Category Archive 'Enduring Images'

15 Sep 2022

L’Inconnu de la Seine

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The above vissage is said to be the death mask of a never-identified young girl found drowned in the Seine in Paris in the late 1880s. The pathologist in the Paris morgue, the story goes, was so taken by her beauty that he preserved her features with a plaster death mask.


In the following years, numerous copies were produced. The copies quickly became a fashionable, albeit morbid, fixture in Parisian Bohemian society. Albert Camus and others[who?] compared her enigmatic smile to that of the Mona Lisa, evoking much speculation as to what clues the seemingly happy expression, perceived as eerily serene, on her face could offer about her life, her death, and her place in society.

Critic Al Alvarez wrote in his book on suicide, The Savage God: “I am told that a whole generation of German girls modeled their looks on her.” According to Hans Hesse of the University of Sussex, Alvarez reports, “the Inconnue became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the 1950s. He thinks that German actresses such as Elisabeth Bergner modeled themselves on her. She was finally displaced as a paradigm by Greta Garbo.”

L’Inconnu has additionally been referenced repeatedly in European and American fiction, in film, in ballet, and in music.

And finally,

The face of the unknown woman was used for the head of the first aid mannequin Resusci Anne. It was created by Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal in 1958 and was used starting in 1960 in numerous CPR courses. For this reason, the face has been called “the most kissed face” of all time.”

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