who walks


In the book a young archaeologist is fascinated by a female figure in an antique bas-relief and gives her the name "Gradiva" after Mars Gradivus, the Roman god of war walking into battle; later, not quite certain whether he is awake or dreaming, he meets her in the ruins of Pompeii.

Sigmund Freud famously analysed the actions and dreams of this young archaeologist in his 1908 study, Der Wahn und die Träume in W. Jensens Gradiva.[2] Through this study Freud not only saved the novella from being forgotten but caused the Gradiva to become a modern mythical figure.

The relief itself is not fictional but exists; it is now known by the name "Gradiva". The relief was described by Hauser as a neo-Attic Roman bas-relief, probably after a Greek original from the fourth century BCE.[3] It shows in its complete state the three Agraulides sisters Herse, Pandrosus und Aglaulos, deities of the dew. Hauser reconstructed the Agraulid-relief from fragments scattered over various museum collections. The Gradiva fragment is held in the collection of the Vatican Museum Chiaramonti, Rome,[4] its complement in the Uffizi in Florence.

Jensen’s novella and Freud’s analysisEdit

The protagonist of Jensen's novella, the young archaeologist Norbert Hanold, finds a relief with the figure of a young woman in a Roman antique collection. He is fascinated by her graceful walk and names her after Mars Gradivus, the Roman god of war walking into battle.

Freud's analysis is one of the first analyses of a literary work by him. Freud owned a copy of this relief, which hangs in his study (the room where he died) at 20 Maresfield Gardens, London—now the Freud Museum.


Salvador Dalí used the name "Gradiva" as a nickname for his wife, Gala Dalí. He used the figure of Gradiva in a number of his paintings, including Gradiva encuentra las ruinas de Antropomorphos (Gradiva finds the ruins of Antropomorphos). The figure Gradiva was used in other Surrealist paintings as well. Gradiva (Metamorphosis of Gradiva), 1939, by André Masson, explores the sexual iconography of the character. Gradiva, 'the woman who walks through walls' is the muse of Surrealism.[5]

In 1937 the Surrealist writer André Breton opened an art gallery on the Rive Gauche, 31 rue de Seine, christening it with the title Gradiva. Marcel Duchamp designed it, giving its door the form of a double cast shadow.[6]

The short artfilm Gradiva Sketch 1 (1978, camera: Bruno Nuytten) by the French cinéaste Raymonde Carasco was described as “a poetic construction about the fetishization of desire, one that seems to go against Freud's reading: the gracious movement of the maiden's foot is seen to be the object itself, not a mere referent, of male desire.”[7]

In 1986 the French surrealist writer and ethnographer Michel Leiris, together with Jean Jamin, founded Gradhiva, a journal of anthropology; since 2005, it has been published by the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.[8]


  1. ^ Jensen, Wilhelm (1903). Gradiva: ein pompejanisches phantasiestück ... C. Reissner.
  2. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1908). Der Wahn und die Träume in W. Jensens "Gradiva". H. Heller.
  3. ^ Friedrich Hauser: Disiecta membra neuattischer Reliefs. Jahreshefte des Österr. Archäol. Institutes Bd. VI (1903) 79-107.
  4. ^ Cat. No. 1284
  5. ^ Nadeau, Maurice, A History of Surrealism, (1965).
  6. ^ "Gradiva: What did Freud and the Surrealists See in Her?". DailyArt Magazine.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Eye of Sound – UbuWeb Film
  8. ^ "Gradhiva". Gradhiva. Quai Branly Museum. Retrieved 14 April 2016.

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