Art History for 15-Year-Old Boys

It was just a headline in my GMail screen: “Napoleon’s Sister’s Breast Cast in Plaster.” I stared at it for a moment. Yes, I knew who Napoleon was, and I knew his sister was as dead as he is. But still, I clicked. How could I resist finding out about her immortal breast?

Here’s the lead. And to quote Dave Barry, no, I am not making this up: “Expert male hands applied plaster to the young breast of Napoleon’s sister” … then it gets less interesting … “to create an actual mould, according to a new investigation into the marble portrait of Pauline Bonaparte.”

The gist of the story is that they used plaster casts of her breasts to create the statue of her, called Venus Victrix, or “Venus the Victorious.” This is apparently newsworthy in the world of art history.


What I find newsworthy isn’t the statue, or the plaster casts, but the story itself: “According to the art expert, an examination of the preparatory cast, kept at the Napoleonic museum in Rome, reveals a suspiciously perfect breast.” (Isn’t suspiciously perfect breast a great phrase? I can’t wait to try using it at a bar.)

Also of note are the statements of Bernardelli Curuz, smutty-minded art historian: “This is not the conventional breast of Greek statuary, which evokes a perfect, platonic ideal of woman.”

No, the evidence against perfection “lies in Pauline Bonaparte’s nipple, which shows an ‘illuminating deformity.’ Instead of standing erect and round, the nipple is ‘slightly squashed, giving the impression of two slightly parted lips.'”

Applied on Pauline’s breast, the plaster would have caused a compression, the effect of which can still be clearly seen on the preparatory cast.

“Basically, it’s a wet T-shirt effect,” Bernardelli Curuz said.

Oh man, why didn’t Curuz teach at my high school?


One thought on “Art History for 15-Year-Old Boys

  1. I was just reading about Pauline Bonaparte yesterday as there is a new biography out about her . She looked like a female Napoleon and was very sexually active, in fact dying of some kind of venereal disease in her 40’s. She was very ambitious and N. had a heeluva time trying to control her.

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