My new thing is stonemasons. I read a great book a while back by a master stonemason (Thomas Maude), and ever since then, I can’t get enough. From stonemasonry to architecture to sculpture, I’m swimming in delicious books, hooked onto the glimpses of that other world, that other our world, lurking beneath the surfaces of our everyday lives. Literally.
One thing that’s fascinating me is the way in which we fixate on inanimate things in order to prove our strength. Remember the Taliban in Afghanistan? The Soviets did the same thing in Kaliningrad—only instead of blowing up statues in effigy, they decapitated them.
Apparently this was all the fashion in the Paris of the Reign of Terror (1793-94). When Louis XVI was decapitated, it wasn’t quite enough of a statement—the funerary statue of Carolingian King Lothair (954-86) was decapitated too.
Throughout Paris, images of kings were torn down and destroyed. Decapitated-destroyed. Statues of unknown provenance, if possibly regal statement, were also thusly tossed down. If stone could think, it would scratch its head. Which would of course be lying on the ground several feet away from its body.
The Notre Dame, when its medieval sculptures were forced from their pedestals along the walls, offered the discerning anti-royal citizen quite the heaping mass of rubble. According to records, the very doors of this grand cathedral were obstructed and obscured by defiled stonework, featuring the illustriously decapitated statues of French royalty—be they holy or secular. For three years they sat there in disarray, gathering the dirt and detritus of abandonment.
A contemporary painter suggested they put the rocks together to form a huge sculpture, but France had enough problems at the moment without directing all their horses and wagons to the site, and of course trains had yet to be invented. So to minimize costs, they offered the misshapen rocks as quarry for sale. Genius. And so it was that these historical statues, saints mistaken for kings, were transported to various reaches of that great land.
Almost two centuries later, in 1977, the French were living their normal lives, sans revolutions and butchered statues or royalty. Very novel. And what should happen when some dear French dudes start excavating at 20 rue de la Chaussee-d’Antin to build a prison? You guessed it.
Wait, you didn’t. I shall have to furnish the answer myself. No worries, dear reader. I came prepared.
What should they find–but a mass grave. A mass grave of statue heads, all buried facedown. Twenty-one heads, buried together and cushioned by plaster. No records exist to tell us today who buried these heads.
So now we have not only the fact that we sculpt ourselves from stone and venerate it. We also destroy these images to show our power. And we also bury them, again in veneration. We bury them, or of course we walk slowly around resurrected statues like Venus de Milo, and marvel at its beauty, at its survival, and at its makers.
Stone…not so cold, after all.