Nudity and Censorship
July 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
Got your attention, didn’t I? I discussed some experiences I had with nudity and censorship of the statues found in the Dana/Lawrence House in an earlier post (see “Classics in a Classy House”). However, in research for the “Living the Wright Way” tours of the house that I will be giving in August and September, I discovered that I had ignored one of the more interesting pieces in the collection. “David after the Battle” stands sheathing his sword with his foot on Goliath’s head on the east end of the reception area.
A photo of the reception area from approximately 1908 shows that Susan had a reproduction of that statue in the same space. However, when the State of Illinois bought the house in 1981, no one could identify the piece. Then site superintendent Dr. Donald Hallmark chose to place a reproduction of the classical “Apollo Belvedere” on the pedestal until 1997. That year volunteer Ron Harris identified “David after the Battle,” found and purchased a cast resin of the piece, and donated it to the house. We still enjoy it today.
Unlike the other statue reproductions in the house, this original was not from antiquity or the Renaissance. The French artist, Marius Jean Antonin Mercie, was a contemporary of Susan’s parents. Extremely prolific and popular, Mercie created works that are still found throughout France and in the United States. Arguably his most famous piece is this depiction of David. However, Mercie too experienced problems with censorship in Victorian 19th century France. His original plaster David was shown in 1870 at the Rome Salon exhibition where it received first prize but a good deal of criticism because it was nude. After exhibiting him in bronze at the Paris Salon in 1872, Mercie added a loin cloth to David. Copies of that image were sold in various sizes throughout the world.
Visitors to the Dana House who view the reproduction of “David after the Battle” will discover that Mercie “barely” accommodated the censors because the loin cloth only covers David’s front. Furthermore, with the original life-sized bronze nude now on exhibit in the prestigious Musee d’Orsay in Paris (click here), Mercie won the final victory.