Adriaen de Vries devised this bronze allegory for Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, who had appointed him court sculptor at Prague in 1601. Once thought simply to represent "Virtue Overcoming Vice," recent interpretation indicates the sculpture held a more personal meaning for the Emperor.
The dominant female figure, crowned with laurel, symbolizes Empire. The second laurel wreath she holds high proclaims her victory over a figure with ass' ears and a bag of gold coins that identify her as Avarice (the ears and the gold come from the ancient myth of King Midas, known for his greed and bad judgment).
Rudolf was fighting, none too successfully, in wars against the Turks, and also struggling with the lands he ruled that were reluctant to grant the funds he needed to continue. The bronze gives form to his wish for triumph over both adversaries. The sculptor gave psychological force to this symbolic program in the rippling tension of the torsos and in the gaze that passes between the coolly imperious victor and the distraught vanquished.
Adriaen de Vries, “Empire Triumphant over Avarice,” 1610, bronze