The Spirit of Ecstasy and Secret Affairs


Η «πονηρή» ιστορία πίσω από το αγαλματίδιο της Rolls Royce


The Spirit of Ecstasy is the ornament found on the bonnet of the Rolls Royce car. It is in the form of a woman leaning forwards with her arms outstretched behind and above her, billowing cloth running from her arms to her back, resembling wings. It has become an iconic symbol of luxury and elegance.

It was a British Conservative politician (and promoter of motoring) who commissioned the first of these bonnet ornaments. That was Lord Montagu – his full title is, in fact, John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. But let’s stick with Lord Montagu!


He approached his friend, the sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes, a Royal College of Art graduate, who developed the first figure as a woman standing on one foot, with her gown flowing behind her, holding one finger to her lips as if keeping a secret.

The model for the figure was Eleanor Velasco Thornton (known as Thorn). Only a few castings were made around 1911 and few survive. Thornton was secretary to Montagu and, as gossip would have it, mistress too. This figure made by Sykes was called, intriguingly, The Whisper.



After seeing this first model, Claude Johnson, managing director of Rolls Royce, asked Sykes to design a graceful mascot figure that would ornament all future Rolls Royce cars. His brief was to convey the spirit of Rolls Royce namely, ‘speed with silence, the absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy, and a beautiful living organism of superb grace’.

Johnson had in mind the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’ statue in the Louvre. Winged Victory (or Nike) is the goddess of strength, speed, and victory and is often seen with wings.


But it seems Sykes felt a more feminine, softer representation was needed and he continued to use Thornton as his inspiration, with that voluptuous cloth billowing out behind as her ‘wings’. However, just like ‘Winged Victory’, she faces into the wind, with a sense of movement and triumph. We may not adorn our ships with figureheads anymore, but the notion of the figurehead signifying artistic skill, prestige and ownership lives on in the luxury car market.

According to sources, the secret passion between Montagu and Thornton survived for 10 years, known to only a handful of close friends. Thornton had poor social and economic status, and Montagu was already married to Lady Cecil Victoria Constance Kerr.

The figure has had eleven incarnations, names and sizes, from ‘The Whisper’ to ‘The Spirit of Speed’, to its current name of ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ and is colloquially known as Emily, Silver Lady and Flying Lady. Kneeling versions were introduced for smaller sports cars and the current version has a luxury defense mechanism. If anyone applies any pressure to the ornament, the car recognises what is happening and immediately retracts the figure into the bonnet.

Originally silver-plated, the mascot was changed to nickel or chrome alloy after 1914, to dissuade theft. Today’s models have been digitally sculpted to resemble Eleanor Velasco Thornton and are hand-cast using the lost-wax process. Today your Spirit of Ecstasy can be stainless steel, 24-carat gold, illuminated frosted crystal, or even matte black and studded with diamonds!


Our love story ends sadly, however. Eleanor died on 30 December 1915 when the SS Persia was torpedoed by a German U-boat. She was accompanying Lord Montagu to India. He was thought to have perished too, but was saved after several days clinging to an up-turned life raft.

Η ιστορία του «Πνεύματος της Έκστασης» του αγαλματίδιου που κοσμεί τα αυτοκίνητα της Rolls Royce, έχει μεγαλύτερη σχέση με το… σώμα παρά με το πνεύμα.


Πριν το 1910, οι Rolls-Royce δεν είχαν το χαρακτηριστικό αγαλματίδιο της φτερωτής γυναίκας στο καπό τους. Μόνο το σήμα με το διπλό R. Το 1909 όμως, ο Λόρδος Montague του Beaulieu ανέθεσε στον φίλο του γλύπτη Charles Robinson Sykes να του φτιάξει μια μασκότ για τη Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost του.

Ο Sykes χρησιμοποίησε ως μοντέλο την ηθοποιό Eleanor Velasco Thornton, που ήταν και η κρυφή ερωμένη του Λόρδου Montague.

Εξ ου και η πρώτη μασκότ είχε το δάχτυλο στα χείλη (βλ. gallery), με αποτέλεσμα να την ονομάσουν “The Whisper” (Ο Ψίθυρος).


Οι μασκότ στα αυτοκίνητα των πλουσίων έγιναν μόδα, με αποτέλεσμα κάποιοι να βάζουν αγαλματίδια που η Rolls-Royce έκρινε απρεπή. Έτσι, ο τότε διευθυντής της φίρμας ανέθεσε στον Sykes να φτιάξει μια επίσημη μασκότ που να συμβολίζει την αέρινη ησυχία και άνεση των Rolls-Royce.

Κάποιοι συνέστησαν στον καλλιτέχνη να αντλήσει έμπνευση από το κλασικό άγαλμα της Νίκης της Σαμοθράκης, που βρίσκεται στο Λούβρο. Όμως o Sykes ήθελε κάτι πιο θηλυκό και εμπνεύστηκε και πάλι από τη Thornton.

Έτσι προέκυψε η φτερωτή κυρία, που στέκεται αγέρωχη μπροστά από τον οδηγό «απολαμβάνοντας τη δροσιά του αέρα», όπως περιέγραφε ο ίδιος ο Sykes.

Όσο για τη Thornton, δεν έζησε και πολύ να χαρεί την έμμεση δόξα της. Πνίγηκε το 1915 όταν το ατμόπλοιο SS Persia, με το οποίο ταξίδευε προς την Ινδία μαζί με τον Montague, τορπιλίστηκε από γερμανικό υποβρύχιο νότια της Κρήτης. Ο Montague σώθηκε και τον βρήκαν, μέρες αργότερα, να πλέει στα ανοιχτά της Μεσογείου μέσα σε σωστική λέμβο.

6 comments on “The Spirit of Ecstasy and Secret Affairs

  1. Pingback: The Spirit of Ecstasy and Secret Affairs – Timeless Wisdoms

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