tlsOne of the nicest things about this blog is that it has reopened my eyes. I have gotten used to living in the south of France; it has been good to look around me with fresh eyes as I think about stories to tell.

And I see eyes looking back.

balcony
Venus? The entire grand house this lady rules, facing Square Gambetta, is decorated with seashell motifs.

The Bastide, or the “new” town (having been built in 1260, vs. la Cité, which is far older), is truffled with these decorations. I suspect that back in the day of la Cité, only the aristocracy and church had the means for anything beyond the slimmest basics of life. Styles and tastes change, but also, by the time of la Bastide, trade was booming and Carcassonne was a center for textiles, wine and cereals. The buildings show it, with flourishes and sometimes elaborate decorations.

And faces.

museum
Was he the architect? There is so much to decipher here. How many people walk by without looking up?
carca
On the same building. I see a globe, a telescope, books, what else? Clues and explanations welcome in the comments!

Who were they? Did real people sit as models? Or were they sculpted from paintings, books, memories?

college
Above the entrance to a junior high school. How would you like to greet him every morning before class? At least he seems fairly benevolent. Despite the facial hair.

Some are in unlikely places, more modest embellishments than the grand busts atop grand buildings.

verdun
He’s only about 18 inches tall. I feel his pain.
red door lady
A tiny lady above a red door.
railing
They don’t make railings like they used to.
jesus
A niche above a nondescript door on a nondescript house.
white face
Carved in wood, somehow surviving the elements, above the doors to a grange or barn near la Cimetière Saint-Michel (with great views of la Cité).

Toulouse also has many wonderful faces hiding in plain sight. The series below live on the back side of the Capitole, home to the city hall and municipal theater.

Capitole 3
Cosette, is that you? She gives me a chill–what was her story?
Capitole 4
I love his hat! Panache. The word means plume, but has the connotation of flamboyance.
Capitole 2
This one, by contrast, seems to have a bat atop his helmet. Look at how his mouth is a little lopsided, as if he’s mulling over a question or biting the inside of his cheek.
Capitole 1
He seems to know more than he’s telling.
Capitole 5
The most haunting of all, to me. Why were her eyes closed? So vulnerable.

Which do you like best?

 

 

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42 thoughts on “Faces of France

  1. So much character in these faces, they must have been taken from life. I agree, some are reall haunting.
    I have a friend who is a sculptor, she works in sandstone and I know the incredible degree of work that goes into carving such subtle expresssions. It makes my preferred media of paint, pen, pencil and pastel look like a doddle

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  2. A fascinating collection! 1 & 5 are Green Men types (pagan forest spirits, a bit like Pan). I think 2-4 represent the same idea. They are all female with necklaces and a starlike crown or halo — maybe Liberty, but more likely ‘the Arts’. 3&4 are surrounded by symbols of the arts, sciences and artisanal guilds (masons, carpenters, but also scholarly learning, navigation, cartography, engineering and chemistry). 9 is Jesus and suggests this building had a religious function (convent?). 10 is Mercury or Alexander the Great (probably the latter). 11-15 are the most interesting. They are the least ‘pattern book’ and most naturalistic. I’d say they were modelled on real people. I’m guessing they are 19C antiquarian gothic revival and that they all relate to death in some way.

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      1. Mid 18C! Interesting, as they are neither baroque nor rococco in style. There are 18C busts of characters from French history at Chenonceau, but they are nowhere near as good as these. I couldn’t find la Capitole on the Monuments Historique list, but surely it is a listed building?!

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  3. I like Cosette, but I’m struggling to pick just one. What a great book that would be! The stories behind the people on Buildings in France-I’d start it off with the guy who has a bat on his head:)

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  4. Oh yes. This is what people did with their time and artistic talents prior to the age of television, computers and social media. What a pleasure to gaze at these architectural details.

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  5. This is wonderful. You are so right that in that we mostly don’t look up….me too busy watching live people. I almost feel the need to get some clay and start playing. I will keep these photos for future inspiration.
    Ali

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  6. These are all quite wonderful, and I, too, like the little lady over the red door. Also the next one (or is that a Green Man?), caught in the web of the railing. I hope you’ll write more about all of them.
    The very individual faces make me think of the terracotta army in Xian, each one different and modeled on a living person.

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    1. One of the earlier commenters prompted me to go on a hunt. No specifics about these, but the faces are called mascarons and depict figures from Greek mythology. Who nonetheless dressed like 18th century French.

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  7. I just loved looking at all these faces from the past. It’s funny, because she’s less defined, but I really like the tiny lady above the red door. It really makes you wonder if she was an actual person. I think she might have been!

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  8. I love these! A few years ago I was walking through Arles with a friend who lives there. We were admiring just such faces above doors, when we came one my friend wanted me to see in particular. A woman’s face, eyes closed, with flowers and foliage all around her face. The building had been a brothel! Wish I could attach a photo for you to see, it’s quite beautiful, quite a bit more flowery than your woman with closed eyes, but I wonder if that was the “signal”. I thought that was so interesting.

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      1. hahahahaaaaa!!!!! no, I’m sure not! Unless she was very FAMOUS (or infamous) and the faces were a sort of “most wanted” ahahahhahaaaaaa!!! sorry, that sort of tickled me. But then I wondered, could she be Marianne? But Marianne did not start appearing until the Revolution, so I am guessing not. I love these faces, and look for them when I can. Thanks for some really great examples!

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  9. What a wonderful post!! I found the same as you, that blogging made me look at things differently! I’m still discovering new things, and I love this post. There is just so much to see if one takes the time to observe!

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  10. All those wonderful faces! And what a lovely positive reminder of the way that blogging makes us open our eyes to what is around us that we inevitably forget to notice and yet was so full of wonder when we first arrive.

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  11. What a brilliant post! I must confess that it’s only recently that I’ve started looking up! Perhaps that’s part of the joy of not rushing around for work, children and so forth. There are some great ‘heads’ in Castelnaudary but not as many as in Toulouse or Carcassonne. I’ll definitely pay greater attention to them and try to take some photos that I hope may turn out as good as yours!

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