Sunday, June 3, 2012

L'Inconnue de la Seine

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" photographed at the Museum of the Order of St John in 2007 by Ali Mobasser
Watching new episodes of the much-recommended TV show "Oddities" last night, I was reminded of "L'Inconnue de la Seine." Proprietors of the New York curiosity shop, Mike and Evan, sold an anatomically-marked version of this famous death mask to a local artist. The subject of the mask - reproductions of which came to hang on countless walls and inspire numerous artists and novelists - was an unidentified woman who had been fished out of the river in France in the late 19th c. Her age was estimated to be 16 and it was assumed she had committed suicide because there were no marks on her body. The drowned woman was taken to the Paris Morgue for identification, as was the custom at the time, although whether her body was publicly exhibited is unrecorded. The story is that a morgue attendant took an impression of her face,compelled by her beauty and enigmatic "Mona Lisa" smile. He and others throughout Europe thought L'Inconnue sublime, others call her creepy, and - as the show pointed out - the makers of Resusci Anne found her useful (listen to podcast here).
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