Excerpt du Jour
Oscar Wilde’s Testicles
Michael Kammen/Candide’s Notebooks, October 31, 2006
When [Jacob] Epstein’s angel for Oscar Wild’s tomb was sent to France in 1913, the keeper of the Père Lachaise Cemetery considered the work indecent because of the size of the angel’s testicles. He first had them ‘swaddled’ in plaster. Then the prefect of the Seine and the keeper of the École des Beaux-Arts decided that Epstein must either castrate the angle or else supply a large fig leaf for it, and the Committé d’Esthétique had the tomb covered with a huge tarpaulin. The executor of Wilde’s estate had a bronze plaque provisionally attached to the censored area so that the tomb could eventually be unveiled in August 1914. For decades thereafter the pendulous testicles became increasingly shiny because the shrine served as a place of pilgrimage for homosexuals. Rubbing the genitals was apparently an act of homage, or else might bring good fortune. So the situation remained until 1961, when the testicles were anonymously hacked off. According to one source this was actually done by two indignant English ladies, and the broken pieces were brought to the keeper of the cemetery, who used them for some time as paperweights.
— From Michael Kammen’s wonderful Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture (Knopf, 2006).