Sneeze into your elbow!

Here is Adèle Abruzzesi. With her sister Anna, she is one of Rodin’s favorite models. Their bodies have become famous, we can see representations of them in some statues – especially on the Gateway to Hell. But we will not know their real names: like many Italian immigrants in Paris at the time (the 1880s), the two sisters are called by their region of origin. Abruzzo, therefore. Of Adèle, we will not know the face either. Here he is hidden under his arm, his nose in the bend of the elbow. If it’s to sneeze, well, on the side of barrier gestures we are in the nails, but Adele’s posture is strange.

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His torso is lifted skyward, resting on his shoulders and thighs. Thus, her breasts are particularly prominent. As if its trunk was trying to tear itself away from gravity. In medicine, this is called opisthotonos (in Greek: backward tension). Because this statue is the image of a disease, it is the representation of a hysterical arc.

Seen as the thing is then fashionable, it is impossible that Rodin has not thought of it. The semi-circular position is the most famous symptom of hysteria as then documented by Dr. Charcot and his disciples. The phenomenon mainly affects women and, if it flourished among observers of the time, it is because it also evokes (and at the same time) mystical and sexual ecstasies. All of Freud is almost already there. And the hysteria was “The greatest poetic discovery of the end of the XIXe century”, went so far as to say Aragon and Breton fifty years later. The saint, the joyful and the mad, a joyful erotic-pseudoscientific combo that will mark the image of women for quite a while.

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Guillaume Lecaplain


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