The Recumbent Effigy of Victor Noir - Atlas Obscura

The Recumbent Effigy of Victor Noir

Père Lachaise Cemetery

How did a French journalist’s grave become the sexiest statue in the cemetery? 


European funeral art has allowed many artists to explore their style by experimenting with the idea of an everlasting memorial. What image should remain as an eternal monument linking the absence of a human being and the sorrow of their family?

In his photographic journey Erotique du Cimetiere, artist and funeral art specialist Andre Chabot offers a wonderful reflection on how voluptuous female nude statues became the ultimate symbol of mourning, appeasing our wounded souls through the sensuality of their curves. But if femininity is a common motif in French cemeteries, the grave of Victor Noir and the incongruous folklore that surrounds it offers new possibilities in the Eros equation.

Victor Noir, a 19th-century political journalist, is one of those people who will be better remembered in death than in life. Shot in a duel by Prince Pierre Bonaparte in 1870, he became a martyr for the Republic and a symbol of imperial injustice. More than 100,000 people came to his funeral, where frenetic weeping was mixed with calls for insurrection. After the downfall of the Second Empire, Victor Noir’s remains were transferred to the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and a bronze effigy was commissioned to the sculptor Jules Dalou in praise of his memory.

Noir was depicted as an elegant man, lying dead on the floor after the impact of the lethal bullet, his top hat tipped over on his side. Dalou chose to represent Noir in a very realistic way, his face having the detailed quality of a cast death mask. However, another detail of Noir’s anatomy would soon get more attention than the sober realism of the memorial bronze. The dead Victor, in his eternal sleep, bears an under-belt bulge that a lot of his living fellows would be jealous of.

Victor Noir is nowadays one of the most visited residents in the graveyard, right after Jim Morrison and Allan Kardec. His popularity is not because of his talent as a journalist, nor his symbolic role, but lies in the notorious lump in his pants. A generation of superstitious (or just randy) women have decided that taking indecent rubbings of Victor’s impressive girth could prevent infertility, and perform these rubbings in more than the traditional manner.

After a century of daily joyrides (even burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese has had a go), Victor Noir’s lips and groin are polished shiny and nickel-clean, while the rest of his body remains the greenish tone of oxidized bronze. In 2004, when a fence was erected around Victor Noir’s tomb to deter fertility-seekers from carnally touching the statue, women were so offended that a few noisy protests were staged in the cemetery, enough to have the fence torn down.

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