Bronze Statues of Laughing and Crying Infants
This pair of 19th-century bronze statues depicts two infants experiencing the emotions of joy and sadness. Both busts sit atop marble stands with delicate floral designs etched into their surfaces. Although the author of these sculptures remains unidentified, the sculptor’s craftsmanship shines through in the amount of detail supplied to each figure’s facial expression. Each curl of hair is painstakingly rendered and all facial parts – from the cheeks, to the eyes, to the nose of each child – are carefully articulated. These busts are done in the manner of the preeminent sculptor of the French Enlightenment, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828). Houdon had a lengthy and prolific career, producing statues of such prominent figures as Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), Voltaire (1694–1778), and George Washington (1732–1799). The French sculptor’s creations are imbued with simplicity and grace and he had the ability to capture a subject’s personality and the vibrant essence of living flesh. Houdon also produced busts of children – a beloved genre of his era, which had ties to the cult of childhood that was being propagated in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and other Enlightenment philosophers. Artistically, the classification of individuals based on facial and bodily expression and the significance of relaying emotions has had a long tradition. Here, by pairing joy and sorrow, the artist aimed to show two extremes within the wide range of human expression. True to nature, the emotions captured in this pair of busts are relatable to all viewers.
At this time in France, the National Constituent Assembly voted to transform the Church of Sainte-Geneviève (built 1758–1790) into a mausoleum for the remains of distinguished French citizens during the French Revolution. The structure was renamed the Panthéon in 1791. The first person to be interred was Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (1749–1791), a leader of the early stages of the French Revolution; his remains were removed a few years later. As of December 2021, the Panthéon holds the remains of 81 individuals designated as “National Heroes.”