If you love it: model it.

Image via Wikipedia

No one ever found out who she was.

And yet likenesses of her death mask adorned the walls of countless artists at the dawn of the twentieth century and inspired writers to poetry and story.

Her name?  “L’Inconnue de la Seine.” The unknown woman of the Seine. A beautiful pale mask, representing someone who must have been breathtakingly beautiful in life. And the strangest thing is that she is smiling enigmatically.

It did not take long for the people of Paris to spin a tale to match her beauty.

In the early hours of  a morning in 1888, the gendarmes supervised the retrieving of a young woman’s body from the Quai De Louvre, in Paris. There were no signs of violence on her body and the authorities suspected suicide.

It was the lovestruck pathologist, the legend goes, who took a look at her young face – he estimated her to be no more than 16 years old – and summoned someone to take a mask immediately.

There is a more mundane explanation in which she was the daughter of a German mask manufacturer. But why let possible truth spoil a good story?

Europe went potty about her. She was compared to the Mona Lisa, she appeared in books by Rainer Maria Rilke and countless others, and a poem by Vladimir Nabokov.

How is it that one of our first reactions to seeing something beautiful to us, and extraordinary, is to want to copy it?

Like the face of God, for example? Or at least, the God particle creator, the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

Sascha Mehlhase, a researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, decided to model the ATLAS detector, one of seven detectors which make up the experiment, according to Tecca.com.

He tried using Lego’s designer software but managed to generate a 4,500 page manual. So he opted to go it alone.

Around 80 hours and 8,500 bricks later, a creditable model of the detector stood almost two feet tall. It included tiny Lego figures and passages with which they could access the detector’s innermost workings.

It was naff all help in discovering whether the Higgs Boson particle exists. But it was the direct result of awe and wonder. Imitation being, as they say, the sincerest form of flattery.

We should feel proud and pleased, then, with a model which has appeared in Imagine Denmarkthe Danish hospitality house which has taken over St Katherine Docks for the duration of the Olympics.

For Lego artist Warren Elsmore has fashioned the Olympic complex at Stratford entirely out of Lego bricks. It includes the Olympic Stadium, the Orbit Tower and the Olympic Village. Warren’s there manning it, in a black Lego polo: it is completely free of charge.

So once you have wondered round the real thing you can pop in and gaze at the 250,000 brick complex. And marvel, once at the original creation, and then, at this perfect, affectionate piece of  Lego-brick mimicry.

Thanks to Caroline of the brilliant London sistory site Caroline’s Miscellany, for the Lego pic: you can find her account of her visit to the village here


37 thoughts on “If you love it: model it.

  1. The Olympics never fail to grab humanity’s imagination and for a while, make us better than we usually are (with maybe a few cheating exceptions?)

    Even Simon’s cat has celebrated

  2. Wonderful image of the girl’s face, Strange that such a peaceful face should be the final witness to a not, apparently, very pleasant death. Lego, on the other hand, leaves me as cold as she must have been:)

    1. …although my theory is that she was still quite warm when that mask was taken. Dead people don’t smile, do they? But what happened afterwards – and indeed where this mysterious girl disappeared to – is anyone’s guess.

      Lego: I am surrounded by enthusiasts. Phil is an official Lego Builder. It is more than my life is worth to badmouth the brick.

  3. The hint of a smile on the mask suggests the latter story holds more weight. I would make a comment about the time taken with the Lego projects, BUT I blog! 😀

  4. As soon as I saw her face, I was reminded of the Mona Lisa.
    There are so many wonderful things going on all over the country as extras to the Olympics. I had not heard about the lego. Have you seen the wonderful deck-chairs along the front at Weymouth? their covers have been designed by a friend of my daughter-in-laws. http://olympicdeckchairs.tumblr.com

    1. You’re welcome, Carl . It’s Rilke’s novel – Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge- where she appears: “The caster I visit every day has two masks hanging next to his door. The face of the young one who drowned, which someone copied in the morgue because it was beautiful, because it was still smiling, because its smile was so deceptive – as though it knew.”

  5. The first picture is looking so peaceful that you almost feel that calm around you. Can’t imagine it all became unpleasant at the end. And those Lego works, fantastic.

  6. My 9-year-old grandson loves to build and LEGOs are one of the tools he uses to make ferris wheels and other marvelous working objects. We live in LEGO land territory – near Orlando – so I’ve seen many astonishing things made out of LEGOs – a dragon rising from the water, alien space ships and many other attractions.

    The death mask is mystifying. Kate, the first story could not be accurate. If she was a victim of violence, her final “look” would not be a smile. But WHY does she smile is the part that is intriguing. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That smile is intriguing, you are right, Judy. And Legoland is a wonder: we have one at Windsor, and every turn in the path leading down there holds a new surprise.

  7. Fascinating post, Kate. We have a Lego store hereabouts and it is fun to see what the big boys and and girls concoct to put outside. This Olympic rendition is brilliant.
    I love how your tied the mask into the Legos. However you do it, dear Kate, you do it quite well.

    1. Thank you, Penny 🙂 This one was easier than it looked, once you began to think about how we represent the things we love. Felix has some incredible creations – starships and so forth…

    1. She begs a story, doesn’t she, Cameron? She puzzled Europe for a time there. It was said that German girls of the time modelled their look on her: and she was quite the superlative idea of beauty until Marlene Dietrich came along….

  8. So much interesting content in one post! I am mystified by the young woman’s fate.. and prefer to believe the imaginary one, as you do, Kate! I think he must have fallen in love with her.. what a cool play that would make.. perhaps you should write it?? xx Good stuff on the Olympic Games.. and those are incredible likenesses.. that’s a ton of work there!

  9. It always strikes me as perverse whenever people become celebrated after they check out that were essentially invisible when they were alive. Interesting how the anonymous woman inspired poets and writers because she was young, pretty and bought her rainbow romantically. This allowed her infatuated mourners to project a personality onto her to compensate for having no idea who she actually had been.

    That Lego sculpture is impressive and it always blows my mind that not only are there people out there that think about creating sculptures like that, but then they actually do it. That’s drive.

  10. I think Legos are awesome. We live only about 12 miles from Legoland (Carlsbad, California), in fact. But I don’t know how they can put that much time, effort, and dedication into building those amazing sculptures. I’m glad they can do it, so those of us that can’t can admire their work.

  11. I used to be a Lego builder thousands of years ago, Kate, when I was younger. I never built anything as ambitious as that though… but I did do a mean fire station once.
    I’m not sure though whether I like the face or not… I think it’s quite eerie for some reason…

  12. Legos are amazing – I am often amazed by what people manage to build with them.

    I’m hoping no one ever does a death mask with them, however.

  13. Well, you can be sure that California boasts a “Lego Land”–you have castles, we have imitations of all sorts of things in Lego form! Be envious! Ha! But this is rather spectacular, I do have to admit! And the death mask is really something. I don’t actually know how I feel about it, but it is riveting, nonetheless! You, my dear, are inimitable! This post proves that! Debra

  14. Do the dead not smile? I suppose even if one dies smiling, rigor mortis would wipe it clean off one’s face, or stretch it into a rictus grin.
    Amazing what can be done with Lego!

  15. Fascinating. Somehow this woman and her histories have escaped me. As for lego, I believe that I have finally managed to pull the last one wedged between the cushions of my couch. We were heavy into it for a long while.

  16. This reminds me of those artists who painstakingly build battleships or the Empire State building. Beautiful, but I wonder at the hours and hours it must have taken.

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