Laurens’s ‘Death of Saint Genevieve’

(Last Updated On September 9, 2014)

Wow!  This painting is epic.  While the little girl is not the focal point of this work, she certainly grabs your attention.  This was a commissioned work for the apse of the Panthéon in Paris, where many famous Frenchmen are buried, including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Émile Zola. Actually this is not the full painting but only the Main (center) panel.  I’m not crazy about the little girl’s face—it seems to me that the artist used an adult as the model because the eyes are too small and the nose is all wrong, but overall it’s a magnificent painting.


Jean-Paul Laurens – La mort de Sainte Geneviève (1877)

Jean-Paul Laurens – La mort de Sainte Geneviève (detail) (1877)

Jean-Paul Laurens – La mort de Sainte Geneviève (detail) (1877)

Wikipedia: Jean-Paul Laurens

2 thoughts on “Laurens’s ‘Death of Saint Genevieve’

    • It’s definitely intended to be a child. First off, it would be inconsistent with the rest of the painting to portray a dwarf in the nude while all the other adults are fully dressed. At any rate, Saint Genevieve lived in the 3rd-4th century, and by that time it would’ve been scandalous for an adult to appear in public in the nude in Europe. This was not ancient Greece; it was medieval-era France, and Laurens would’ve known that. Second of all, the girl has no pubic hair. Third, her belly is distended in a way that a child’s would be. The only time an adult female’s belly looks like this is when she is pregnant, and Laurens would certainly not have placed a nude pregnant dwarf in this scene. The limbs are a bit thicker than normal but well within the range of a young child’s anatomy, especially for a toddler (yes, I know she’s too big to be a toddler, but bear with me for a sec).

      No, it is definitely a child. She just happens to have an odd-looking face. As I said, I think the face was extrapolated from an adult’s, or at least an older child’s. The artist placed a different face on the body of what appears to have been a toddler, and then the entire form was painted larger, as if a growing child simply got bigger in all directions rather than growing leaner. What happened here was that the artist wanted a girl of about 6 or 7 years and probably only had a 3-year-old to work with as a model. Maybe he felt uncomfortable painting an older child in the nude, or maybe he simply could not find a model willing to do it at the time. Whatever the case, he did a lot of tweaking here, with a result that is not quite convincing. A shame too, because the rest of the painting is superb.

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