Late last year I visited the breathtaking city of Paris with my significant other and two dear friends. We decided to take a stroll around Pere Lachaise cemetery to visit the tombs of the more noteworthy departed such as Gustave Doré, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Robert Ross.
One character I was not familiar with, however, was Victor Noir – a French journalist who was shot down in 1870 at the tender age of 21. His death at the hands of Pierre Bonaparte, a cousin of Napoleon, and Pierre’s subsequent acquittal of the murder led to public outcry and violent demonstrations, and exacerbated the Emperor’s growing unpopularity.
The most fascinating thing for me though, and something I find myself musing upon a lot, is the life-sized bronze effigy of Victor which lies atop the tomb, and its subsequent appropriation as a kind of modern day fertility totem. Sculpted by Jules Dalou in 1891, it depicts Victor in the moments after his death, his eyes closed, clothes askew, hat lying by his side where it fell, and…a rather large protuberance in his (inexplicably unbuckled) trousers!
What possessed Dalou to portray the recently expired youth with a semi is anyone’s guess, but the statue has become legendary. A woman who places a flower in Noir’s hat, rubs his groin and kisses his cold, graven lips, it is said, will enjoy a rich and satisfying sex life (marriage within a year and pregnancy being variations on the theme). The blue-green patina is tellingly worn to a warm golden brown in these profanely sacred areas.
Just how this striking likeness came to be imbued with magical powers remains a mystery, but I can certainly attest that there is something deeply romantic, slightly morbid and a little thrilling about waiting until the surrounding area is deserted and free from prying eyes before leaning down to plant a hopeful kiss on Victor’s mouth.
I can’t help but wonder what the young man would make of his posthumous status as a fetish, so beloved that neither fences nor constitution can keep the adoring hands and lips of Parisian women from his immortalised body.