The mannequin is sculpted in a realistic way, with harmoniously shaped limbs and the musculature of its torso partially formed; its feet and hands are realistically depicted with defined nails. Its head is rounded and the face has even been given a serious expression.
The verb “mannequiner” (from which the English word “mannequin” comes) appears for the first time in eighteenth-century France and is used to describe the act of skilfully draping cloth over a mannequin with a natural effect (J. MUNRO, Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, October 14, 2014 – January 25, 2015, exhibition catalogue, p. 28).
“… The articulated human figure made of wax or wood was a common tool in artistic practice in Europe from the 16th century. Its indefatigable limbs and silent compliance enabled the artist to study anatomical proportion, fix a pose at will and perfect the depiction of drapery and clothing. In the course of the 19th century, however, the mannequin (or “lay figure” in English) gradually emerged from the studio to become a subject in its own right, at first humorously, then in more troubling ways, playing on the unnerving psychological presence of a figure that was realistic, yet unreal, lifelike, yet lifeless.
Despite the plethora of human effigies and avatars, both virtual and real, that inhabit our 21st century existence, the mannequin continues to fascinate and disturb, an empty vessel for our fears and fantasies … ” (MUNRO, Jane, op. cit., introduction to the exhibition catalogue).
“As a tool in the artist’s arsenal, however, mannequins were hidden from view and rarely, if ever, included in representations of the artist’s studio – their presence hinting at the laborious act of painting and diminishing the perception of the artist as inspired genius …” (J. MUNRO, op. cit., p. 2).
Cover Photo: Fabrizio Stipari
J. MUNRO, Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 14 ottobre 2014 – 25 gennaio 2015, catalogo della mostra.