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metamorphoses - sculpture - object - uncanny

Pygmalion and Galatea (c. 1890) - Jean-Léon Gérôme


Pygmalion is a character from the Roman poet Ovid in the tenth book of his Metamorphoses.

It tells a story of a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he has made. Pygmalion, son of Belus, was a lonely sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. He prayed to Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, who took pity on him and brought the statue to life. Paphos was the product of the union between Pygmalion and the ivory statue.

Later authors give the name of the statue as Galatea or Elise (Goethe), based upon the variants in the story of Dido/Elissa. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_%28mythology%29 [Jun 2005]

When a statue comes to life

I was intrigued by the excerpts from La Vénus d'Ille (1837) by Prosper Mérimée (author of Carmen (1845))in Todorov's study of the fantastic:

The supernatural event in this work occurs when a statue comes to life and kills. --The Fantastic (1970) - Todorov, page 80.

La Vénus d'Ille has a similar motif to Corpse Bride. But instead of a corpse bride, it is an Instead ancient statue of Venus which comes to life.

Here is something on French fantastic novellas of the late 1800s.

Simultaneously [with French realism in literature, think Balzac], there is a proliferation of fantastic short stories in France under the influence of the German author E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose work was translated into French in the late 1820s. Among the authors who wrote fantastic stories were Balzac himself (La peau de chagrin; "Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu"; La recherche de l'absolu), Gautier ("Omphale" and "La Morte Amoureuse"), and especially Prosper Mérimée whose "La Vénus d'Ille," published in 1837, figures among the acknowledged masterpieces of the fantastic novella. --http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/Ap0202/MULLER.htm [Jun 2006]

And here is a book on the subject:

The Dream of the Moving Statue (1992) - Kenneth Gross [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Statues and their legends catch for us the gesture of life, life’s animation. Kenneth Gross has drawn their story into a fascinating account of the human spirit, captured and brought to life as the sculptor animates recalcitrant stone. This is a brilliant, beautifully rendered account of art and vision, presented on the highest level of scholarship and intuition." —Angus Fletcher, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York Graduate School

"Kenneth Gross conveys with acumen, passion, and originality the fascination that statues have exercised over the imagination since antiquity. His exploration of mythology and legends - from the petrifying stare of the Gorgon Medusa to the figure that comes to life when Pygmalion kisses his handiwork - reveals their psychological complexity and philosophical richness. Effigies, puppets, and replicas open up questions about reality and unreality, and lead us to consider the ontology of representations. Indeed The Dream of the Moving Statue, first published in l992 when computer simulations and virtual reality were still unfamiliar, was prophetic in its concerns." —Marina Warner, novelist, critic, historian, Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies, University of Essex, author of Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, and Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media

"Kenneth Gross's The Dream of the Moving Statue is by now a classic work of the literature on ekphrasis. Beautifully written and imaginatively organized, the book addresses the recurring human dream of animating stone through a range of works from the Hebrew Scriptures and classical mythology to 20th century cinema.” —Susan Stewart, Professor of English, Princeton University, author of Poetry and the Fate of the Senses and Columbarium.

"Exploring a perennial fascination with the idea an animated statue and its converse (petrifaction of living individuals), Gross both delights and instructs the reader through an exploration of a quite astonishing number of significant examples that include poetry, film, drama, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, to say nothing of a few famous statues themselves" —Froma I. Zeitlin, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature Princeton University, author of Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greece

We live among the images we have made, and those images have an uncanny life. They seduce, challenge, trap, transform, and even kill us; they speak and remain silent. Kenneth Gross's The Dream of the Moving Statue offers a far-ranging and probing exploration of how writers, artists, and filmmakers have imagined the power and life of statues, real and metaphoric, taking up examples from antiquity to modernity, from Ovid, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare to Freud, Rilke, and Charlie Chaplin. The book is about fate of works of art and about the fate of our fantasies, words, and bodies, about the metamorphoses they undergo in our own and others’ minds. --from the publisher

See also: Pygmalion - fantastic


Agalmatophilia is an uncommon sexual fetish or paraphilia, also known as Pygmalionism after the Greek myth of Pygmalion.

In its most literal sense the term means sexual attraction to statues. This may also be extended to mannequins and/or dolls.

In a broader sense the term may refer to sexual fantasies about oneself and/or others being transformed into, or simply rendered as motionless as, a statue, mannequin or doll. Such fantasies may of course be extended to roleplaying.

There is a broad crossover between agalmatophilia and robot fetishism or ASFR (alt.sex.fetish.robots).

In the Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain, agalmatophilia became a national political issue in April 2005 after the Kingdom's biggest Islamist opposition party, Al Wefaq Islamic Action, launched a campaign to demand lingerie mannequins in shop windows be 'covered up'. Al Wefaq Councillor Majeed Karimi told the English language newspaper, the Gulf Daily News: "What people don't understand is that modern mannequins look too real and are exciting to young men, who crowd around shop windows. I have received various complaints from people who say they feel aroused by these mannequins." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agalmatophilia [Jun 2005]

The Venus of Ille (1837) - Prosper Mérimée

In search of le fantastique in literature and pygmalionism

Cover of unidentified audio book

"The Venus of Ille" is about an old bronze statue unearthed in the town of Ille, in the French Pyrenees. It is unearthed in the yard of Monsieur de Peyrehorade, a "very learned antiquarian." He is quite taken with it, and in fact thinks more about it than about the upcoming wedding of his son. The nameless narrator is visiting Peyrehorade simply to look at the ruins in the area, but on hearing about the statue he is intrigued. Before he gets a good look at the statue he sees two townies throw a stone at the statue (while it was being unearthed it fell on the leg of a workman and broke it) only to have the stone thrower cry out in pain and say that the statue threw the stone back at him. The narrator laughs this away, but on seeing the statue up close he isn't so sanguine. The form and body are magnificent, but its face is...not so magnificent. --http://www.geocities.com/jessnevins/vicv.html [Oct 20006]

The 1979 La Venere di Ille was made as part of a series of movies commissioned by the Italian TV station RaiDue focusing on the fantastic in 19th century literature. The texts were selected by the Italian author Italo Calvino. Mario Bava and his son Lamberto directed the film.


"Shortly afterwards, the door opened a second time, and some one came in who said, 'Good evening, my little wife.' Then the curtains were drawn back. She heard a stifled cry. The person who was in the bed beside her sat up apparently with extended arms. Then she turned her head and saw her husband, kneeling by the bed with his head on a level with the pillow, held close in the arms of a sort of greenish-colored giant. She says, and she repeated it to me twenty times, poor woman!- she says that she recognized- do you guess who?-the bronze Venus, M. de Peyrehorade's statue. Since it has been here every one dreams about it. But to continue the poor lunatic's story. At this sight she lost consciousness, and probably she had already lost her mind. She cannot tell how long she remained in this condition. Returned to her sense she saw the phantom, or the statue as she insists on calling it, lying immovable, the legs and lower part of the body on the bed, the bust and arms extended forward, and between the arms her husband, quite motionless. A cock crew. Then the statue left the bed, let fall the body, and went out. Mme. Alphonse rushed to the bell, and you know the rest."
--http://frenital.byu.edu/merimee/works/TheVenusofIlle.html [Oct 2006]

Prosper Mérimée (September 28, 1803–September 23, 1870) was a French dramatist, historian, archaeologist, and short story writer. One of his stories was the basis of the opera Carmen. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosper_M%C3%A9rim%C3%A9e [Oct 2006]

Outside the German-speaking world, the Romantic animated statue appears only infrequently. In fact, Prosper Mérimée’s story La Vénus d’Ille (The Venus of Ille), 1837 (Mérimée [1969], 19-56), is the only text which is clearly in line with the German thematic tradition. As part of the French reception of E.T.A. Hoffmann, the fantastic found its way to the center of Mérimée’s stories. Accordingly, Todorov calls La Vénus d’Ille a consummate example of the ambiguity of the fantastic (cf. Todorov [1970], 49). In this ambiguity, the natural and the supernatural come into conflict as two irreconcilable orders. Mérimée’s story relies on the fact that the reader never knows, up to the end and beyond, whether the animated statue of the text should be taken as real or as a fantasm. This conflict of interpretation on the one hand places the rational, scientific world into question while, on the other hand, it proves to be an artistic “game with the fictional consciousness of the modern reader” (Pening [1980], 43). --http://homepage.sunrise.ch/mysunrise/mandermatt/publikation6.html [Oct 2006]

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