Since 1934, in the Square Paul Painlevé on the busy Rue des Ecoles in Paris’s Latin Quarter, directly across from one of France’s and Europe’s oldest universities, the Sorbonne, which opened in 1257, there sits a statue of the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne. The statue is a fine rendering by the sculptor Paul Landowski (1896 – 1961). The original marble statue of the philosopher, who is sitting with his legs crossed, had to be replaced with a bronze copy in 1989 due to vandalism. The statue occasionally attracts a few tourists, who stop to read the inscription on the base:
“Paris a mon cœur dès mon enfance. Je ne suis français que par cette grande cité. Grande surtout et incomparable en variété. La gloire de la France et l’un des plus nobles ornements du monde.” (Paris has had my heart since my childhood. This great city defines me as being French. Especially through its great and incomparable variety. The glory of France and one of the world’s finest ornaments).
And what they also may notice is that the statue’s bronze foot has been worn to a shiny patina because the university students believe that it’s good luck to rub his foot before an exam. I have read that the obsession with this superstition even led to his foot having to be replaced. Though not as well known as the grave of Victor Noir in the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (see my earlier post), Montaigne’s foot is as well rubbed at Noir’s rather obvious erection. Certainly Montaigne would be amused by the kind of attention he has been receiving…
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