The Metal Pig by Hans Christian Andersen
IN THE city of Florence, not far from the Piazza del Granduca, runs
a little cross street called Porta Rosa. In this street, just in front
of the market place where vegetables are sold, stands a pig, made of
brass and curiously formed. The color has been changed by age to dark
green, but clear, fresh water pours from the snout, which shines as if
it had been polishedand so indeed it has, for hundreds of poor people
and children seize it in their hands as they place their mouths close
to the mouth of the animal to drink. It is quite a picture to see a
half-naked boy clasping the well-formed creature by the head as he
presses his rosy lips against its jaws. Every one who visits Florence
can very quickly find the place; he has only to ask the first beggar he
meets for the Metal Pig, and he will be told where it is.
It was late on a winter evening. The mountains were covered with
snow, but the moon shone brightly, and moonlight in Italy is as good as
the light of gray winter's day in the north. Indeed, it is better, for
the clear air seems to raise us above the earth; while in the north a
cold, gray, leaden sky appears to press us down to earth, even as the
cold, damp earth shall one day press on us in the grave.
In the garden of the grand duke's palace, under the roof of one of
the wings, where a thousand roses bloom in winter, a little ragged boy
had been sitting the whole day long. The boy might serve as a type of
Italy: lovely and smiling, and yet suffering. He was hungry and
thirsty, but no one gave him anything; and when it became dark and they
were about to close the gardens, the porter turned him out. A long time
he stood musing on the bridge which crosses the Arno and looking at the
glittering stars that were reflected in the water which flowed between
him and the wonderful marble bridge Delia Trinità. He then walked away
towards the Metal Pig, half knelt down, clasped it with his arms, and,
putting his mouth to the shining snout, drank deep draughts of the
fresh water. Close by lay a few salad leaves and two chestnuts, which
were to serve for his supper. No one was in the street but himself. It
belonged only to him. He boldly seated himself on the pig's back,
leaned forward so that his curly head could rest on the head of the
animal, and, before he was aware, fell asleep.
It was midnight. The Metal Pig raised himself gently, and the boy
heard him say quite distinctly, Hold tight, little boy, for I am going
to run; and away he started for a most wonderful ride. First they
arrived at the Piazza del Granduca, and the metal horse which bears the
duke's statue neighed aloud. The painted coats of arms on the old
council house shone like transparent pictures, and Michelangelo's
David swung his sling. It was as if everything had life. The metallic
groups of figures, among which were Perseus and The Rape of the
Sabines, looked like living persons, and cries of terror sounded from
them all across the noble square. By the Palazzo degli Uffizi, in the
arcade where the nobility assembled for the carnival, the Metal Pig
stopped. Hold fast, said the animal, hold fast, for I am going
The little boy said not a word. He was half pleased and half afraid.
They entered a long gallery, where the boy had been before. The walls
were resplendent with paintings, and here and there stood statues and
busts, all in a clear light as if it were day. The grandest sight
appeared when the door of a side room opened. The little boy could
remember what beautiful things he had seen there, but to-night
everything shone in its brightest colors. Here stood the figure of a
beautiful woman, as radiantly beautiful as nature and the art of one of
the great masters could make her. Her graceful limbs appeared to move;
dolphins sprang at her feet, and immortality shone from her eyes. The
world called her the Venus de' Medici. By her side were statues of
stone, in which the spirit of life breathed; figures of men, one of
whom whetted his sword and was named The Grinder; fighting
gladiators, for whom the sword had been sharpened, and who strove for
the goddess of beauty. The boy was dazzled by so much glitter, for the
walls were gleaming with bright colors. Life and movement were in
As they passed from hall to hall, beauty showed itself in whatever
they saw; and, as the Metal Pig went step by step from one picture to
another, the little boy could see it all plainly. One glory eclipsed
another; yet there was one picture that fixed itself on the little
boy's memory more especially, because of the happy children it
represented; for these the little boy had seen in daylight. Many pass
this picture with indifference, and yet it contains a treasure of
poetic feeling. It represents Christ descending into Hades. It is not
those who are lost that one sees, but the heathen of olden times.
The Florentine, Angiolo Bronzino, painted this picture. Most
beautiful is the expression on the faces of two children who appear to
have full confidence that they shall reach heaven at last. They are
embracing each other, and one little one stretches out his hand towards
another who stands below them, and points to himself as if he were
saying, I am going to heaven. The older people stand as if uncertain
yet hopeful, and bow in humble adoration to the Lord Jesus. On this
picture the boy's eyes rested longer than on any other, and the Metal
Pig stood still before it. A low sigh was heard. Did it come from the
picture or from the animal? The boy raised his hands toward the smiling
children, and then the pig ran off with him through the open vestibule.
Thank you, thank you, you beautiful animal, said the little boy,
caressing the Metal Pig as it ran down the steps.
Thanks to yourself also, replied the Metal Pig. I have helped you
and you have helped me, for it is only when I have an innocent child on
my back that I receive the power to run. Yes, as you see, I can even
venture under the rays of the lamp in front of the picture of the
Madonna, but I must not enter the church. Still, from without, and
while you are upon my back, I may look in through the open door. Do not
get down yet, for if you do, then I shall be lifeless, as you have seen
me in the daytime in the Porta Rosa.
I will stay with you, my dear creature, said the little boy. So
they went on at a rapid pace through the streets of Florence, till they
came to the square before the church of Santa Croce. The folding doors
flew open, and lights streamed from the altar, through the church, into
the deserted square. A wonderful blaze of light streamed from one of
the monuments in the left aisle, and a thousand moving stars formed a
kind of glory round it. Even the coat of arms on the tombstone shone,
and a red ladder on a blue field gleamed like fire. It was the grave of
Galileo. The monument is unadorned, but the red ladder is an emblem of
artsignifying that the way to glory leads up a shining ladder, on
which the great prophets rise to heaven like Elijah of old. In the
right aisle of the church every statue on the richly carved sarcophagi
seemed endowed with life. Here stood Michelangelo; there Dante, with
the laurel wreath around his brow; Alfieri and Machiavelli; for here,
side by side, rest the great men, the pride of Italy.
The church itself is very beautiful, even more beautiful than the
marble cathedral at Florence, though not so large. It seemed as if the
carved vestments stirred, and as if the marble figures which they
covered raised their heads higher to gaze upon the brightly colored,
glowing altar, where the white-robed boys swung the golden censers amid
music and song; and the strong fragrance of incense filled the church
and streamed forth into the square. The boy stretched out his hands
toward the light, and at the same moment the Metal Pig started again,
so rapidly that he was obliged to cling tightly to him. The wind
whistled in his ears. He heard the church door creak on its hinges as
it closed, and it seemed to him as if he had lost his senses; then a
cold shudder passed over him, and he awoke.
It was morning. The Metal Pig stood in its old place on the Porta
Rosa, and the boy found that he had nearly slipped off its back. Fear
and trembling came upon him as he thought of his mother. She had sent
him out the day before to get some money, but he had not been able to
get any, and now he was hungry and thirsty. Once more he clasped the
neck of his metal steed, kissed its nose, and nodded farewell to it.
Then he wandered away into one of the narrowest streets, where there
was scarcely room for a loaded donkey to pass. A great iron-bound door
stood ajar; and, passing through, he climbed a brick staircase with
dirty walls, and a rope for balustrade, till he came to an open gallery
hung with rags. From here a flight of steps led down to a court, where
from a fountain water was drawn up by iron rollers to the different
stories of the house. Many water buckets hung side by side. Sometimes
the roller and the bucket danced in the air, splashing the water all
over the court. Another broken-down staircase led from the gallery, and
two Russian sailors running down it almost upset the poor boy. They
were coming from their nightly carousal. A woman, not very young, with
an unpleasant face and a quantity of black hair, followed them. What
have you brought home? she asked when she saw the boy.
Don't be angry, he pleaded. I received nothing, I have nothing at
all; and he seized his mother's dress and would have kissed it. Then
they went into a little room. I need not describe it, but only say that
there stood in it an earthen pot with handles, made for holding fire,
which in Italy is called a marito. This pot she took in her lap,
warmed her fingers, and pushed the boy with her elbow.
Certainly you must have some money, she said. The boy began to
cry, and then she struck him till he cried aloud.
Be quiet, or I'll break your screaming head. She swung about the
fire pot which she held in her hand, while the boy crouched to the
earth and screamed. Then a neighbor came in, who also had a marito
under her arm. Felicita, she said, what are you doing to the child?
The child is mine, she answered; I can murder him if I like, and
you too, Giannina.
Then again she swung the fire pot about. The other woman lifted hers
up to defend herself, and the two pots clashed so violently that they
were dashed to pieces and fire and ashes flew about the room.
The boy rushed out at the sight, sped across the courtyard, and fled
from the house. The poor child ran till he was quite out of breath. At
last he stopped at the church the doors of which were opened to him the
night before, and went in. Here everything was bright, and the boy
knelt down by the first tomb on his right hand, the grave of
Michelangelo, and sobbed as if his heart would break. People came and
went; the service went on, but no one noticed the boy except an elderly
citizen, who stood still and looked at him for a moment and then went
away like the rest. Hunger and thirst overpowered the child, and he
became quite faint and ill. At last he crept into a corner behind the
marble monuments and went to sleep. Towards evening he was awakened by
a pull at his sleeve. He started up, and the same old citizen stood
Are you ill? Where do you live? Have you been here all day? were
some of the questions asked by the old man. After hearing his answers,
the old man took him to a small house in a back street close by. They
entered a glovemaker's shop, where a woman sat sewing busily. A little
white poodle, so closely shaved that his pink skin could plainly be
seen, frisked about the room and gamboled over the boy.
Innocent souls are soon intimate, said the woman, as she caressed
both the boy and the dog.
These good people gave the child food and drink, and said he should
stay with them all night, and that the next day the old man, who was
called Giuseppe, would go and speak to his mother. A simple little bed
was prepared for him, but to him who had so often slept on the hard
stones it was a royal couch, and he slept sweetly and dreamed of the
splendid pictures, and of the Metal Pig. Giuseppe went out the next
morning, and the poor child was not glad to see him go, for he knew
that the old man had gone to his mother, and that perhaps he would have
to return. He wept at the thought, and then played with the lively
little dog and kissed it, while the old woman looked kindly at him to
What news did Giuseppe bring back? At first the boy could not find
out, for the old man talked to his wife, and she nodded and stroked the
boy's cheek. Then she said, He is a good lad, he shall stay with us.
He may become a clever glovemaker, like you. Look what delicate fingers
he has. Madonna intended him for a glovemaker.
So the boy stayed with them, and the woman herself taught him to
sew. He ate well, and slept well, and became very merry. But at last he
began to tease Bellissima, as the little dog was called. This made the
woman angry, and she scolded him and threatened him, which made him
unhappy, and he went and sat in his own room, full of sad thoughts.
This chamber looked out upon the street, in which hung skins to dry,
and there were thick iron bars across his window. That night he lay
awake, thinking of the Metal Pig. Indeed, it was always in his
thoughts. Suddenly he fancied he heard feet outside going pitapat. He
sprang out of bed and went to the window. Could it be the Metal Pig?
But there was nothing to be seen. Whatever he had heard had passed
Go help the gentleman to carry his box of colors, said the woman
the next morning when their neighbor, the artist, passed by, carrying a
paint box and a large roll of canvas. The boy instantly took the box
and followed the painter. They walked on till they reached the picture
gallery, and mounted the same staircase up which he had ridden that
night on the Metal Pig. He remembered all the pictures and statues,
especially the marble Venus, and again he looked at the Madonna with
the Saviour and St. John. They stopped before the picture by Il
Bronzino, in which Christ is represented as standing in the lower
world, with the children smiling before him in the sweet expectation of
entering heaven. The poor boy smiled, too, for here was his heaven.
You may go home now, said the painter, while the boy stood
watching him till he had set up his easel.
May I see you paint? asked the boy. May I see you put the picture
on this white canvas?
I am not going to paint, replied the artist, bringing out a piece
of chalk. His hand moved quickly, and his eye measured the great
picture, and though nothing appeared but a faint line, the figure of
the Saviour was as clearly visible as in the colored picture.
Why don't you go? said the painter. Then the boy wandered home
silently, and seated himself on the table, and learned to sew gloves.
But all day long his thoughts were in the picture gallery, and so he
pricked his fingers and was awkward. But he did not tease Bellissima.
When evening came, and the house door stood open, he slipped out. It
was a bright, beautiful, starlight evening, but rather cold. Away he
went through the already deserted streets, and soon came to the Metal
Pig. He stooped down and kissed its shining nose, and then seated
himself on its back.
You happy creature, he said; how I have longed for you! We must
take a ride to-night.
But the Metal Pig lay motionless, while the fresh stream gushed
forth from its mouth. The little boy still sat astride its back, when
he felt something pulling at his clothes. He looked down, and there was
Bellissima, little smooth-shaven Bellissima, barking as if she would
have said, Here I am, too. Why are you sitting there?
A fiery dragon could not have frightened the little boy so much as
did the little dog in this place. Bellissima in the street and not
dressed! as the old lady called it. What would be the end of this? The
dog never went out in winter, unless she was attired in a little
lambskin coat, which had been made for her. It was fastened round the
little dog's neck and body with red ribbons, and decorated with
rosettes and little bells. The dog looked almost like a little kid when
she was allowed to go out in winter and trot after her mistress. Now,
here she was in the cold, and not dressed. Oh, how would it end? All
his fancies were quickly put to flight; yet he kissed the Metal Pig
once more, and then took Bellissima in his arms. The poor little thing
trembled so with cold that the boy ran homeward as fast as he could.
What are you running away with there? asked two of the police whom
he met, and at whom the dog barked. Where have you stolen that pretty
dog? they asked, and took it away from him.
Oh, I have not stolen it. Do give it back to me, cried the boy,
If you have not stolen it, you may say at home that they can send
to the watch-house for the dog. Then they told him where the
watch-house was, and went away with Bellissima.
Here was trouble indeed. The boy did not know whether he had better
jump into the Arno or go home and confess everything. They would
certainly kill him, he thought.
Well, I would gladly be killed, he reasoned; for then I should
die and go to heaven. And so he went home, almost hoping for death.
The door was locked, and he could not reach the knocker. No one was
in the street, so he took up a stone and with it made a tremendous
noise at the door.
Who is there? asked somebody from within.
It is I, said he. Bellissima is gone. Open the door, and then
Then, indeed, there was a great panic, for madam was so very fond of
Bellissima. She immediately looked at the wall where the dog's dress
usually hung; and there was the little lambskin.
Bellissima in the watch-house! she cried. You bad boy! How did
you entice her out? Poor little delicate thing, with those rough
policemen! And she'll be frozen with cold.
Giuseppe went off at once, while his wife lamented and the boy wept.
Several of the neighbors came in, and among them the painter. He took
the boy between his knees and questioned him. Soon he heard the whole
story, told in broken sentences, and also about the Metal Pig and the
wonderful ride to the picture gallery, which was certainly rather
incomprehensible. The painter, however, consoled the little fellow, and
tried to soften the woman's anger, but she would not be pacified till
her husband returned from the police with Bellissima. Then there was
great rejoicing, and the painter caressed the boy and gave him a number
Oh, what beautiful pictures those werefigures with funny heads!
And, best of all, the Metal Pig was there, too. Nothing could be more
delightful! By means of a few strokes it was made to appear on the
paper; and even the house that stood behind it had been sketched. Oh,
if he could only draw and paint! He who could do this could conjure all
the world before him. The first leisure moment during the next day the
boy got a pencil, and on the back of one of the other drawings he
attempted to copy the drawing of the Metal Pig, and he succeeded.
Certainly it was rather crooked, rather up and down, one leg thick, and
another thin. Still it was like the copy, and he was overjoyed at what
he had done. The pencil would not go quite as it ought, he had found,
but the next day he tried again. A second pig was drawn by the side of
the first, and this looked a hundred times better. The third attempt
was so good that everybody could see what it was meant to represent.
And now the glovemaking went on but slowly. The orders given by the
shops in the town were not finished quickly; for the Metal Pig had
taught the boy that all objects may be drawn upon paper, and Florence
is a picture book in itself for any one who chooses to turn over its
pages. On the Piazza della Trinità stands a slender pillar, and upon it
is the goddess of justice blindfolded, with her scales in her hand. She
was soon represented on paper, and it was the glovemaker's boy who
placed her there. His collection of pictures increased, but as yet they
were only copies of lifeless objects, when one day Bellissima came
gamboling before him. Stand still, cried he, and I will draw you
beautifully, to put in my collection.
Bellissima would not stand still, so she must be bound fast in one
position. He tied her head and tail, but she barked and jumped and so
pulled and tightened the string that she was nearly strangled. And just
then her mistress walked in.
You wicked boy! The poor little creature! was all she could utter.
She pushed the boy from her, thrust him away with her foot, called
him a most ungrateful, good-for-nothing, wicked boy, and forbade him to
enter her house again. Then she wept, and kissed her little
half-strangled Bellissima. At this moment the painter entered the
roomand here is the turning point of the story.
In the year 1834 there was an exhibition in the Academy of Arts at
Florence. Two pictures, placed side by side, attracted many people. The
smaller of the two represented a little boy sitting at a table drawing.
Before him was a little white poodle, curiously shaven, but as the
animal would not stand still, its head and tail had been fastened with
a string, to keep it in one position. The truthfulness and life in this
picture interested every one. The painter was said to be a young
Florentine, who had been found in the streets when a child by an old
glovemaker, who had brought him up. The boy had taught himself to draw.
It was also said that a young artist, now famous, had discovered this
talent in the child just as he was about to be sent away for having
tied up madam's favorite little dog to use as a model.
The glovemaker's boy had become a really great painter, as the
picture proved; but the larger picture by its side was a still greater
proof of his talent. It represented a handsome boy asleep, clothed in
rags and leaning against the Metal Pig, in the street of the Porta
Rosa. All the spectators knew the spot well. The child's arms were
round the neck of the Pig, and he was in a deep sleep. The lamp before
the picture of the Madonna threw a strong light on the pale, delicate
face of the child. It was a beautiful picture. A large gilt frame
surrounded it, and on one corner of the frame a laurel wreath had been
hung. But a black band, twined unseen among the green leaves, and a
streamer of crape hung down from it; for within the last few days the
young artist haddied.